If you’re the type to read up on healthy eating and exercise (you’re here, aren’t you), you’ve probably read a bit on the proper amount of Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids to consume. A diet that is too low in Omega-3s but too high in Omega-6s may actually make inflammation worse — high above the normal levels needed to ward of disease and protect muscles and joints from simple injury.
This article looks at the correct ratios, as well as some historical data to illustrate, in terms of healthy fats vs unhealthy fats, just how far the modern Western diet has gone from where it started.
Why these are essential fatty acids
According to the Oxford Dictionary, the term essential means “absolutely necessary; extremely important.” When used to describe fatty acids, this term is accurate — but not in the way you might suspect.
Yes, Omega-3 fatty acids are essential to a healthy diet. But why the term is used, its raison d’avoir besoin, as the French would say, is because the body actually cannot produce Omega-3 or Omega-6 fatty acids itself. Therefore, it is essential that you get them in your diet, and that you get them consistently.
Omega-3s play a major role in reducing joint pain and inflammation and also in ensuring proper blood flow throughout the body. Omega-6, when consumed in moderated quantities, can lower cholesterol and reduce your risk of certain cancers.
The startling distorted modern ratio of Omega-6 to Omega-3
Let’s start this section with the cold, hard fact — the modern Western diet sees an Omega-6 to Omega-3 ratio of between 15:1 to 16.7:1.
It doesn’t take a scientist to hypothesize that those numbers aren’t where they’re supposed to be — though plenty of scientists have done just that. According to Science Direct, “A high omega-6/omega-3 ratio, as is found in today’s Western diets, promotes the pathogenesis of many diseases, including cardiovascular disease, cancer, osteoporosis, and inflammatory and autoimmune diseases.”
This same finding from Science Direct notes that diets high in Omega-3 fatty acids “exert suppressive effects.” Contrast these numbers with those of pre-modern diets such as the Native populations of North America. Those who ate primarily nuts, meats, and vegetables harvested from the land had a ratio much closer to where it should be, somewhere around 3:1 or 4:1.
Go back even further and studies suggest that humans actually evolved eating an Omega-6 to Omega-3 ratio of darn near even, according to the US National Library of Medicine. It’s no wonder we were able to evolve to walk upright!
The diets of these time periods were built around what was available in the immediate surroundings — nothing was processed or stuffed with preservatives, and everything was natural. Contrast this with the packaged fried and salted snacks that line shelves today and, well, it’s no surprise that we’ve sunk this low.
Why are Omega-6 oils bad?
To clarify, Omega-6 fatty acids are not entirely bad. As we mentioned above, we actually need small quantities for our bodies to function properly. But today’s diet of junk food and processed oils is feeding us too much, which can lead to problems such as high blood pressure and, eventually, more severe heart problems like stroke or blood clots.
WebMD notes that “we eat way too much omega-6, which is found in the corn oil and vegetable oils used in so much American food,” and goes on to say that too much Omega-6 can “cause your body to retain water.”
The one thing to avoid as much as possible is trans-fats, which are altered to mellow into a solidified state. If you’ve ever worked in a restaurant kitchen, you may have seen trans-fat in high quantity in the typical deep fryer — the oil, when cooled, would solidify to look strikingly like butter or margarine. When heated to cooking temperature, it would liquify and look similar to trans-fat-free frying oil. Fortunately, many restaurants have made the switch to trans-fat-free frying oils since the turn of the century, but it never hurts to ask.
Among things to monitor your consumption of are soybean oil and peanut oil. Again, we’re not saying Omega-6s should be avoided — you need them — it’s all about finding the correct ratio of Omega-6 to Omega-3.
So what is the correct amount of healthy fats?
According to the studies cited by WebMD, “Most experts recommend that we get 30% of our calories from fat, although we can survive fine on as little as 20%, even 10%.” If you can incorporate healthy oils such as extra virgin olive oil and high-fat cold-water fish into your diet, you will be well on your way to getting the proper amount of Omega-3s and fat calories. Focus also on leafy greens, nuts, beans, legumes, and other foods high in Omega-3s and healthy calories.
When taken regularly, an Omega-3 supplement such as GLX3 can make up the difference or fill in when you have a junk food slack day. Become a Haka Life Warrior today and take charge of your health!
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