Last week’s Definitive Guide to Fats gave us a chance to unpack the essential fatty acids. But we thought they deserved a closer look still.
Just to review, omega-3 and omega-6 are known as “essential” fatty acids because the body can’t produce them itself. So, it’s up to us to incorporate them into our diet. The typical Western diet is rich in omega-6. (Think corn, soy, peanut, safflower, and other oils.) As for the prevalence of omega-3? Not so much. (Think fish, flax, algae, walnuts, and animal products from grass fed livestock.)
We talked about the importance of ratio last time. Experts estimate that the typical American diet has as much as 30 parts omega-6 to 1 part omega-3 (30:1). Uff da.
As we said last time, there’s some squabbling to be certain about the proper ratio. Some nutritionists go as high as 4:1. Others suggest 2:1. But since we’re all about the primal here, we’re taken in by the ratio most experts agree characterized hunter gatherer diets. And that would be an elegant 1:1 ratio. You gotta love simple.
So, what’s with the bickering about ratios anyway? The fact is, omega-3 keeps omega-6 in check. Omega-6, when left to its own devices, wreaks havoc, inciting and oxidizing LDL in the body (a real cholesterol threat). Lower ratios have been associated with higher bone density and decreased risk for diabetes, arrhythmia and heart disease.
Among other cultures, the ratio is much more favorable, and death from heart disease is much lower. Greenland Eskimos, because of high fish consumption, are estimated to have a 1:1 ratio. According to one study, their rate of death due to heart disease is approximately 15% of what it is for those in the U.S. and Europe who eat a typical Western diet.
Furthermore, the traditional diets of the Mediterranean and Okinawa, Japan, are characterized by high levels of omega-3 fatty acids and a low 6 to 3 ratio of 4:1 or less.
Ratios have also been assessed in the context of particular diseases and physiological conditions. A 2:1 ratio was found to reduce inflammation associated with rheumatoid arthritis, while even a 5:1 ratio relieved symptoms in those with asthma.
With all the fervor over omega-3 fatty acids, there’s a lot of questions out there regarding recommended amounts. The World Health Organization recommends two servings of fish (particularly fatty fish like salmon, herring, sardines and mackerel) as well as the use of oils containing omega-3. Other experts recommend three to four servings of low toxin fish each week.
And how much is too much, especially if you choose to take an omega-3 supplement? Or is there such a thing? Although there isn’t an official RDA for omega-3 fatty acids, you can consider anywhere between 1-3 grams daily to be optimal. There is some concern about the fatty acid’s ability to thin the blood too much with higher doses. We’d advise talking with your doctor about beginning a supplement. If you’re taking a blood thinner or a daily aspirin regimen, that conversation and perhaps some monitoring will be essential. There has been some indication that larger doses of omega-3 fatty acids can be (in very rare cases) associated with an increased risk of stroke. Many doctors will also suggest that you stop taking the supplement within a week or more of surgery. With all that said, supplementing your diet with a high-quality omega-3 fatty acid supplement is, in our estimation, one of the best things you can do for your body.
Thoughts? Comments? Further questions? Shoot us a line.