No doubt you’ve heard about omega-3 and omega-6, but your knowledge of them and how much you should take in may not extend beyond the actual names.
There has been a single message permeating through the health industry with regard to these two types of fats in recent years. Omega-6 fats have an inflammatory effect on the body. This is fine in moderation but if we take in too much it can cause excessive amounts of inflammation.
In contrast omega-3 is known to have an anti-inflammatory effect when ingested. This is good, because excessive inflammation in the body is thought to contribute to some of the big health problems in society today, including heart disease and arthritis.
Back in ancient times the ratio between the two omega fats was pretty small – maybe 1:2. Today most humans have a ratio that is at least five-times as big. This means most of us consume a ratio of at least 10 times as many omega-6 fats as we do omega-3 fats. This is particularly striking in the industrialised countries with a thoroughly modern diet. In those areas where the modern diet is much like the ancient one the difference in ratio is not as pronounced – and those people are generally healthier as a result.
Should we start reducing our omega-6 intake ASAP?
Well, not necessarily. For years it was thought that people who ate a lot of foods packed with omega-6 were at a higher risk of a range of inflammatory problems in the body. However while it is a good idea to keep an eye on your intake levels in this area, they do not represent the whole picture. In fact the level of omega-3 fats you ingest looks to be far more important than the level of omega-6 fats.
There are some great foods out there that are generous in their amounts of omega-3 fats. They of course include assorted fish such as sardines, salmon and shrimp (top of the list in this respect), flax seeds and walnuts. Cauliflower isn’t a bad source of it either.
Is omega-3 better than omega-6?
According to some studies it does appear so, yes. Don’t get me wrong: it is a great idea to reduce your intake of omega-6 if you can. It is associated with inflammation in the body, but we shouldn’t forget a certain amount of inflammation is a good thing. It’s when it gets out of control that we develop problems. Getting it from healthier sources such as nuts and seeds is the best course of action too, as it steers us clear of junk food sources we might otherwise rely on.
Perhaps a better option is simply to increase our intake of omega-3 rich food, to tip the balance more firmly in our favour. After all, these foods are going to be anti-inflammatory thanks to being loaded with omega-3.
So in essence it may not be the amount of omega-6 you are ingesting that is the main problem. It could just be the difference between that and the amount of omega-3 you are ingesting that is leading to suffering.
Let’s simplify things and say you eat a plate of omega-3 and six plates of omega-6. This is a clearly uneven intake of the fats. However if you ate six plates of each you haven’t changed anything in terms of ingesting omega-6. You’ve upped your intake of omega-3 six times over though – and that is the main lesson to remember here. It could be what makes the difference to your overall health too.