By Stephanie Margolis, R.D.
When you hear the term “good fats” used, people are typically referring to omega-3 fatty acids. These are the fats that help to fight inflammation in your body, help to control risk factors for heart disease, and have even been correlated to weight loss. But did you know that there’s another fatty acid that needs a little more attention? Yup, omega-6. Both these fatty acids are not naturally found in the body so they must be consumed or your body will become deficient. The reason you hear less about those omega-6s (refers to a whole family of polyunsaturated fatty acids) is because they are so abundant in our food supply we don’t need to try to get extra.
Where are they?
You can find omega-6s in poultry, eggs, nuts, cereals, wheat, whole-grain breads, and most oils. When you zoom out and start looking at all the foods out there, these omega-6s are found in so many foods that we don’t have to make the extra effort to get enough. One of the biggest sources of omega-6s in an average diet comes from soybean oil, mainly because it is used in processed foods
How much do I need?
Research has shown, individuals who consumed omega-6s and omega-3s in a 3:1 or 4:1 ratio, saw a decrease in diseases such as heart disease, cancer, inflammatory and autoimmune disease. However, the average American diet is 15:1 or 17:1, meaning we eat way too many omega-6s and not enough omega-3s. (1) It is hard to track your omega-6s because they are hidden in so many places, but to improve your ration you can do a few intentional things:
Increase your intake of fresh seafood – aim for 2 servings of high omega-3 fish weekly.
Decrease your intake of processed foods – make more foods from scratch.
Cut back on processed seed and vegetable oils such as soybean oil, cottonseed oil, sunflower oil instead consider using butter, coconut oil, plan oil, and olive oil (always with moderation and portion control in mind) This includes salad dressings. Most store-bought salad dressings contain large amounts of oils.
Avoid Unhealthy Additions. When food companies make foods they are typically looking to create products that will last a while on the shelf at the lowest cost. When you make foods from scratch at home you are going to be avoiding some of the additives. For example, a typical additive used to help to emulsify (bind together) foods to increase shelf life is soy lecithin. Lecithins are naturally found in soybeans and egg yolks and can be beneficial to your heart and brain; however, when consumed in large quantities there are studies that have linked chronic inflammation, mineral deficiencies, and GI distress.