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  • Writer's pictureGemma Westfold

Omega 3 & Omega 6 fats: why you should care

You’ve probably heard of Omega 3 fatty acids (n3), but maybe not so much about Omega 6 fatty acids (n6). This is even though you are likely to be eating n6 fatty acids daily, possibly in each meal.



What are they?

Both n3 and n6 fats are essential: that means they cannot be made in the body but instead must be eaten in the diet. Both act drastically differently. In simplistic terms, n3 is anti-inflammatory and omega 6 is pro-inflammatory. Both are necessary in the diet for the correct function of our cells, neurons, tissues, organs, skin…


You find n3 fatty acids naturally in grass fed meat, wild caught fish and the greens/plankton they eat. Think green grass and green veg or sea vegetables or any animal that feeds on them.


N6 fatty acids are found mainly in nuts, seeds and poultry. Think grains, nuts, seeds and any animal that feeds on them. However, with the rise of ultra processed foods and ultra processed seed oils, grain fed beef and farmed fish – n6 fatty acids are everywhere. There is far too much and the increase since the 1980s is overwhelming.


Why is this important

In our hunter gatherer times, when our ancient genes weren’t having to cope with the modern world, we had the ideal balanced ratio of n3 to n6 fatty acids in our diet. This ratio was around 1:1. This was due to a large amount of food being high in n3 and no processed foods high in n6.


Worryingly, in 2023, this is very different. In the Western world the ratio of n3:n6 is likely to be as high as 1:20 according to some researchers.


Why does this matter

The food that we eat is mirrored in our cell walls, which is exactly where n3 and n6 compete for space. They are two very differently behaving fats that are embedded in our cell membrane. Every one of our trillions of cells have a cell wall packed with n3 and n6. N3 is dynamic, flexible and healing (anti-inflammatory), n6 is stable, rigid and trouble (pro-inflammatory). This is really important as the amount of each fatty acid we have in our cell membrane can dictate our health. Yes, we need n6 and we couldn’t live without inflammation, but n6 is undesirable in high levels.


A high ratio of n6:n3 can lead to:

  • Obesity

  • Cardiovascular disease

  • Type 2 diabetes

  • IBS and IBD

  • Rheumatoid arthritis

  • Asthma

  • Cancer

  • Autoimmune disease

  • Mood disorders

  • Inflammation

  • Chronic disease


What can you do about it?

Create a better ratio of n3 to n6. Increasing n3 rich foods is key here, make sure you eat oily fish twice a week and concentrate on smaller fish such as anchovies, sardines, salmon. These need to be wild and not farmed, as farmed are fed food that is not their natural diet, making them higher in n6 than n3. It’s likely most people will need a fish oil supplement (please see a health care professional if you are on any medications) to build up historically low levels but still but that isn’t enough. It’s also vital to lower the amount of omega 6 dietary intake.


Where can omega 6 be sneaking in:

  • Ultra Processed foods - this is without doubt the largest contributor – crisps, salad dressings, protein bars, cereal bars, crackers, ready meals, spreadable butters, sauces, soups

  • Seed oils – canola, rapeseed, safflower, mayonnaise

  • Grain fed meats, farmed fish

  • Shop bought hummus & dips

You may be surprised where it is lurking. Get into the habit of reading labels and prepare to be shocked.


Omega 6 is also found in nuts and seeds, but I don’t worry too much about this source. Nature does fats a lot better than factories. Eat them in moderation if you are trying to regain balance. I want to point out that we do need n6 in our diet, but we are getting it from poor food sources and we are getting far too much of it.


Supplementation

It’s common to be low in n3. I supplement most of my clients with fish oils, always checking first if there are any contraindications with the medications they are on. There are vegan alternatives available. I also test for omega ratios as well as levels of trans fats in blood. It’s a blood spot test that you can do at home and send back to the lab. It’s very popular with clients as over a period of 3 months it can be clear that progress has been made, and who doesn’t love that?


If you are worried about this and want to make sure you have a better balance in your diet, either to help with one of the chronic conditions listed or to prevent them, then book a free 30 minute call with me and we can see if you would like to join one of my 12 week packages. Prices start from £450 and you can book in the free call here.


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