Dear Mark: Encore on Omegas

The posts involving omega-3s have spurred a lot of discussion and a good number of excellent questions. Thanks to Ed Parsons and company I thought I’d give more time to the topic and see if I can complete the picture a little more. Thank you for your comments and questions.

Dear Mark,

Can you give us some rules of thumb for getting into the 1:1 ratio ballpark? Should I be trying to hit the ratio for every meal, for each day, or by the week, or even over a longer time period?

Just to review, the hailed 1:1 ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids provides your body with the appropriate balance thought to keep inflammation at bay. I would advise making the ratio a priority each day. Targeting the ratio for every meal can get unnecessarily complicated, and longer spans like a week don’t take into account your body’s constant hormonal production, which is influenced by the fatty acids.

As far as achieving the right ratio, I’d suggest a few tips but caution you to not over think it too much. The first suggestion is to cut out processed and fast food. Both are high in omega-6 because of the typical soybean and/or corn oil additives. Besides avoiding soy and corn oils, steer clear of anything with sunflower, safflower, cottonseed and peanut oils. If you eat meat and animal products from conventional, grain-fed livestock, I’d suggest limiting your fat intake from these sources because of their high levels of omega-6.

As Josh mentioned last week, it can be difficult to achieve the 1:1 ratio without use of a daily supplement. This is especially true if you can’t choose grass-fed meats and dairy products. For example, range-fed eggs have a 1.5:1 ratio, while conventional eggs can have a 20:1 ratio.

And, as Josh said, keep in mind that the ratio is especially targeted for the EPA/DHA in omega-3 (fish sources) rather than the ALA (flax). It’s much more difficult to build up a large amount of EPA/DHA from food than it is ALA, as ALA doesn’t convert efficiently enough (roughly 15%) to cover you on the EPA/DHA fronts.

Unfortunately, it’s much easier to build up a supply of omega-6 than omega-3. A can of sardines has about .9 grams of DHA and EPA, while your average chicken breast has about 1.4 grams of omega-6. You’d end up eating a lot of fish to get the 1:1 ratio in your diet, given all the omega-6 floating around out in our food supply.

In short, choose grass-fed when you can and avoid the worst of the ratio busters. Eat a serving a day or more of fish as well as a healthy dose of flax oil or ground seed. Lastly, add a good EPA/DHA omega-3 supplement (link to my product ;)) that’s clear of toxins.

For more information on specific amounts for foods, visit the always thoughtful Weight of the Evidence blog.

Dear Mark,

Can you please explain the differences in salmon?? The “normal” salmon at the store has 14g of fat per serving on the label. The “wild caught Alaskan” salmon has only 2g of fat. I know we’re supposed to eat wild salmon but doesn’t more fat grams = more omega 3’s??? Or does farmed salmon have some other kind of fat in it as well. Also, what is the difference between the wild salmon that is 3.99$/lb (cheaper than non-wild) and the wild salmon that is 12.99$/lb.

I wish I could say that the cheaper salmon is as good. Unfortunately, the cheaper “wild” salmon may not have the same claim to the label. (But, of course, the more expensive salmon could be hiding a less than stellar pedigree themselves.) The majority of “wild” salmon are actually spawned and raised for approximately half of their lives in hatcheries. During this time, they live in similar conditions to regular farmed salmon and fed the unnatural diet of grain oils and meals as well as fish oils that often contain a high level of toxins. After they’re released from the hatcheries, salmon live under normal conditions. Some of the built up toxins dissipate over time, but the evidence shows that early exposure matters. Hatchery/wild salmon, however, will be lower in toxins and offer a better ratio than farmed salmon, which often contains dangerous levels of toxins like dioxin and PCBs as well as a poor 6:3 ratio.

If you’re interested in the fully genuine article and are willing to pay more, here’s a quick rule of thumb: look for Alaskan over Washington/Oregon/Californian salmon, and choose Chinook and sockeye.

On the subject of fat content, farmed salmon is much higher in saturated fat. What we’re interested in here is the polyunsaturated fatty acids. Those sneaky fish….

Thanks, everyone, for your questions and great discussions! Drop us a line to weigh-in on this fishy business.

Neeta Lind, Pablo Rios, woodleywonderworks Flickr Photos (CC)

Further Reading:

The Definitive Guide to Fats

More on Omega

What’s All This Talk About Inflammation?

