Omega 3 VS 6: What's the difference?

September 18, 2013

Getting the right types of fats in our diets can be confusing. What's the difference between omega 3 and 6? Find out here

We all know that there are certain types of fats that are more healthful than others. But what’s the difference between omega 3s and omega 6s? And do we actually need both? 

The importance of the omega-3 to 6 balance. 
One of the most important things to understand about fats is that our bodies need certain types of fats to function. The essential fatty acids, which include omega-3 and omega-6, so named because our bodies cannot manufacture them on our own, must be obtained through dietary sources or supplements.

Today on average we consume far too many omega-6 fats as compared to omega-3s; a ratio that estimates show was about two to one 100 years ago, and today the food supply provides these fats in a ratio estimated at 10 to one! The overload of omega-6s comes from the refined nut and seed oils used in fast foods and some snack foods like cookies, crackers, and sweets, as well as grain fed meat. Omega-3s are plentiful in diets consisting of seeds and nuts, fatty fish, fruits and vegetables, and grass-fed meat.

Why is the ratio so important?
Omega-3 fats benefit many systems in the body, but most importantly they reduce inflammation. Omega-6 fats, if consumed in excess, tend to increase inflammation. Many health professionals believe that this imbalance has led to chronic inflammation in the body, which is a commonality shared between health problems like asthma, coronary heart disease, and various forms of cancer as well as autoimmune diseases.

What to shop for to keep your omega-3 to 6 balance in check?
Look for oily fish such as salmon, mackerel, sardines, and black cod. In the meat department, pastured, grass-fed, and free-range whenever possible. Butter with these claims is also a good choice. Use extra virgin olive oil for dressing salads and decrease other omega-6 rich cooking oils such as soybean, cottonseed, vegetable, safflower and sunflower. Snacking on nuts and seeds, which are great sources of monounsaturated fats is also a great option. And of course, fill your plate with fruits and vegetables as well as whole grains like brown rice, buckwheat, and quinoa, over refined and processed grains.