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Let me introduce myself. My name is Mark Sisson. I’m 63 years young. I live and work in Malibu, California. In a past life I was a professional marathoner and triathlete. Now my life goal is to help 100 million people get healthy. I started this blog in 2006 to empower people to take full responsibility for their own health and enjoyment of life by investigating, discussing, and critically rethinking everything we’ve assumed to be true about health and wellness...

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August 06 2014

Why the Omega-3/Omega-6 Ratio May Not Matter After All

By Mark Sisson
200 Comments

Unsaturated FatsWhen it comes to omega-6 fats, the quick and dirty soundbite resonating throughout the ancestral health community has been “omega-6 fats are inflammatory, omega-3s are anti-inflammatory.” Years ago, I wrote a post saying essentially the same thing – that an excessive intake of omega-6s and inadequate intake of omega-3s predispose us to an exaggerated inflammatory response. This sounds right. And the huge discrepancy between the estimated ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fats in ancestral human diets – 1:3, 1:2, or even 1:1 – and the ratio in modern diets – ranging from 1:25 to 1:10 – just looks pathological. Then, bringing up the rear, you’ve got Bill Lands’ work showing that human populations with low levels of omega-3s and higher levels of omega-6s in their tissues are at greater risk for many diseases like heart disease. It all seems clear cut, no?

Well, kinda. While my general recommendation remains to limit omega-6 fats from vegetable oils, there’s more to the omega-6 story. First, let’s examine the main argument for the importance of the omega-3/omega-6 ratio.

The main argument for the importance of the balanced dietary ratio is that too much linoleic acid (the primary omega-6 fat) increases inflammatory precursors above and beyond the physiological norm, leading to an exacerbated inflammatory response, a general state of systemic inflammation, and the development of the various diseases with an inflammatory root.

Here’s how it’s supposed to work:

Linoleic acid converts to arachidonic acid (AA), a precursor for inflammatory cytokines.

Alpha linolenic acid (ALA; plant omega-3) converts to the anti-inflammatory precursors EPA and DHA, the omega-3 fatty acids we usually associate with fish oil.

Both of these conversions occur along the same rate-limited enzymatic pathway, which means they “compete” for a spot.

If we eat too much linoleic acid, the story goes, our tissue levels of AA will spike and predispose us to excessive inflammation and all the disease fallout that entails. Actually, increasing dietary linoleic acid doesn’t really increase the tissue level of arachidonic acid. Instead, since both linoleic acid and ALA use the same conversion pathway, an excess of linoleic acid does inhibit the conversion of ALA into EPA and DHA, leading to potential deficiencies in the latter nutrients and promoting an inflammatory environment – if you don’t eat preformed EPA and DHA in the form of seafood, pastured animal products, and/or supplements to make up for it.

That’s right: people for whom a fish dinner means battered and fried tilapia sticks are at risk of an inflammatory omega-3/omega-6 ratio, but people following a Primal way of eating are probably safe. Just eating some salmon, sardines, mussels, and pastured eggs can undo a lot of the damage caused when linoleic acid hogs the conversion pathway. Linoleic acid, however, is not directly increasing tissue omega-6 levels.

It appears as if the problem with low ratios of omega-3 to omega-6 is the lack of omega-3, not so much the omega-6. In studies that replace saturated fats with omega-6 fats, the only ones that show benefit are those that also include omega-3s with the omega-6s, while those that replace SFA with just omega-6 increase the risk of death. As long as you’re eating enough fish and other seafood, pastured animals and their fat (and eggs), and/or high quality fish oil supplements, whole food sources of omega-6 shouldn’t increase inflammation. The ratio is a helpful way to monitor your omega-3 and omega-6 intake, but it’s not a physiological law.

That’s not our only issue with linoleic acid, though. Where do we get our omega-6 fats?

No, not you reading this. Not the guy who asks that his eggs be cooked in butter or olive oil at the diner. Not the lady who shudders at the sight of one of those three gallon Costco jugs of corn oil. Where do most people living in industrialized nations get their omega-6s? You know, “normal” people.

Americans get almost 70% of their PUFA (mostly omega-6) from oils, shortening, and margarine and just 6% from beans, seeds, and nuts, 1% from eggs, and 13% from meat, poultry, and fish as of 2004 (PDF). So when we talk about omega-6 intake, we’re really talking about french fries (cooked in vegetable oil), packaged pastries (made with shortening), and processed, high-sugar, high-(vegetable)fat junk food intake.

If most of our omega-6 is coming from the linoleic acid found in cooking oils and processed baked goods, most of the omega-6 we’re eating is highly oxidized, rancid, and maybe even worse.

In one study, just 20 frying sessions were enough to drastically alter sunflower oil, oxidizing the fats and creating cyclic fatty acid monomers which – when eaten – affect fatty acid oxidation, carbohydrate metabolism, and liver enzymes. Dietary linoleic acid that has been oxidized via heat has been shown to directly lead to atherosclerosis. To determine how often most restaurants actually change their frying oil our for new oil, I looked at a topic called “How often do you clean your deep fryer?” in a popular online forum for diner owners. Responses varied from “every day” to “weekly,” with some topping off their oil as they went or relying mostly on filtration of solids. Either way, it’s not very reassuring.