FitFilter: Omega-3 Dosage and Sources

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About the Author

Mark Sisson is the founder of Mark’s Daily Apple, godfather to the Primal food and lifestyle movement, and the New York Times bestselling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, where he discusses how he combines the keto diet with a Primal lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is the author of numerous other books as well, including The Primal Blueprint, which was credited with turbocharging the growth of the primal/paleo movement back in 2009. After spending three decades researching and educating folks on why food is the key component to achieving and maintaining optimal wellness, Mark launched Primal Kitchen, a real-food company that creates Primal/paleo, keto, and Whole30-friendly kitchen staples.

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33 thoughts on “Dear Mark: Encore on Omegas”

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  1. Good stuff and really important information (esp about farmed salmon which is so overly loaded with omega 6s!).

    Also important is to look at the sources of omega 6s of linoleic acid (LA) and arachidonic acid (AA). AA is a worse (and mostly the inflammation messenger) than LA. LA is higher up the conversion chain while AA is at the bottom for omega 6s. LA is converted to GLA-DGLA-AA. LA is mostly found in veg oils, AA more in grain fed meats/eggs. GLA is actually anti-inflammatory. Not all GLA/DGLA is converted into AA. DGLA-AA conversion is blocked by EPA (Omega 3) and other things like “Turmeric”, DGLA-AA conversion is promoted by insulin.

    So really it is important to skip the grain fed meats that are higher in fats as they contain mostly AA. Plus the importance of fish oil/EPA and low insulin levels that will keep any conversion to AA minimal and promote anti-inflammatory GLA.

    …..and yes….I did stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night.

  2. Egads, I need to lay off the excessive punctuation. Thank you Mark for answering my questions about salmon. You really cleared it up for me. Thanks too for the additional thoughts on the 1:1 ratio – the tidbit about eggs was especially interesting. This whole discussion has really taught me a lot.

    Migraineur – I don’t know if I thanked you for your reply to my question before. You are great resource! Thanks for the help – and color tips! Now I find myself in the store trying to decide which salmon looks the most salmon-colored 😉

  3. A serving of fish per day. If it comes from a can (tuna) is that o.k.? And for eggs, it is only if you eat the yolk correct?

  4. I’ve been eating grass-fed beef but the only cut I can get is round. However, The cooking technique I am using (sear in a real hot cast iron skillet–finish in an oven) produces a juicy, healthy meal. I’ll still do a ribeye once in a while however!

  5. Brandon – I personally would limit Tuna as that is also high in mercury/PCB to 2 cans of light (white has more) per week. Besides direct fish oil supplementation, another good source of omega 3s is Grass Fed beef (as talked about before). If you are getting your (Omega 3 enriched) Eggs that at least have been fed a flaxseed based meal, then your omega 6 content in the yolk is much smaller (the EFAs are in the fatty portions, so yes it is in the yolks). Also note that high heat can alter and destroy the EFAs as they are polyunsaturated and not as stable as sat or monounsaturated fats, so make sure you cook your eggs slow and lower heat.

    Sorry for all the posts but as I have dealt with plenty of people with arthritis….this topic is right up my alley.

  6. Brandon – A can of tuna has .5g of omega-3 typically (for major brands). Not only would you not be getting very much with a can a day but like Mike mentioned, eating a can daily could be dangerous (mercury/PCB).

    Mike OD – Very interesting stuff I have never read about, thanks!

    Mark – Thanks for the link to my blog. I’ve been following Daily Apple for a while and now I feel like a celebrity!

  7. MIke OD: I have two eggs for breakfast every morning cooked in a microwave for a minute. Usually most of the yolk is well done with maybe a small bit of it soft. How would you say that compares with your advice to slow cook eggs over low heat? And ditto Mark’s comment–apology not accepted…post, post, post!!! 🙂

  8. Would it be true to say a daily dose of cod liver oil would go a long way towards evening up the balance? Most cod liver oil now has to be purified of all heavy metals and has a very high omega 3 content for the volume consumed.

  9. Mark , how an active person who doesn’t eat meat or fish and wants to eat minimum soy, can get good quality protein? Would you suggest whey supplements in case the protein requirements are not met? How much of whey is too much?

  10. Dunim,

    That’s a really tough one. As you know, I espouse non-vegetarianism. Whey is probably your best quality source of protein, so I’d make a whey-protein shake once or twice a day for “protein insurance.” Up to 40 grams a day is not too much.

  11. Cod liver oil contains vitamin A which can build up in the body to toxic levels so cod liver oil is not a good source for Lt daily Omega 3 supplementation.

  12. dear mark i have fibroid and was wondering if i should take vitamin e or omega 3-6-9 flax seed oil,need your advise.thank you.

    1. Bernadette, I’m not a fan of flax seed oil. I’d go for the best fish oil I could get my hands on. And, as always, cut all sugars and other grain-based carbs.

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