Defining Omega-3 and Omega-6 EFAs
You’ve probably heard that you need to get more Omega-3s in your diet. And it’s true – Omega-3s are important to our health, but to truly maximize the benefts of Omega-3s, you need to eat them in the right proportions with Omega-6-containing foods.
Omegas 3 and 6 are called the “Essential Fatty Acids” or EFAs. Our bodies are unable to make them, so we must obtain them from our food.
Omega-3 fatty acids are polyunsaturated, “good” fats, meaning they have health benefts. The three types of Omega-3s fatty acids are a-Linolenic (ALA), Eicosapentaenoic (EPA), and docosahexaenoic (DHA). Omega-6 fatty acids are linoleic acid (LA) and arachidonic acid (AA).
Omega-3s have many important roles to play in our health, but they are particularly important to women’s health. They are involved in making hormones that regulate blood clotting, contraction and relaxation of artery walls, and inﬂammation. Omega-3s also lessen menstrual cramping, improve fertility, and are important in fetal brain development.
Omega-6s are also polyunsaturated and important for optimal health. Omega-6s help stimulate skin and hair growth, maintain reproductive and bone health, and help regulate the metabolism.
Balancing 3s and 6s
Humans lack an enzyme called Omega-3 desaturase – this means we are unable convert the Omega-3s into Omega-6s. This is important because while both Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids are polyunsaturated, Omega-3s help fght inﬂammation, but Omega-6s can promote inﬂammation. So it’s important to maintain the correct balance of 3s and 6s.
Prior to the incorporation of processed and fast food into our diets, people grew and made the majority of their food. The typical diet then had a ratio of Omega-6 to Omega-3 EFAs of approximately 1:1. The modern Western diet, with industrialized food oil production used in fast foods and boxed foods, has changed that ration to 15:1 – 16.7:1.
Why the balance is so important
As the ratio of Omega-3:Omega-6 has changed so radically in our food, we’ve seen an increase in disease: cancer, cardiovascular disease, and autoimmune inﬂammatory disease have all increased. The elevated amount of Omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) and the very high Omega-6 to Omega-3 ratio have played a role in that increase.
How to get the balance back
There is great news! Changing what you eat has a direct impact on this imbalance. Increasing the levels of Omega-3 PUFA foods in your diet will create a low Omega-6: Omega-3 ratio. And the solutions can be delicious.
To increase your Omega-3 PUFAs, eat more:
- Deep sea fsh: mackerel, salmon, cod liver, herring, sardines, anchovies, black cod, bluefsh, and caviar. Oysters are good too!
- Seeds: ﬂax and chia seeds, pumpkin and raw sunﬂower seeds. Açaí berries are also a good source
- Nuts: Pine nuts, pistachios, walnuts, pumpkin and raw sunﬂower seeds
- Oils: Borage, evening primrose, black currant, ﬂaxseed, grapeseed, hemp, olive
- Leafy vegetables
- Grass-fed beef
Inﬂammation, while it sounds unpleasant, is actually necessary for our health, protecting us from injury and infection. But too much inﬂammation can lead to chronic health problems. Bring your body back into balance by adding more foods that contain Omega-3 fatty acids to your diet. To help, I’ve included a recipe that’s ideally balanced. Enjoy!