The Importance of Omega-3 and Omega-6 Fatty Acids
Omega-3s and omega-6s are fatty acids that are essential for your health. Our bodies do not make fatty acids, but they are necessary for a healthy diet and require the right amount of balance to gain the full benefits. Both omega-3s and omega-6s have their own benefits for the body and appropriately balancing your intake of these fatty acids is important. Read on for a full explanation of omega-3 vs omega-6 fatty acids and how you can incorporate them into your diet.
Omega-3 vs Omega-6 Fatty Acids
While both omega-3s and omega-6s are considered polyunsaturated fatty acids, each has some differences in benefits for the body. Polyunsaturated refers to the chemical structure of the acids.
There are three main acids in omega-3s: Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), and Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). These acids may improve heart health, support mental health, reduce weight and waist size, decrease liver fat, support infant brain development, and fight inflammation. Consuming a lower intake of omega-3s could result in inflammation or chronic diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes, heart failure, or atherosclerosis. Getting the appropriate intake of omega-3s benefits the health of your heart, brain, and metabolism.
Omega-6s contain four acids: Linoleic acid, alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), Gamma-linolenic acid (GLA), and, Conjugated Linoleic Acid (CLA). These acids may promote a healthier heart, support joint and bone health, and support weight management. Arachidonic acid (AA), often found in Omega-6s, produces eicosanoids, which can support a healthy immune system. However, if the body produces too many eicosanoids, it increases the risk of inflammation and inflammatory disease in the body, which is why consuming the right amount is important.
So, how much of these fatty acids should you consume per day? The recommended intake of omega-3s per day is 1.1 grams for women and 1.6 grams for men. The daily recommendation Omega-6s per day is 12 grams for women and 17 grams for men. With omega-3 intake being lower per day, you can accumulate your intake over the course of a week by consuming foods high in omega-3s one to two times per week.
Foods with Omega-3s
Fatty fish are the most commonly associated foods that contain omega-3s. Some examples of this type of fish include mackerel, salmon, herring, oysters, sardines, caviar, tuna, and anchovies. To get the recommended intake of omega-3s into your diet, the American Heart Association (AHA) recommends eating at least two portions of fish with high omega-3 content per week.
If fish is not a food you enjoy eating, no worries. There are other foods you can add to your diet that are high in omega-3s such as flaxseeds, chia seeds, walnuts, and soybeans. Other foods that you may already be included in your diet that contain omega-3s, but are not as high in this fatty acid as the above examples, are pastured eggs, meats and dairy products from grass-fed animals, hemp seeds, and vegetables such as spinach and Brussels sprouts.
Foods with Omega-6s
Omega-6 fatty acids are found in a variety of foods, particularly oils, seeds, and nuts. Cooking or dressing your food in avocado oil, safflower oil, or corn oil gives you your omega-6 intake. Snack on nuts like almonds, cashews, or walnuts; or seeds such as hemp seeds or sunflower seeds.
Foods with omega-6 tend to be easier to add to your diet. The key is to ensure you’re balancing your consumption with omega-3s to maintain a healthy ratio of fatty acids. The recommended intake ratio is between 2:1 and 4:1 of omega-3s to omega-6s.
Additional Ways to Consume Omega-3 and Omega-6s
Since consuming omega-6s in an average diet is rather simple, it’s not necessary to take an omega-6 supplement. However, many people opt to take a supplement to ensure they achieve the optimal intake of omega-3s.
Cod liver oil is a common supplement to take as it is high in omega-3 fatty acids and loaded with essential vitamins A and D. Take one tablespoon is enough to supply your body with those nutrients, but it’s essential not to take more than one tablespoon at a time as consuming too much Vitamin A can have adverse effects. Other examples of omega-3 supplements include fish oil supplements, krill oil, algal oils, and flaxseed oil.
If you’re not sure if you’re getting the right balance of omega-3 vs omega-6 fatty acids into your diet, it’s time to get started. Help yourself include these essential fatty acids into your diet by journaling your intake to get yourself used to proper consumption. Try out new foods or supplements that can aid you in building up your diet. It can take some practice but the benefits of these omega-3s and omega-6s on the body make it all worth it.