A Healthy Balance: Omega 3 to 6 ratio

You’re likely familiar with Omega-3 fatty acids. They’re the heart healthy fats that are found in fish, flax seeds, and walnuts. Omega-3 fats are considered “essential fatty acids” because our body cannot produce them and they must therefore be consumed in the diet. The lesser known Omega-6 fatty acids are also considered essential fatty acids.

Omega-3 fats include ALA (found in flaxseeds and flaxseed oil), and EPA and DHA (found in fatty cold-water fish including salmon, herring, mackerel, and sardines). The benefits of omega-3 fatty acids are numerous and include: reducing inflammation, lowering blood pressure and cholesterol, mood enhancement, and helping with weight loss.

Omega-6 fatty acids are found in vegetable oils (corn, safflower, sunflower, and canola) and animal proteins such a poultry, pork, and beef. Excessive amount of omega-6 fats, in particular, arachidonic acid, contributes to increased inflammation in the body. Most Canadians get high levels of omega-6 fats in their diet due to high consumption of meat and vegetable oils.

An ideal ratio of omega 3 to omega 6 fatty acids between 1:1 to 1:3, meaning that we should be getting close to equal amounts of omega 3 and omega 6 fats. The average Canadian diet provides 15 to 20 times more omega-6 than omega-3 fats. This can result in an overabundance of omega-6 fats in the body which contributes to an pro-inflammatory state. Inflammation had been linked to a variety of health issues including heart disease, diabetes, and cancer.

So what can you do to bring your omega fats back into balance?

  1. Limit your animal protein to one meal per day and watch portion sizes! Your protein should make up only 1/4 of your lunch and dinner plate.
  2. Increase your intake of plant based proteins such as nuts, seeds, beans and legumes.
  3. Reduce your intake of vegetable oils including corn, canola, sunflower, and safflower. Increase your intake of flaxseed oil, olive oil, coconut oil (a healthy source of medium chain triglycerides!), avocado, and nuts and seeds.
  4. Include fatty cold water fish twice a week (salmon, herring, mackerel, and sardines)
  5. Start taking a purified, high quality fish oil that provides at least 1000 mg of omega-3′s (or an algae based oil if you are vegetarian/vegan). Avoid the Omega 3-6-9 blends since you’re likely getting enough omega-6 fats already and you can get omega-9 fats from your diet.

Aim to get 6 teaspoons of healthy fats including a balanced ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fats to help lower inflammation and improve your overall health.

10 Heart Health Tips

1. Eat 2 tablespoons of olive oil each day (extra-virgin, cold pressed, raw)

Lowers blood sugar levels, high blood pressure, total and LDL cholesterol.

2. Eliminate TRANS fats!

Learn to read food labels. Foods labelled “no trans fat” or “trans fat free” can contain up to 0.2g of trans fat per serving.

3. Choose butter over margarine

Despite being a source of saturated fat, butter is a naturally occurring fat. On the other hand, margarines are a source of unsaturated fats but are a completely artificially created “food”.

4. Eat heart-healthy fish twice a week

Fish high in omega-3 fats like salmon, herring and mackerel are great for your heart and are a great source of lean high quality protein.

5. Stop cooking with olive oil

Olive oil is not heat stable and it produces damaging molecules called free radicals when it you cook with it. Cook with coconut oil instead which is a rich source of healthy medium chain triglycerides and save your olive oil for dressings.

6. Limit red meat and pork to one serving per week

Red meat and pork are rich in saturated fats and omega-6 fatty acids. Consuming too many omega-6 fats (and too few omega-3 fats) can contribute to inflammation in the body.

7. Avoid low fat and fat-free foods

Focus instead on including sources of healthy unsaturated fats in your diet every day such as olives, olive oil, nuts and seeds, nut butters, avocado. Did you know what your cell membranes are made up of fats? Therefore, the types of fats you eat affect the health of every single cell in your body!

8. Choose paper filtered coffee

Unfiltered coffee (espresso, Americano, latte) contains compounds that raise LDL cholesterol levels. Limit your coffee intake to 2 cups (24 ounces total) daily and always choose paper-filtered coffee.

9. Lay off the gluten

Gluten, a protein found in commonly consumed grains (wheat, rye, spelt, barley) can cause inflammation and make your “bad” LDL cholesterol particles smaller which can contribute to heart disease.

10. Breathe!

High stress levels can raise cortisol (a stress hormone) which puts your body into fight or flight mode. When your nervous system is primed- you will have higher blood pressure and a faster pulse!