Polyunsaturated Fats: Omega 3 & 6
Omega-3 and Omega-6 Fatty Acids both fall under the category of Polyunsaturated Fats. These 2 types of Fatty Acids are called “polyunsaturated” because these fats have two or more carbon-carbon double bonds in their hydrocarbon chains. In turn, the terms Omega-3 and Omega-6 indicate the position of the first carbon-carbon double bond in the fat’s chain.
Researching Omega 3 and Omega 6 Benefits
Throughout the years, more attention has been placed on the benefits of Omega-3 Fatty Acids on heart health and overall body health. Some of these benefits include protecting the body from inflammation, helping to prevent clots in the bloodstream which could be dangerous as well as supporting lower triglyceride levels. Maintaining normal triglyceride levels is very important because high levels of triglycerides (more than 200 mg/dl) are associated with higher risk of developing strokes and coronary artery disease.
The reason why Omega-3 Fatty Acids have received more praise than Omega-6 Fatty Acids is because the most common Omega-6 fat (Linolenic Acid) can be converted by the body into Arachidonic Acid. This is another type of fatty acid which makes up molecules that can lead to inflammation, blood clotting and blood vessel restriction. However, our bodies also convert Arachidonic Acid into molecules that help fight blood clotting and reduce inflammation.
Benefits of Omega-6 Fatty Acids
The truth is that Omega-6 Fatty Acids are also very important for our health. They help in lowering LDL (bad) cholesterol levels and help increase levels of HDL (good) cholesterol. They are also important in regulating blood sugar and improving our body’s sensitivity to insulin.
Dozens of studies and independent researchers, including researchers from Harvard, support that consuming Omega-6 fats are beneficial to cardiovascular health by helping the heart and circulation. Research has also indicated that very little amounts of Linolenic Acid are converted into Arachidonic Acid in our bodies. Researchers from the American Heart Association (AHA) have found that eating more Omega-6 fats did not increase inflammation, but left inflammation markers unchanged and in other cases actually helped to reduce them.
In addition, when analysing the results of 6 randomized trials, researchers found that people who replaced saturated fats with Omega-6 fats had reduced their risk of developing heart attacks by 24%.
Sources of Omega-3 and Omega-6
Good sources of Omega-3 Fats:
- Oily fish (salmon, herring, mackerel and sardines)
- Fish oil
- Flaxseed oil
- Chia seeds
Good sources of Omega-6 fats:
- Safflower oil
- Sunflower oil
- Corn oil
- Soybean oil
- Sunflower seeds
- Pumpkin seeds
Finding the Right Balance
Nutrition guidelines recommend eating more unsaturated fats like Omega-6 fats over saturated fats. The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends consuming 5-10% of daily calories from Omega-6 fats. For example, if your diet is 2,000 calories per day that means you should be getting 11-22 grams of Omega-6 fats. One ounce of sunflower seeds gives you 9 grams of Omega-6 and one ounce of walnuts gives you 11 grams of Omega-6.
Be an Informed Consumer
Studies show that most Americans consume more Omega-6 fats than Omega-3 fats and that on average they consume 10 times more Omega-6s than Omega-3s. Consuming too little Omega-3s is not recommended for heart and cardiovascular health and there should be a balance between Omega-3 and Omega-6. But you should not cut out Omega-6 fats which as studies support can also be good for our health. A possible way forward is to add some Omega-3 fats by eating oily fish at least twice a week, by eating walnuts, chia seeds or flaxseeds and/or by taking fish oil or flaxseed oil. Certain dietary supplements also include Omega 6 Fatty Acids. It is always recommended that you consult with your healthcare provider before taking any nutrition supplements.
It is important for all consumers to do their research and to make informed decisions about their diet and their nutrition.