Okay, so, this is a huge revelation to me, and most likely it is common sense and old news to you, so don’t judge me TOO harshly. I cannot stress my, “I’m new to all this crap” disclaimer enough. My attempts at natural living are as old as my daughter, which is to say, really freaking young.
I’m going to explain my discoveries in what I like to call, “Dumbed down white girl talk.” So if you’re looking for heavy medical lingo, this.. well, this isn’t your post. If you are nutritionally challenged like me, and confused as to the whole Omega mumbo jumbo, read on! Hopefully I can help clear the fog! (It has only recently cleared for me!)
You Need Your Omega’s… Or Something
My experience with, and knowledge of Omega’s 3 and 6, (aka, the “essential fatty acids”) started with my research into trying to heal the cracks in my heels that I developed during pregnancy.
I went all science geek on my problem and discovered that Omega-3 fatty acids – the “good fats” – are well known for promoting hydration and skin health. Omega-3 fats improve the moisture content of skin by improving cellular health and functioning, and help skin to maintain a smooth, elastic texture. (Among many, many, MANY other health benefits. They are called “essential” for a reason!)
Then I read that it’s not as simple as just popping an Omega-3 pill or eating more Omega-3 rich foods like fish.. you NEED Omega-6’s to balance the 3’s. Without enough Omega-6, the Omega-3’s won’t work as effectively in your body. Okay, no problem. I’ll pop an Omega-6 pill too, with a 3-6-9 supplement. Easy peasy. DONE!
Then I kind of moved on, and didn’t give the beautiful ballet of a balanced diet and a healthy ratio of Omega 3’s and 6’s a second thought. Which was, I guess, kind of dumb.
The Dealio With Proper Ratios of 3’s and 6’s
I kept hearing that Omega-6 is the devil. It’s an evil evil essential fatty acid that must be avoided. At all costs. Or something like that. And this just DIDN’T jive with what I had researched when trying to heal my heels. (Which completely healed up, btw! And I did notice a huge increase in skin moisture and elasticity between my Omega supplements and water intake… but I digress!)
So I finally decided to quit being lazy and give this whole Omega 3 to 6 thing another look-see.
Turns out, Omega-6’s aren’t the devil. It’s the QUANTITY and the SOURCE of Omega-6’s that are.
Basically, people today are eating waaaaaay too many Omega-6 fatty acids. Too much Omega-3 is just as bad as too much Omega-6, the problem is, people in America don’t eat diets rich in 3’s, but our American cuisine is drenched in 6’s.
So Omega-3’s have taken on the role of the “good guy” in health circles, while 6’s are the evil culprit. This is what had confused me so much. Like, if they’re both essential, how can one be good, and the other bad? Amiright!?
Why Balancing The Two Is Important
Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids are called essential because our bodies don’t have the enzymes to produce them, and so we MUST get them from our diet. If we DON’T get them from our diet, then we WILL develop a deficiency and become sick.
These fatty acids are different than other fats in our diet because they are not used simply for energy or stored up in our bodies, but they are biologically active and have important roles in processes like blood clotting and inflammation.
Balance is important because Omega-3 and Omega-6 are two sides of one coin. One is yin, the other is yang. One pulls and one tugs. Or, ya know, more specifically, Omega-6’s are inflammatory, while Omega-3’s are anti-inflammatory.
Why do we need inflammatory Omega-6’s in our diet? Well, because inflammation is essential for our survival. It helps protect our bodies from infection and injury.
Why do we need anti-inflammatory Omega-3’s in our diet? Because excess inflammation can cause heart disease, metabolic syndrome, diabetes, arthritis, Alzheimer’s, many types of cancer, and has even been associated with increased violence and depression, and so on and so on. (Basically, all the major health problems we’re facing as a nation on our current diet. Which kind of makes perfect sense now.)
So yeah. We need balance.
The suggested ratio for optimal health for 3’s and 6’s is pretty simple: it’s recommended we stick to a ratio of 1:1.
Unfortunately, the average American consumes closer to a ratio of about 16:1, while some health experts put the number closer to 30:1. Like, seriously. Holy crap! No wonder Omega-6’s have gotten such a bad rap!
Where Are We Getting All of This Excess Omega-6?!
In a nutshell: From processed seed- and vegetable oils!
If you think about it, we simply did not have the technology to process these oils until about 100 years ago. Health historians state that consumption of processed oils in the USA went from 0 to 24 pounds per person per year. (!!!!)
Processed oil consumption is so high mainly because it is really cheap and it’s found in all sorts of processed and fast foods. Consumption of Omega-6 fatty acids is so out of control, recent examinations have revealed that Omega-6’s are now found permeating fat stores in the average American and have increased by more than 200% in the past 50 years alone!
The unnatural fats that we are eating are leading to actual changes in our body fat stores and in the cell membranes all over our bodies. W.T.F?!
How To Balance Your Omega’s
Fortunately, balancing your intake of these essenial fatty acids is pretty dang simple.
Step 1: Cut Out All Unnatural Omega-6’s
The single most important thing you can do to reduce your Omega-6 intake is to avoid processed seed- and vegetable oils high in Omega-6, and all of the processed foods that contain them.
These “foods” were only introduced to humans in the past 100 years and they have completely distorted the natural balance of these essential fatty acids – along with ushering in an era of diet related health problems and untimely deaths.
When looking at oils, the general rule of thumb is:
Sunflower Oil, Corn Oil, Soybean Oil and Cottonseed Oils = BAD!!! Avoid like the plague.
Butter, Coconut Oil, Lard, Palm Oil and Olive Oil = GOOD!!! Consume guilt free.
And don’t worry about being omega-6 deficient. Without these junk oils, you will still have enough natural omega-6’s in your diet (from nuts, seeds, oils, etc.) to balance the omega-3’s. Not only are Omega-6’s everywhere, remember, you have a ton stored up in your fat cells! (Now isn’t THAT a lovely thought!)
Step 2: Increase Natural Omega-3’s
Since we do live in this nation, and a single trip to fast food or shortcut in the kitchen can and will result in a HUGE influx of Omega-6’s, the best thing you can do is to really amp up your consumption of Omega-3’s to balance it out.
That means – for an American diet – eating a lot more fish. There are tons of other sources out there: pasture-raised meat and eggs, peanut butter, walnuts, edamame, black beans, etc.
I’m lazy, and I’m absent-minded, so I’ve found that instead of navigating the crazy world of “what has more omega-3 and am I getting enough”, the easiest thing to do is just to make a point of incorporating more seafood into my diet. Do this, and cut out the unnatural sources of Omega-6’s, and you’re pretty much spot on for a balanced diet.
Step 3: Take Omega Supplements
This is the cheater option, and is not ideal, but for the control freaks (you know who you are) it works.
I took one of these in the quest to heal my cracked heels. Basically, it’s an oil capsule that contains a balance of all the Omega’s, so that you KNOW you are getting enough to work together and sustain your body.
The plus side of omega supplements is that you KNOW you are getting enough to not run into deficiencies in your body. The negative is that if you are still eating an awful Omega-6 rich diet of junk food, then your supplement isn’t helping the excess Omega-6 problem. You still need enough Omega 3’s to balance that out.
Natural forms of omega-3’s have far more health benefits for your body, so only view a pill as a last ditch effort. Try to make it a priority to eat healthier from the start!
So there you have it! I hope I’ve been able to help! Is this new to you? Is it old news? Am I just being really slow on the uptake? Share below!!