Most folks know a bit about omega-3s these days. Perhaps you’re even taking an omega-3 rich fish oil supplement.
Omega-3s are polyunsaturated fatty acids that we get in our food. And they’re critical for our health. In fact, without them our bodies wouldn’t even function.
Plus they also deliver some hefty health benefits such as helping to protecting us from major diseases such as Alzheimer’s, asthma and heart disease.
EPA and DHA are omega-3s that you will get from eating fish. And ALA, another fatty acid, is in plant foods such as seeds and nuts.
Shining a spotlight on omega-6 fatty acids
But if you’ve never heard of omega-6 fatty acids, you’re in good company. They aren’t a household name like the omega-3s. However, like the omega-3s they’re found naturally in some healthy foods you’re likely already eating such as nuts, seeds, chicken and cheese.
When combined with omega-3s, omega-6s help keep your brain, bones and hair healthy. Plus they help make your skin looking gorgeous, and even play a role in keeping your metabolism humming along.
But omega-6s have a dark side too. When you get too many of them, they trigger systemic inflammation. And that means they can contribute to all kinds of health problems, including heart disease, arthritis, dementia and more.
Omega-6 and omega-3 misbalance harms health
Which is why it’s critical that you’re getting enough omega-3s to balance out your omega-6 levels. And that’s where we run into a problem. Because the typical Western diet is drowning in omega-6s, and far too low in omega-3s. Some experts estimate that our modern diet has an omega-6 to omega-3 ratio of more than 10 to 1.
Vegetable oils—such as corn, soybean, safflower and sunflower—are one of the main culprits behind excess omega-6s. These inflammatory oils are lurking in everything from so-called health foods to fried fare. And, ironically, mainstream medicine has pushed them on us as a “healthier” alternative to animal fats.
But it gets worse. Because when those excess omega-6s meet LDL cholesterol, it can trigger a series of events that ultimately ends in a heart attack or stroke.
Oxidized LDL dangers triggered by excess omega-6s
Longtime Healthier Talk readers know that despite its reputation, cholesterol isn’t the villain it’s always made out to be. In fact, even so-called “bad” cholesterol, or low-density lipoprotein, isn’t really a bad guy.
LDL helps to deliver cholesterol to tissues throughout your body where it’s used to make vital hormones including vitamin D. But when unstable omega-6s deteriorate, they generate damaging free radicals that bounce around in search of molecules to attach themselves too.
When those molecules are LDL cholesterol, they form oxidized LDL or oxLDL, and that’s when the real trouble starts. Your body identifies these damaged molecules as a danger, triggering inflammation and sending white blood cells rushing to the site.
The white blood cells surround the oxLDL, walling it off in an attempt to protect you against it. And these sticky particles begin to stack up on the inside of your blood vessel walls forming plaque.
Over time, this build up restricts blood flow, raises blood pressure, contributes to heart disease and eventually can even lead to a heart attack or stroke. In other words, an omega-6 stuffed diet isn’t just dangerous for your health it could be deadly too.
3 simple changes help dial back omega-6 overload
But the good news is with a few small changes you can start dialing back on the omega-6s, and achieve a better ratio between the omegas, starting today.
1. Dump the veggie oils:
Inflammatory vegetable oils are one of the main sources of omega-6s in the Western diet. Cutting back on them can make a drastic difference in your omega-6 levels.
Corn oil, cottonseed oil, grapeseed oil, soybean oil, safflower oil, sunflower oil, sesame oil and canola oil are all examples of these unstable oils. Clear them out of your pantry and switch to coconut oil, avocado oil, organic cold-pressed olive oil and butter instead.
2. Read ingredients labels:
When you go grocery shopping, take a moment to spin your food around and check out the ingredients label. You’re looking for any of those vegetable oils we’ve just mentioned. Sometimes food manufacturers simply use the generic term “vegetable oil.”
Omega-6 heavy veggie oils can be in almost anything, including some of your favorite go-to pantry staples. For example…
- Wishbone Ranch Salad dressing contains soybean oil
- Kraft Mayonnaise contains soybean oil
- Goldfish Baked Snack Crackers contain sunflower oil
- Kellogg’s Nutri-Grain Bars contain soybean oil
In general, avoid commercial salad dressings which tend to use veggie oils. And crackers, snack foods and fried foods are often heavy in omega-6s so strike them from your shopping list too.
3. Create a better balance:
You can’t eliminate all omega-6s from your diet, nor would you want to. But your goal should be to cut back on them to avoid their dark side, especially the potential heart consequences. And to create a better balance with the omega-3s in your diet.
Boost your omega-3s…
- Add more omega-3 rich foods to your menu such as wild-caught salmon, sardines and mackerel.
- Switch to pasture raised eggs. Conventionally grown have significantly higher levels of omega-6.
- Choose grass-fed beef over grain fed, which typically are far higher in omega-6.
- If you’re not already taking a high quality fish-oil supplement, consider adding one to your routine.
A few smart choices can go a long way towards correcting the omega-6 misbalance in your diet. Protect your health and your heart by making these changes today.