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?
- 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.
- Increase your intake of plant based proteins such as nuts, seeds, beans and legumes.
- 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.
- Include fatty cold water fish twice a week (salmon, herring, mackerel, and sardines)
- 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.