Clarity on omega-6 fatty acids
You don’t want omega-6 overload, but you also don’t want omega-6 deficiency. The ideal omega-6:omega-3 index (i.e., the ratio of omega6:omega-3 in cells of the body, such as red blood cells) is 2:1 or less and closer to the historical level of 1:1 that prevailed prior to the agricultural age. How do you achieve the right balance? It is simpler than you might think.
To ensure that you are consuming a healthy amount of omega-6 vs. omega-3, choose fats such as lard and tallow (provided they are not hydrogenated, if store-bought), coconut oil, palm oil (look for sustainably produced brands), extra-virgin olive oil, avocado oil, cocoa butter, and organic butter and ghee that are dominated by saturated and monounsaturated fats, and the omega-3 fat, linolenic acid. We include fish in our diet, of course, as well as supplement omega-3s, EPA + DHA (since excessive consumption of fish in the modern world risks mercury overload). We avoid concentrated sources of omega-6s such as corn, sunflower, safflower, cottonseed, rice bran, grapeseed, canola, peanut, soybean, and “vegetable” oils. Also avoid any oil that is hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated, as well as margarine. Linolenic acid–rich oils, such as flaxseed and walnut, are somewhere in between—use them, but don’t rely on them excessively as they also contain substantial omega-6 oils.
Other considerations include:
- Choose eggs from pasture-fed chickens, as their yolks contain an omega-6:omega-3 ratio of 1.3:1, compared to 19.9:1 in a conventionally sourced egg.
- Choose meats from grass-fed animals or those fed omega-3-enriched diets, as linolenic acid omega-3 content is higher, rather than high-volume factory farm meats
- Choose wild caught fish over farmed fish, as the omega-3 EPA + DHA content is greater due to the feed given to farmed fish. (Overfishing of the world’s oceans is likely to make this a challenge in coming years, however, perhaps solvable by obtaining EPA + DHA from algae or other sources.)
Foods containing plentiful corn oil, canola oil, soybean oil, and other seed oils send omega-6 (linoleic acid) intake ten- or twentyfold higher than it should be. Such high intakes of omega-6 fatty acids contribute to inflammation, depression, heart disease risk, higher risk for cognitive impairment and dementia, and developmental defects in children, particularly if combined with low levels of omega-3 fatty acids, EPA and DHA, and linolenic acid—a common situation. Intake of such oils has increased so much that the linoleic acid content of fat cells has tripled. Excess omega-6 with lack of omega-3 appears to contribute to obesity, also, including increased size of fat cells and inhibited development of heat-generating brown fat cells.
Avoiding processed seed oils helps bring omega-6 intake down while you restore omega-3 fatty acids with fish consumption and fish oil supplements and include linolenic acid–rich foods, such as walnuts, chia seeds, flaxseed, and pasture-fed meats. Unfortunately, some people have interpreted this advice to mean absolute avoidance of omega-6 fatty acids—but that is flat wrong. In fact, if you were to engage in complete avoidance of omega-6 fatty acids, you would get ill and eventually die. This is because, like omega-3s, omega-6 fatty acids are essential (the human body cannot make omega-6 fatty acids). Lack of omega-6 leads to skin rashes, impaired immunity, and impaired growth in children. So it is foolhardy to avoid all omega-6 fatty acids—you need omega-6s.
You don’t want omega-6 overload, but you also don’t want omega-6 deficiency. Once omega-6-heavy seed oils are avoided, modest consumption of the seeds themselves, such as sunflower or pumpkin; walnuts and other nuts; chia seeds; flaxseed; and grass-fed meats provides a healthy intake of omega-6 fatty acids while not tilting the scales toward overload (just as humans have done it all along). Consume no grains and no processed seed oils while eating whole foods like nuts, meats, and vegetables and you do not have to count omega-6 fat grams or any other measure, as it simply takes care of itself.
After following this advice for a period of, say, 60 days, if you are not confident that you are maintaining a healthy balance of omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids, you can measure your own omega-6:omega-3 index with a finger-stick blood test that you can do yourself at home, such as the one by OmegaQuant (omegaquant .com/omega-3-index/).