The average American’s diet contains an Omega-6 to Omega-3 ratio of 16:1, or 16 times the amount of omega-6’s to 3’s. Compare this to the recommended ratio for optimal health of 4:1 and a clear dilemma arises. This is a particular problem because too many omega-6 fatty acids compared to omega-3’s leads to inflammation throughout the body. Inflammatory diseases such as arthritis, types of hearth disease, cancer, and some intestinal ailments such as Crohn’s disease are prevalent in the US and dietary changes may help control or even prevent them.
Both omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids are essential, meaning the body needs them to function properly but cannot produce them on its own. Omega-6 is not bad at correct levels, it is needed for proper cell function throughout the body, however when there is too much it can wreak inflammatory havoc. Omega-3’s are a natural anti-inflammatory that are also needed for proper function of the body and negate any excess of omega-6’s.
The reason why the American diet has an excess of omega-6 can be seen in the oils used in most processed foods. High omega-6 oils such as corn, cottonseed, sunflower, safflower, palm, and peanut oils are most commonly used in processed foods because of their low cost. However, the absence of significant amounts of omega-3’s in these oils poses a problem, especially because dietary sources of high amounts of omega-3’s are seldom found in an American style diet.
The fix to the this problem is to look for foods that include canola, olive, walnut or flaxseed oils. For example, most potato chips are fried in sunflower and safflower oils. However, choosing a brand fried in canola oil such as Madhouse Munchies or Cape Cod Chips, both of which I found at my local Shaw’s, would be a healthier choice. This goes for all processed foods and baked goods. Another option is to begin including high omega-3 foods into the diet to negate excess omega-6’s. Foods such as tuna, salmon, flaxseeds, walnuts, shrimp, scallops, and winter squash are excellent choices. For more information on the omega contents of certain foods you can do a quick search over at nutritiondata.com, its the most complete source of nutrition information I have found yet.
Simopoulos, A. P. “The importance of the ratio of omega-6/omega-3 essential fatty acids.”Biomed Pharmacother 8th ser. 56.365-79 (2002). PubMed. US National Library of Medicine, Oct. 2002. Web. 15 Dec. 2009. <http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12442909>.
“Dietary Fats: MedlinePlus.” National Institutes of Health. Web. 15 Dec. 2009. <http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/dietaryfats.html>.