Fatty acids are essential nutrients that our body cannot produce on its own but requires for staying in good health. Two famous such nutrients are Omega-3 and Omega-6. Both are fuel for our brain and, in the right amounts, ensure the health of our cardiovascular and nervous systems. Omega-6 fatty acids are basically healthy fats which our body needs in order to function properly. They can be found in vegetable oils, nuts, seeds, cereals, eggs and even poultry, foods readily available and present in large amounts in most diets.
But just as sufficient amounts can have a wonderfully beneficial effect on our overall health, eating too much Omega-6 can compromise our cardiovascular health and lead to weight gain, obesity, diabetes and other health issues. Experts recommend our intake of Omega-6 fatty acids remain moderate and advise us to preserve an ideal Omega-6 to Omega-3 ratio of 3:1 or 4:1.
Benefits of Omega-6
When you get sufficient healthy fatty acids in your diet, you will look and feel healthier. A moderate intake of Omega-6 fatty acids can contribute to the following benefits:
- Promote normal cognitive development in children.
- Help reduce blood cholesterol levels.
- In turn, this protects our arteries and helps prevent atherosclerosis, a condition in which fats and cholesterol, among others, build up within our artery walls, restricting the flow of blood.
- Help relieve arthritis pain and inflammation.
- Promote healthy, beautiful hair and flawless skin.
When consumed in moderate amounts, and proportionate to Omega-3, Omega-6 fatty acids boast numerous health benefits. For instance, Omega-6 promotes cell membrane formation, a process that maintains healthy, beautiful-looking skin. In addition to this, it is useful in reducing the severity of eczema, atopic dermatitis and other skin disorders. A deficit, although highly unlikely to occur, can impair the absorption of calcium in bones and lead to osteoporosis.
Nevertheless, modern Western diets tend to supply the body with an excess of Omega-6. It is common knowledge that too much fat is bad for our health and will lead to cardiovascular disease, promote inflammation and an overall poor health. Since most nuts and seeds, as well as vegetable oils are great sources of Omega-6, it is fairly easy to exceed healthy limits.
Best Omega-6 Omega-3 ratio
It has been proposed that a healthy Omega 6-Omega 3 ratio is between 4:1 and 1:1. However, Western diets may surpass these recommendations as far as 15:1 and, in some cases, 30:1.
How to reduce Omega-6 intake
Here are a few tips to reduce your intake of Omega-6 fatty acids:
- Try steaming meat and veggies first, adding a little olive oil and spices to them after. Steaming vegetables and fish instead of frying greatly brings down Omega-6 intake.
- Choose healthier cooking alternatives to deep-frying such as baking, steaming, grilling or boiling. Any cooking method that does not involve frying is a great alternative.
- Switch to fish. Instead of having meatball Thursday night, make a refreshing tuna, tomato and lettuce sandwich or salad or enjoy a delicious smoked salmon and steamed broccoli dish. This will not only reduce your Omega-6 intake, but also increase your Omega-3 intake. The idea is to enjoy as varied a diet as possible and improve the Omega 6 – Omega 3 ratio. Also see the benefits of Omega-3.
- Go out less and cook at home more. Although it’s great to treat yourself to someone else’s cooking from time to time, a home-cooked meal is healthier because you get to have control over the ingredients and quantities, especially when it comes to fats and oils. A restaurant meal may be up to 10 times fattier than a normal home-cooked one.
As a general rule, certain fats are healthy as long as we eat them in small amounts, Omega 6 included. It shouldn’t be completely avoided as some people believe. Our body needs Omega-6 just as much as Omega 3, just not in excessive amounts. That’s why it is found in almost half of our foods naturally. From nuts and seeds to grains, we get quite generous amounts of fatty acids from many of the foods we eat. And there is a reason for this: fats help keep us alive and healthy.
To put things into perspective, we need fats such as Omega 3, Omega 6 and even cholesterol for a healthy brain and nervous system, good digestion, synthesis of neurotransmitters and hormones that regulate the activity of so many aspects of our health. We are partially made out of fat, so it is only logical we eat it, just in limited amounts. An excessive intake is what’s unhealthy, not the fats themselves.
All in all, Omega-6 fatty acids are healthy and recommended for consumption, provided there is a moderate intake suited to one’s individual nutritional requirements. And here are some of the best food sources of Omega-6: olive oil, linseed oil (flax seed oil), sunflower seed oil, hemp oil, corn oil and most vegetable oils, eggs, walnuts, pecans, hazelnuts, cashews, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, flax seeds, pine nuts and other nuts and seeds.