Omega 3 & Omega 6 Fatty Acids: What's the deal with these two?
Pictured above: tuna salad (sprinkle flax seed on top for added omega 3's!
Who hasn't heard about the importance of omega 3 fatty acids? If you haven't, this post is definitely for you, but I will also dig into the relationship between omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids and why we need both in our diet!
What are Omega 3 Fatty Acids?
Omega 3 fatty acids can be broken down into 3 parts - alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).
ALA is found mainly in plant oils such as flaxseed and canola oil. It is an essential fatty acid (which means your body can't make it) and you get it only from the food and beverages you consume.
EPA & DHA are found in fish and other seafood. Trace amounts can be made by the body using ALA, but you will get the majority of EPA & DHA needed from food.
Omega 3 fatty acids are needed for each cell in your body. Kind of important! :) They help make up the membranes around the cells. Omega 3s also provide your body energy and have an important part in the functions of your heart, blood vessels, and immune systems to name a few.
What are Omega 6 Fatty Acids?
They are fatty acids that are also essential, so again, your body can't make this on its own. It works closely with omega 3s to help with the functions of the brain, among other things.
The balance between the omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids is important to overall health. Although both are needed for normal growth and development, too much of omega 6s and not enough omega 3s can promote inflammation in your body. The ratio for omega 3s and omega 6s already allows you to consume more omega 6s than 3s, however, the ratio is not as large as what is found in most of our diets.
Unfortunately, the average American diet is abundant in omega 6 fatty acids, which can knock out the balance between omega 3s and omega 6s. It also might not be enough to simply increase omega 3s (although research is still being done on this). The best thing for our overall health is to lower the amount of omega 6 fatty acids to a closer ratio to omega 3 fatty acids.
What does that look like?
A diet high in omega 6 fatty acids is made up of a lot of processed seed and vegetable oils. These are used in processed food, and that is probably where the majority of Americans get their omega 6 fatty acids from, and why the ratio is so off. When cooking or making your food at home, you control how much oil is used in your food, but that can't be done when we buy pre-made food.
To increase the omega 3 fatty acids in your diet, try to eat more of the following:
fish: salmon, tuna, sardines
Remember omega 3 AND omega 6 fatty acids are needed by our bodies, so I am not suggesting avoiding everything that has omega 6s. That being said, be aware that the balance between the two is essential for your overall health. As always, whole plant based foods will always be best to nourish your body, but if you are consuming processed food (who doesn't!) try to limit it or choose items with ingredients you feel comfortable with.
Office of Dietary Supplements - Omega-3 Fatty Acids. NIH Office of Dietary Supplements. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Omega3FattyAcids-HealthProfessional/. Accessed September 26, 2017.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids: An Essential Contribution. The Nutrition Source. https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/omega-3-fats/. Published May 26, 2015. Accessed September 26, 2017.