Omega-6:Omega-3 ratio is calculated by dividing the sum of all the omega-6 fatty acids by the sum of all the omega-3 fatty acids.
Omega 6 and 3 are two essential fats that are categorized as polyunsaturated fatty acids, or PUFAs for short. These fats are essential since we lack the ability to make them in our bodies and must obtain them from food or supplements. Once ingested, our body uses these fats to create other types of fats with important biological and health-promoting roles.
Omega 6 and 3 have many biological roles, including cell structure as well as eye and brain development, but are probably best known for their role in inflammation. In general, omega 6 fats are considered pro-inflammatory, while omega 3 fats are considered anti-inflammatory. However, both omega 6 and omega 3 fats can promote and inhibit the body’s inflammatory response, although omega 6 appears to produce a greater inflammatory response compared to omega 3. On the other hand, DHA and EPA can turn off the body’s inflammatory response and even influence certain genes to halt the production of inflammatory molecules.
Omega 3’s anti-inflammatory capabilities have motivated researchers to explore its role in the prevention and treatment of various diseases. A summary of these findings is presented below. Note that the omega 3 fats of study in such research trials are EPA and DHA.
Ancestral studies suggest that humans evolved consuming an equivalent amount of omega 6 relative to omega 3, or a ratio of 1. In today’s world, where a significant proportion of calories are derived from processed foods rich in vegetable oils and animal-derived fats, the ratio of omega 6 to omega 3 is approximately 15:1. At this higher intake, metabolism of omega 6, and consequently, inflammation, may be favoured.
The exact ratio of omega 6 to omega 3 needed for disease prevention/treatment is unknown. Most health organizations recommend a ratio of 4:1, however, a ratio of 2-3:1 may be beneficial for those with certain diseases, such as cancer and rheumatoid arthritis.
In addition to achieving an ideal ratio of omega 6 to omega 3, it’s also important to ensure that minimum amounts of omega 6 (it’s still essential) and omega 3 are consumed.
Possible ways to improve your Omega 6/3 Ratio:
Meet your omega 6 needs through plant-based, whole-food sources:
To achieve the ideal ratio of omega 6 to omega 3, you need to simultaneously reduce your intake of omega 6, while increasing how much omega 3 you consume each day. The most concentrated sources of LA are found in plant-based oils like safflower, sunflower, grapeseed, and corn. As such, it’s better to use an oil that is low in omega 6, such as olive oil, and meet your LA needs from less concentrated sources, including almonds, pumpkin seeds, and cashews.
Include a daily source of ALA:
You can meet your daily ALA requirement by including 1 tbsp of ground flax/whole chia seeds or 2 tbsp of hemp seeds. These seeds are great added to a smoothie, sprinkled on toast, mixed into a salad dressing, or stirred into yogurt.
Get enough DHA/EPA:
The only food source rich in DHA/EPA is fatty fish. However, ocean pollution has raised concerns about the safety of fish consumption, since fat-soluble pollutants (such as dioxins) are stored in the fish’s fat cells and are incorporated into our own body’s cells through a process called bioaccumulation. If you do consume fish, avoid larger species such as tile fish and king mackerel and limit the frequency you eat fish to twice a week. If you avoid fish, it is recommended that you take a microalgae supplement providing at least 500 mg of DHA/EPA per serving.
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