OMEGA 3 AND OMEGA 6 FATTY ACIDS
Fats can be good for you?! With all the hype behind Omega 3 and Omega 6’s, finding foods that are high in these fats can be quite exciting. However, let’s consider what is seriously so freaking fantastic about these fats.
WHAT ARE OMEGA 3 AND OMEGA 6 FATS?
Omega 3 and Omega 6 fats are known as polyunsaturated fatty acids based on their chemical structure. Both of these fatty acids cannot be made by the body, but are very important to your health. That is why they are also known as essential fatty acids.
Omega 6 fatty acids are available in a wide variety of foods. Sources include cereals, eggs, animal fat, whole-grain breads, sunflower oil and much more. Omega 3 fatty acids are less abundant, but can be found in leafy green vegetables, walnuts and flaxseed oils. However, the best sources are from fish such as Salmon, Mackerel, Anchovies, Sardines, Halibut, and Trout.
WHAT DO THE OMEGA’S DO FOR ME AND HOW MUCH IS ENOUGH?
When eaten, these essential fatty acids get metabolized into different things. Omega 6 fats are broken down into arachidonic acids while Omega 3 fats get broken down into EPA (a.k.a. eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (a.k.a. docosahexaenoic acid). These products get broken down further and result in different responses by the body. Science has shown that typically Omega 6 fatty acid products, the arachidonic acids, result in inflammatory responses. Omega 3 fatty acid products, EPA and DHA, result in anti-inflammatory responses. However, both are essential to the diet.
The perfect ratio of Omega 6: Omega 3 is a common argument. There seems to be a general consensus that most people are not consuming enough of the Omega 3 fatty acids, but plenty or even too much of the Omega 6’s. This is concerning due to the benefits of Omega 3 fatty acids. These include regulation of cholesterol, triglycerides, blood glucose levels and integrity of brain tissue, nervous and immune systems. The daily recommended intake for Omega 6 is 12 g/d for adult women and 17 g/day for adult men. The adequate intake for Omega 3 is 1.1 g/d and 1.6 g/day for women and men respectively.
WHAT ABOUT SUPPLEMENTATION?
Some people may not like the taste or texture of fish and prefer to rely on plant-based sources of Omega 3 fats. However, the body’s ability to convert these sources of Omega 3 fats into EPA and DHA isn’t the best. In such cases, supplementation may be the way to get enough Omega 3 fats.
The two main supplements that contain Omega 3 fats, or EPA/DHA, are fish and krill oils. Fish oil is extracted, processed and then purified from fish and fish parts. Krill oil is extracted from Antarctic zooplankton. Both fish oils and krill oils contain large amounts of EPA and DHA, but krill oil is slightly higher in EPA:DHA ratio. Also, fish oil and krill oil naturally differ in their chemical structure and form. Therefore, some argue that krill oil is more readily absorbed and used by the body than standard fish oil.
At the end of the day, either type of supplement, if recommended by a physician or nutritionist, is a good way to meet your body’s essential fatty acid needs.
WHAT TO DO?
If you do choose to supplement, it is recommended you consume a healthy fat with it, such as avocado or nuts, to promote the absorption of the supplement. If you choose not to supplement, allow yourself both omega 3’s and 6’s, with a little more effort toward those 3’s. OMG it up!
El-Badry AM, Graf R, Clavien PA. Omega 3 – Omega 6: What is right for the liver? J Hepatol. 2007;47(5):718-725. doi:10.1016/j.jhep.2007.08.005.
Schuchardt JP, Hahn A. Bioavailability of long-chain omega-3 fatty acids. Prostaglandins Leukot Essent Fat Acids. 2013;89(1):1-8. doi:10.1016/j.plefa.2013.03.010.
Ulven SM, Holven KB. Comparison of bioavailability of krill oil versus fish oil and health effect. Vasc Health Risk Manag. 2015;11:511-524. doi:10.2147/VHRM.S85165.
Gropper, Sareen Annora Stepnick., Jack L. Smith, and James L. Groff. “6 Protein.” Advanced Nutrition and Human Metabolism. 5th ed. Australia: Wadsworth/Cengage Learning, 2009. Print.