Polyunsaturated Fat - Omega-3 vs. Omega-6

Polyunsaturated Fatty-Acids or PUFAs are very important fats which are essential for our health. We need to deep-dive a bit more though and understand how best to incoporate them into our diet for optimal benefits.

In the recent years our diet has changed quite a lot and unfortunately not for the better. This has mostly to do with the rapid increase of the world population and hence the demand for food. The transition from a hunter-gatherer diet to an agriculture based diet meant we begun to rely more and more on grains and also to cheaper sources of food. This has actually been reflected to a huge increase in omega-6 mainly from linoleic acid in industrial seed oils, such as soybean, corn, sunflower oils and at the same time a decrease of omega-3 fats (ALA, EPA, DHA).

 

Polyunsaturated fats

There are three type of fat satured, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated. These words have to do with the chemical stucture of the fatty acids. There is a simple rule to differenciate them.
  • The more saturated the fat is, the harder it will be at colder temperatures. Typical saturated fats are coconut oil and butter
  • Monounsaturated fats solidify somewhat in cold temperatures. Olive oil is high ( around 70%) in monosaturated fat.
  • Highly polyunsaturated fat don’t solidify even they are cold. In this category we find sunflower, canola oil etc.

What is most important though is that stability of those fats under heat. Saturated fats have a higher smoking point and better suited than polyunstaturated  fats which you want to avoid for cooking since they are highly oxidised when heated. We need to make a special notes on vegetables oils since they are very highly processed and should be avoided at all costs.

 

Polyunsaturated fats though are essential for health and since the body can’t create them the amount needed we need to get these essential nutrients from food.

Omega-3 fats are a key family of polyunsaturated fats. There are three main omega-3s:

  • Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) come mainly from fish, so they are sometimes called marine omega-3s.
  • Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), the most common omega-3 fatty acid in most Western diets, is found in vegetable oils and nuts (especially walnuts), flax seeds and flaxseed oil, leafy vegetables, and some animal fat, especially in grass-fed animals. The human body generally uses ALA for energy, and conversion into EPA and DHA is very limited.

Omega-6 fats are also healthy unsaturated fats. Just like omega-3 fats, we need to get omega-6 fats from food in our diet. There are four types of omega-6 fats:

  • LA (Linoleic acid)
  • ARA (Arachidonic Acid)
  • GLA (Gamma linoleic)
  • CLA (Conjugated linoleic acid)
 

A bit of History around the world

Healthy populations, such as in Japan, have a low omega 6:to:3 ratio of around 4:1 or less, which can be achieved on a diet of whole, unprocessed foods. However this ratio has been scewed in the last decades with the increase of demand for faster and cheeper food. This has given raise to processed oil and meat from animals that have been very poorly fed. Currently the 

Omega-6 fats

Industrial seed oils are not as healthy as they are reported to be. In fact you should avoid them. You should also avoid.

The point of attention here is Linoleic acid (LA), which although is considered essential it should comprise of only 1% of our total diet intake. However currently the average consumption is about 7 to 8 times that amount. 

  • Excess LA blocks the satiety mechanisms of the adipose tissue cells by signalling them to store more fat
  • Excess LA makes the blood more prone to clotting (contributing to heart attacks) and makes blood vessels harder to dilate.
  • LA is pro-inflammatory and cells that contain excess LA can contribute to cellular lever malfunction and resut into cancer. This needs to be counter balanced by decreasing omega-6 and increasing omega-3 which is anti-inflammatory. 
  • LA increases the small-dense oxidized LDL which is found in the plaque that build up in the artery walls.

Omega-3 fats

  • It is true that omega-3 fatty acids can increase LDL but unlike omega-6, it tends to increase the benign large particles while reducing the harmful small-dense LDL particles.  
  • Omega-3 reduces inflammatino and protects your heart.
  •  ALA independent of the low conversion ratio to EPA/DHA has beneficial effects on blood pressure.
  • Omega-3 increases HDL and reduces triglycerides
  • Omega-3 is esssential in increased amounts (300mg /day) for pregnant women to ensure that the baby gets enough when it is born.

What to eat and what to avoid

  • Consume plenty of fatty fish
  • Reduce consumption of nuts and seeds. Flax seeds and Chia seeds are the only ones with a ratio 03:06 bigger than one. Reduce to walnuts, almonds, etc to a handful.
  • No fast food and deep fried food. The combilation of LA in low quality oils with carbs is leathal as it puts on hold all satiety signals and stores inflammatory compounds in your cells which will cause havoc inside you.
  • Prefer grass-fed beef to chicken and pork. Grass fed beef has around 2% of LA whereas check and pork more than 10%

Key Takeaways

  • By consuming more omega-3 and less omega-6 you will get into an inti-inflammatory state.
  • Increasing omega-3 fats will reduce the risk of cardiovascular desease.
  • Increasing omega-3 fats will help boosting fat burning and build lean muscle mass
  • Avoid consumption of industrial seed oils. 
  • Consume an omega-6/3 ratio of no more then 4:1
  • Consume wild-caught fresh seafood, animal products organic, pasture raised and grass-fed.
  • Consume nuts and seeds with moderation.

Further Reading

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