People tend to associate the word fat with obesity so sometimes dietary fats get a bad reputation. However, many fats play a vital role in the biochemical and cellular processes in your body and you cannot survive without them. This is especially true for a class of fats called “essential fatty acids” (EFA’s). EFA’s are considered “essential” because they are necessary for life, but cannot be produced by your body. They are vital components of cellular membranes and play an important role in inflammatory signaling pathways, immune function, and enzymatic processes throughout the body. EFA's also have well-established positive effects in cardiovascular health, brain health, vision, and more.1–6 Since your body cannot make them, they must be consumed in the diet much like some of the different vitamins, minerals, amino acids, and other nutrients.
The primary EFA's that get the most attention are Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids. While all of the essential acids play important roles throughout the body, it is important that they are consumed in the proper balance. Consuming too many Omega-6 fatty acids and inadequate Omega-3’s causes an imbalance in the body that makes it more susceptible to inflammatory processes.7 Omega-6 fatty acids generally play an inflammatory role while Omega-3’s have an opposite anti-inflammatory role.8
Unfortunately, the Standard American Diet (SAD) tends to lack Omega-3 fatty acids while having an excessive amount of Omega-6 fatty acids. So for most Americans the balance is shifted to favor inflammation. It is unknown what the ideal ratio of dietary Omega-3 to Omega-6 fatty acids should be, but when you examine diets associated with improved health and longevity, such as traditional Mediterranean and Asian diets, as well as more natural diets that our ancestors would have consumed, the ideal ratio appears to fall somewhere between 4:1 and 1:4.8,9
Based on these numbers, many nutritionists recommend aiming for a ratio of 1:1, meaning equal amounts of Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids.7,8 However, it is estimated that the average America consuming the SAD consumes a ratio of over 15:1 Omega-6 to Omega-3, with some estimates over 20:1 – meaning instead of eating equal amounts we are consuming 15 to 20 times more of the pro-inflammation Omega-6 fatty acids.7,8,10 For most people to restore this ratio to a healthier level, they should avoid foods that are high in Omega-6 fatty acids and focus on increasing intake of Omega-3's. The following chart highlights foods that have more Omega-3's than Omega-6's:
Note: Some Omega-6 oils like alpha-linolenic acid are good and help reduce inflammation, but they are becoming less abundant in both natural and processed foods.
Limit / Moderate*
High Omega 3:6 Ratio
High Omega 6:3 ratio
|Fish/Seafood (striped bass, pollock, sea bass, cod, whiting, perch, tuna, mackerel, herring, snapper, salmon, halibut, caviar, crab, lobster, mussels, oysters, clams, scallops, crayfish, octopus)||Nuts/Seeds (almonds, cashews, hazelnuts, pecans, pistachios, poppy seeds, sunflower seeds, walnuts)|
|Canned Fish / Seafood (salmon, tuna, cod, shrimp, mackerel, sardines, herring, crab, anchovy)||Oils (canola, corn, soybean, grain-fed tallow, walnut, grapeseed, primrose, borage, peanut, palm, cottonseed)|
|Fish Oil (salmon, cod liver oil, menhaden, sardine)||Grains/beans (soybeans, tofu)|
|Seeds/Beans (flax, chia, mungo, navy, french, kidney, string, broad, pinto)||Root Vegetables (carrots, beets)|
|Herbs (Peppermint, spearmint, thyme, basil, tarragon, marjoram, oregano, saffron)||Non-Fish Meat, Particularly Grain-Fed (beef, pork, chicken, turkey, processed meats)|
|Green Vegetables (spinach, cauliflower, broccoli, turnip greens, Brussels' sprouts, cabbage, iceburg, butterhead, romaine, watercress, arugula)||Foods Made with High Omega-6 Oils (mayonnaise, margarine, dressings, chips, crackers, fried foods, cookies, pastries, candy)|
|Tropical Fruit (papaya, mango, kiwi, cantaloupe, honeydew melon)||Dairy, Particularly Grain-Fed Sources (butter, cheese, milk, processed cheese)|
*Note that this chart takes the Omega-6 content of foods into consideration. Some foods you may recognize as being good sources of Omega-3's like walnuts may also contain a significant amount of Omega-6's therefore are not ideal choices for restoring the balance of Omega-3's and Omega-6's for most people, even though they do provide Omega-3's.
It’s recommended to consume at least 8-12 ounces of various types of fish every week in order to get an adequate amount of Omega-3’s in your diet. Some types of fish can contain high levels of toxic compounds like dioxins and PCB’s, as well as heavy metals such as mercury. Generally speaking, fish that are higher on the food chain (predatory fish) like swordfish, tilefish, shark, albacore tuna, and king mackerel have higher levels of mercury and heavy metals. Salmon, shrimp, Pollock, tilapia, anchovies and cod tend to have lower levels of heavy metals and are safer options to consume regularly. Another thing to note is that some foods may be fortified or naturally contain more Omega-3's depending on how they are produced. For example, chickens that are fed diets with higher Omega-3 content will produce eggs that also have higher Omega-3 content and that is typically advertised on the packaging.
You may see some dietary recommendations that suggest eating light or fat-free canned tuna instead of full-fat canned tuna as it tends to contain less mercury, however removing the fats and oils also removes a significant portion of the Omega-3 oils, so you are not getting nearly as much as you would from full-fat preparations - so eating canned tuna may not be the best strategy to increase your intake of Omega-3's.
People that want to avoid the risk of consuming toxins that accumulate in the oils from wild caught fish may choose to instead use an Omega-3 supplement that has been purified to remove these potential toxins. Pinnaclife Omega-3 uses pharmaceutical-grade molecularly distilled fish oil with PureMax™ concentrated purity that is tested by an independent third-party laboratory to confirm that it is free of mercury, PCB’s, dioxins, and many other potential toxins. The source of Pinnaclife Omega-3's also has Friend of the Sea designation, meaning they practice sustainable and ecologically responsible methods for obtaining their Omega-3's.
Kyle Hilsabeck, PharmD., is the Vice President of Pharmaceutical Affairs at McCord Holdings and licensed by the Iowa Board of Pharmacy. He completed bachelors degrees in biology and biochemistry at Wartburg College before earning his Doctorate of Pharmacy from the University of Iowa College of Pharmacy. Upon graduation, he completed a community pharmacy practice residency through the University of Iowa where he focused primarily on nutritional aspects of care including the use of vitamin, mineral, and herbal supplements. He has taught courses for the University of Iowa College of Pharmacy on vitamins, minerals, herbs, and nutritional supplements and given many presentations on the subject as well. He has a passion for improving patient care specifically with regards to the safety and quality of the nutritional supplements and health information people use.
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