Omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids are types of fats that are essential for our good health and cannot make itself. They’re considered essential because we must get them through food.
Omega-3s and omega-6s have opposite tasks in the body and we need a consistent ratio of both in order to operate properly.
Research on additional benefits of omega-3s can be found here.
Omega-6 fatty acids are plentiful in the western diet and we typically have no problem getting all we need from food. Omega-3 fatty acids in the EPA and DHA forms are more limited and come primarily from cold water fish.
When the ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 is skewed in the omega-6 direction, it can lead to chronic inflammation. When the omegas are balanced, inflammation is a good thing, like stopping bleeding when we cut our finger. When inflammation is promoted by too much omega-6 in the diet we can experience inflammation where it is not needed.
Types of Omega-3 Fatty Acids:
In food we can find a few different versions of omega-3 fatty acids.
- ALA: is found in plant sources of omega-3 and needs to be converted to EPA or DHA before it can be used.
- EPA and DHA are versions of omega-3 that have been converted to forms that are readily available for use in our body.
- The American Heart Association recommends at least 1 gram of EPA/DHA per day for heart health and eating 12oz of fish per week. 2-4 grams of EPA/DHA per day is recommended as a therapeutic level for depression.
- Choose omega-3 supplements with EPA and DHA, preferably from wild-caught fish or a DHA algae source if you are vegetarian.
Eat less omega-6 rich foods. The American diet typically has too much omega-6 fatty acids in it. Do this by:
- Focus on eating less processed foods made with inexpensive oils rich in omega-6.
- Cook with extra virgin olive oil.