The Difference between Omega 3 and 6

One thing I’ve been learning a lot about while researching for this blog is the importance of Omega oils.  I kept coming across more and more articles about how out of balance our society has become in regards to these two cruicial fatty acids.  The word on the street is we are getting too many Omega 6 fatty acids while not getting enough Omega 3s.

I decided to do some research.

Both the Omega 3 and Omega 6 fatty acids are considered essential to our diets because we need them to live, yet our bodies cannot make them on their own.  We must get them from the foods we eat.

What’s the difference between the two?

Omega 3

Omega 3 fatty acids are extremely important for our health, probably the most important out of all the fatty acids.  There are molecules that make up Omega 3 fatty acids (ALA, EPA, DHA) and our bodies make 2 of these moleclues themselves.   However, they do not produce ALA which is why it’s so important for us to get this fatty acid from our diets.   They play a crucial role in brain development and inflammation and recent research has shown Omega 3 may reduce the risk of heart disease.

Foods rich in Omega 3s are:omega3

Omega 6

Omega 6 fatty acids aren’t bad for us, its just that the American diet has them out of balance with the Omega 3 fatty acids.  They say a ratio of 2:1 is the most beneficial, however the American diet can be as high as 30:1 !

The molecules that make up the Omega 6 fatty acids are LA, AA and GLA.  Again, our bodies make 2 of these components but it does not make LA which has to be found in the diet.  As Americans we consume way too many Omega 6 fatty acids because they are found primarily in cooking oils such as canola, soybean, corn and sunflower oils (which includes most salad dressings and mayo).  However, it isn’t found in olive oil which is another reason I only use olive oil.

I found a list of foods containing Omega 6 acids from highest to lowest here.  I think the turkey surprised me the most.

Omega 6 fatty acids lower cholesterol and help support the skin and without a correct balance of Omega 6 to Omega 3 we end up with inflammation problems which can lead to heart disease, diabetes and Alzheimers to name a few.


So after I did this research I wondered to myself:

“How do I know how much Omega 3 I am getting?”  What if I don’t eat any fish that day?  What if I don’t hardly eat fish at all?

According to Dr. Frank Sacks of the Harvard School of Public Health, I should get at least one serving of Omega 3s a day which can include putting walnuts on my salad, flaxseed in my oatmeal or a fish dinner.

After doing this research I think I’m going to be a little more aware of how much Omega 3 fatty acids I am getting.  It doesn’t seem that hard to get more in my diet and the benefits are HUGE.  What about you?  Are you aware of how much Omega 3 you are getting?  Would you take a supplement if you weren’t getting enough?

University of Maryland Medical Center
Harvard School of Public Health

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