Too much Omega 6 isn’t good for us. It stops Omega 3 from working and is a major cause of illness and inflammation. The trouble is, biscuits, crisps and chips taste SO good – all of which are made with vegetable oils and are therefore high in Omega 6. Often we don’t even realise we are consuming Omega 6 fatty acid as it’s hidden in processed and convenience foods.
Around 150 years ago, the ratio of Omega 3 to 6 in our diets was 1:1 – now it’s closer to 1:15 and as high as 1:25 in the US.
However, according to Dr Loren Cordain, ratios are unimportant. It is the “absolute amount” of both Omega 6 and Omega 3 fatty acids that determine their biological effects in our bodies.
Here comes the science bit...
Both DHA and EPA and AA have pro and anti-inflammatory effects in our bodies. Excesses of one or the other can produce disease and pathology. Hence it is the balance of Omega 6 fatty acids and Omega 3 fatty acids which is the important concept. The typical Western diet is overloaded with Omega 6 fatty acids at the expense of Omega 3 fatty acids.
“The body requires threshold amounts of both fatty acids to operate our metabolic machinery without pathology. Once threshold (absolute) amounts for both Omega 6 and Omega 3 are achieved, then the concept of ratios of one fatty acid to another become meaningful.” - Dr Loren Cordain.
In layman’s terms this means too much of anything is a bad thing. It is only in the context of the standard Western diet that the ratio of Omega 3 to 6 matters. That’s why, for optimal health, it’s not enough to just increase your levels of Omega 3. You need to reduce your intake of pro-inflammatory Omega 6 fats as well.
How to cut down on Omega 6
"People want cheap treats and the food industry has responded by using highly-processed vegetable oil, which is cheap to produce and can be made into any consistency”. Dr Alex Richardson, founder of Food and Behaviour Research and senior research fellow at Oxford University.
Vegetable oil is the main culprit responsible for boosting our Omega 6 intake. Sunflower oil, soy bean oil and corn oil are widely used in processed foods, and in many homes, despite the fact they have little nutritional value, and are responsible for a number of modern diseases. “I can’t believe they haven’t been banned,” states Dr Richardson.
Even if you follow a healthy diet, with no processed foods, you may be eating too much Omega 6 without realising it. Locally sourced, organic rapeseed oil seems like a healthy choice for you and the environment, but it is chock-full of Omega 6. Similarly, fresh meat from your butcher will contain Omega 6, unless it is grass-fed, as cows and chickens are frequently fed corn and soy, which are high in Omega 6 and low in Omega 3s. And those posh vegetable crisps? Yep, cooked in vegetable oil.
According to Dr Richardson there are three key things you can do to reduce Omega 6 in your diet:
- Swap the vegetable oil you cook with for traditional fats like butter and lard
- Avoid processed foods
- Eat grass-fed beef and chicken; animals raised on industrial farms are frequently fed corn and soy which, in turn, makes the meat high in Omega 6s and low in Omega 3s
- Swap meat for fish a few times a week
Read the label on everything in your home. You’ll be surprised at how much contains Omega 6.
It's important to supplement with a high-strength Omega 3 to keep your levels of Omega 3-6 balanced.