Did you know that even healthy foods like nuts, tofu or chickpeas are actually high in omega 6s? I’m not even talking about grain raised meats and processed foods. Typical modern diet includes far more omega 6s and usually not enough omega 3s. Personally, I love peanut butter and all other nut butters. They are great source of vitamin E however they are also pretty high in omega 6s (especially almonds, peanuts, brazil nuts and sunflower seeds). Maintaining optimal omega 6 to omega 3 ratio is something to keep in mind in terms of our health and longevity.
Is omega 6 bad for you?
Omega 6 and omega 3 are essential fatty acids so we need both of them. The problem starts when we consume too much omega 6s and not enough omega 3s. Omega 6s are proinflammatory, while omega 3s (especially EPA) has anti-inflammatory effect. It’s not about acute inflammation when you sprain your ankle or catch infection. I’m referring here to chronic inflammation that can be caused by excess omega 6s consumption but also by stress, smoking, alcohol, sugar, dairy and inappropriate diet or lifestyle in general.
How inflammation affects your body?
Excess inflammation impairs your body’s ability to recover from exercise and it can increase fatigue. It can impact your cognitive function and focus. Moreover, it can cause heartburn and headaches. If it’s not managed well, chronic inflammation can trigger your immune system to attack healthy tissue and organs in your body. As a result, it can increase risk for autoimmune diseases, heart disease, cancer and diabetes.
What is optimal omega 6 to omega 3 ratio?
As just mentioned, you need both omega 6s and omega 3s. You don’t necessarily have to cut on omega 6 high foods to manage inflammation in your body. I’m saying this as omega 6 food it not always 100% bad. It can also include valuable nutrients that our body needs. It’s really all about ratio of omega 6 to omega 3.
3:1 – 2:1 is considered as healthy optimal ratio. In other words you should consume max two to three times more omega 6s than omega 3s on daily basis. In typical western diet this ratio usually exceeds 15:1…
How you can balance omega 6 to omega 3 ratio?
Let’s say you just had pepperoni pizza and chocolate pudding for dessert, or healthier scenario: vegetarian curry with tofu, cashew nuts and egg fried rice. Even in the healthier option, you still got lots of omega 6s and basically no omega 3s. What you can do is simply balance it with certain omega 3 rich foods.
For example, you could swap tofu to wild caught pacific salmon or prawns or even grass-fed chicken or beef. Also egg, it’s always better to choose grass fed eggs as they contain less omega 6s. Additionally, you could swap cashew nuts to walnuts, plus add side vegetables or a salad dressed with flaxseed oil.
Even in the pizza scenario, If you can’t resign from it, at least make sure you know how to balance bad stuff with good stuff 🙂 Below 5 little tips how to increase your omega 3s.
5 best ways to boost your daily omega 3 intake
- Oily fish (amount per 100g):
- Pacific Herring (around 1800 mg, including 1000 mg EPA)
- Atlantic Mackerel (around 2600mg, including 900mg EPA)
- Sardines (around 1500mg, including 600mg EPA)
- Atlantic Salmon (around 1900mg, including 600mg EPA)
- Anchovies (around 1400mg, including 500mg EPA)
- Pacific Salmon (around 1500mg, including 500mg EPA)
- Lake trout (around 2000mg, including 400mg EPA)
- Omega 3 rich oils (1 tbsp):
- Flaxseed oil (around 7200mg ALA)
- Omega 3 rich seeds (amount per 30g):
- Flax seeds (6400mg ALA)
- Chia seeds (4900mg ALA)
- Swap grain fed meat and eggs to grass fed (best organic) meat and eggs
- Add seaweeds to your salads or meals like wakame, kombu, dulce. Apart from omega 3s they are also great source of iodine!
Also, if you google omega 3 rich foods you may come across walnuts and hemps seeds as a good source. Both are great and healthy but if we look at the ratio, in these foods we are still getting more omega 6 than 3s, so it’s not really improving our ratio and it won’t have any anti-inflammatory effect that we are trying to achieve.
Not all omega 3s are the same – difference between EPA, DHA and ALA
Ultimately, our body can use only EPA and DHA (active forms of omega 3). EPA is known for great anti-inflammatory properties, while DHA is responsible for brain health and development, cognitive function and learning abilities. ALA on the other hand needs to be converted to the active form. In healthy humans, conversion ratio is pretty low 5-15%, even lower for people with autoimmune disorders and other conditions. EPA and DHA are found in animal foods like oily fish. ALA is a plant source of omega 3 fatty acids.
Moreover ALA (plant omega 3) competes with LA (a form of omega 6) for conversion as both are using the same enzymes (elongase and desaturase). Unfortunately, our body favours omega 6, so the more we have omega 6 in our diet the more competition for ALA in terms of conversion to the active form. It’s just another reason why getting enough omega 3s in the right form and amount is so important.
- Omega 6 it’s not always bad – its an excess of omega 6 in relation to omega 3 that is harmful.
- Optimal omega 6 to omega 3 ratio is 3:1 – 2:1.
- Excess omega 6s can cause chronic inflammation.
- Include omega 3 rich foods on daily basis to maintain optimal ratio.
- Only EPA and DHA are active forms of omega 3s (animal sources). ALA (plant sources) needs to be converted to the active form and the conversion ratio is usually very low (something that all vegans should be aware of).
- EPA is the most powerful in terms of anti-inflammatory effect
As we are approaching Easter break, I wish you lovely long weekend full of joy and good weather!
P.S: Remember to choose grass fed eggs for your Easter celebration :)