Medical experts are warning of an emerging omega-6 health crisis caused by Americans inadvertently consuming the wrong ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids. Without the right ratio of these fatty acids, an individual may deal with a number of health problems. Understanding the role of these fatty acids in your diet and how you can achieve the right ratio can go a long way in preventing a host of adverse medical conditions.
Understanding Fatty Acids and Their Role in Good Health
Omega-3s and omega-6s are known as essential fatty acids because they are not produced naturally by the human body, but instead must be obtained through food or supplementation. The body needs these polyunsaturated fats because they are double-bonded.
Unlike other types of fats that the body uses, these essential fatty acids are used for more functions besides just energy. Omega-3s and omega-6s are instrumental in a variety of physiological processes, including inflammation production, blood clotting and brain function.
Why the Omega-6 Health Crisis?
In recent years, Americans have begun to consume more omega-6 fatty acids at the same time that the intake of omega-3 fatty acids has decreased. While the ideal ratio between these two types of fatty acids is 2:1 omega-6 to omega-3, the typical American diet is now seeing a typical ratio of 16:1. This ratio has been found to be common among industrialized nations across the globe.
Once you learn what types of food products contain omega-6s, it is easy to see why so many individuals are getting too much of this fatty acid. A diet that is high in processed foods will naturally contain a lot of vegetable and seed oils; products that are full of omega-6 acids.
These seed oils were not introduced to American diets until the late 1800s. By 2010, these oils accounted for approximately 20 percent of American diets, translating to about 80 grams per person each day. When compared to 1865, only 2 – 3 percent of an average American daily calorie intake came from omega-6 linoleic acid, primarily found those days in butter and lard.
In the simplest terms, omega-6 fatty acids generate inflammation in the body while omega-3s reduce it. It is easy to see why this would be a problem for an individual’s health once you understand that excessive inflammation in the body is a major culprit in a myriad of modern medical problems, including heart disease and obesity.
How You Can Reduce Omega-6 Fatty Acids
In order to achieve the optimal balance of these essential fatty acids, you need to be aware of what type of omegas you are consuming regularly. Reading labels and experimenting with supplements can help you to achieve the ideal balance of omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids so that you harness the powerful benefits of both types.
The first thing that you can do is to be aware of your intake of omega-6 fatty acids and reduce it accordingly. You will find omega-6s in oils such as canola, corn, safflower, peanut, grapeseed, soybean and rice bran. Even if you are not using these types of oils in your cooking and baking, you will find them hidden in thousands of processed foods.
These types of oils are particularly common in restaurant foods, especially fast food. This is why health experts recommend that you try to make the bulk of your meals at home where you can control the ingredients.
How You Can Boost Consumption of Omega-3 Fatty Acids
You can also achieve the ideal balance between the two fatty acids by increasing your consumption of omega-3 fatty acids. Foods that are rich in omega-3s include fatty fish such as salmon, sardines, anchovies and mackerel. You will also find omega-3s in chia seeds, flax seeds, walnuts and soybeans.
One of the easiest ways to tip this ratio of fatty acids back to an ideal balance is to simply replace the use of seed oils with extra virgin olive oil. This small change can make a big difference in the amount of omega-6s that you take in each day.
Another great way to increase your intake of this essential fatty acid is to take a supplement. There are a number of quality omega-3 supplements that will make it easy for you to ensure that you are enjoying the right balance of the two fatty acids. By boosting the amount of omega-3s in your diet, you will have more wiggle room in your diet to consume omega-6s without significantly disrupting the balance between the two.
It is easier than you think to fight back against the omega-6 health crisis. With the right nutritional and supplement choices, you can help your body to achieve this important balance. Once you are aware of where to find the hidden omega-6 acids, you can avoid these while also being intentional about getting enough omega-3s into your diet.