Understanding essential fatty acids and the importance of the ratio between Omega-3 and Omega-6 can be beneficial to your health.
Essential Fatty Acids (EFAs)
EFAs are fats that the body cannot produce itself so we need to obtain them from our diet. Omega-3 and Omega-6 are types of essential fatty acids; both are polyunsaturated fatty acids that differ from each other in their chemical structure.
These essential fats build hormones that control immune function, are important in cell growth and form part of the cell membranes. Higher consumption maintains nervous system functioning, provides anti-inflammatory benefits, improves mood, provides greater insulin sensitivity, increases muscle growth, and aids in better sleep.
Where to find them
In modern diets, few sources of Omega-3 fatty acids are readily available. They are found in oily fish such as mackerel, black cod, kippers, herring, trout, sardines, salmon and fresh tuna. They also occur in flaxseeds and walnuts but to a lesser extent.
Omega-6 fats help with effective brain function, muscle growth, and hormone production. Higher consumption causes inflammation.
Where to find them
Omega-6 foods are abundant in modern diets. Omega-6 fats are found in nuts and seeds and vegetable oils like rapeseed, corn, soy and sunflower.
Importance of ratio
Omega-3s and Omega-6s occur in a ratio to one another. The body can only use a certain amount of the total ratio so they compete for space. Both are essential for bodily functions; however, Omega-6s are inflammatory, while Omega-3s are not, therefore it is beneficial to maximise the intake of Omega-3s.
In today’s society the ratio is completely skewed with Omega-6s surpassing Omega-3s by a vast margin. The reason for this is that Omega-6s are found in several vegetable oils which are cheap to produce. They are used in abundance in processed and fast foods. This dietary imbalance can contribute to asthma, coronary heart disease, certain forms of cancer, neurodegenerative diseases, and many other chronic diseases which stem from chronic inflammation in the body. Inflammation is the immune system’s response to infection and injury. This skewed ratio may also contribute to obesity, depression, dyslexia and hyperactivity.
It is optimal to eat just enough Omega-6s to function and to balance them with lots of Omega-3s.