The susceptibility to oxidation may be why diets high in linoleic acid have also been linked to increased oxidized LDL, while diets high in monounsaturated fat – like the traditional Greek diet, rich in extra virgin olive oil – produce considerably lower levels of oxidized LDL.

Omega-6 fat is thus “bad” because the most abundant source of it in our diet is heated vegetable oil, because it’s so susceptible to oxidation, because excessive heating can even create trans-fats out of it, because it’s a proxy for processed junk food, and because it contributes to oxidized lipids in our blood.

But what about whole foods that contain linoleic acid? Are they to be avoided?

Well, let’s look at a few and see what the research says.

Almonds

Both reviled for its linoleic acid and beloved for its easy metamorphosis into low-carb baking meal, the almond assumes a precarious position in the Primal community. But it’s much more than the bag of linoleic acid. An almond contains vitamin E, magnesium, prebiotic fiber, and protective polyphenols. Why does this matter, and how does it relate to the claimed health effects of excess linoleic acid?

Brazil Nuts

Or the Brazil nut, famous repository of “so much omega-6!” Yeah, okay, but it’s also a good source of magnesium, vitamin E, and selenium. We’ve already covered how magnesium and vitamin E can counter any potential negative effects of the linoleic acid they come packaged with, so let’s discuss the selenium in Brazil nuts.

One common complaint about linoleic acid is that it depresses the metabolism by interfering with thyroid function; the Ray Peat fans are fairly adamant about this one in particular. However, selenium is one of the most important pro-thyroid minerals in existence. It allows the conversion of the storage thyroid hormone (T4) into the active thyroid hormone (T3). T3 is what increases metabolism, improves LDL clearance by increasing LDL receptor activity, and generally does most of the positive stuff we associate with the thyroid. And arguably the best, and certainly the easiest, way to get enough selenium is by eating a couple Brazil nuts (a slab of sockeye salmon ain’t too shabby a selenium source, either).

It’s no surprise, then, that a single bout of acute Brazil nut ingestion results in long term depression of inflammatory markers.

Walnuts

Conventional wisdom says walnuts are healthy. Primals worry about linoleic acid intake, and walnuts are loaded with it (along with some ALA). How do they fare in the literature?

Seems they fare pretty well.

Pistachios

Then you’ve got pistachios which, despite their linoleic acid content (13.5g/100g), manage to lower the level of oxidized LDL particles in pistachio-eaters by improving lipids and increasing antioxidant status. They’re also excellent sources of prebiotics, improving the gut microbiota by a greater degree than even almonds.

Hazelnuts

Hazelnuts, which aren’t that high in linoleic acid compared to some other nuts, are quite good at reducing LDL oxidation and inflammatory markers in patients with elevated cholesterol.

Avocados

The avocado is rather rich in linoleic acid (though most of the fat is monounsaturated), leading some among us to avoid or severely limit its consumption. But research in actual avocado-eating humans paints a different story. An avocado eaten with your meal lowers the postprandial inflammatory response, triglyceride increase, and endothelial dysfunction normally associated with meals. Avocados also lower the number of LDL particles in your blood, a significant (and probably real/causative) risk factor for heart disease. I mean, c’mon. No guacamole? No diced avocado in your salad? That’s not living.

It’s tough to reconcile this notion of linoleic acid being wholly bad with the overwhelming evidence for the health benefits of nuts and avocados, and I’ve never really bought into it. Omega-6 intake is strongly associated with age-related macular degeneration, for example, but nut intake is not. And I’m not just talking about epidemiological studies, since those are confounded by the fact that nuts and avocados are generally considered to be healthy foods, and people who eat a lot of them are more likely to do other healthy things, like exercise regularly, drink moderately rather than to excess, eat lots of vegetables, and maintain a healthy weight. The above studies are largely well-controlled, with live human subjects – just like you.

I’m not saying you should eat a cup of almonds every day, or forsake all vegetables save the avocado. I’m simply saying you needn’t fear these foods, for they are undoubtedly healthy foods in reasonable amounts (like most others). Foods. See that word? Fear the isolated, super-heated, burnt fatty acids, if you like. I don’t blame you. But nuts? These are complex nutrient matrices teeming with as-yet undiscovered bioactive compounds. Yeah, maybe one day some enterprising biohacker will identify, isolate, and quantify the effects of every last micronutrient in every food and then create the final perfect iteration of Soylent. Until then, the best option we have is to eat food – whole foods that make us feel and look good, help us perform well, and have solid scientific backing. I’d say that’s a pretty good option.

Linoleic acid in the form of refined vegetable oils is still to be avoided. But I’m just not convinced whole food sources of linoleic acid have the same effect on us. We call out other researchers when they demonize a food we like because of a single component, for good reason. We should be careful not to practice nutritional reductionism to justify demonizing a nutrient we don’t like.

Don’t you think?

Thanks for reading, everyone. Let me know what you think about all this. Did you fear avocados before reading this? Do you still?

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200 thoughts on “Why the Omega-3/Omega-6 Ratio May Not Matter After All”

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  1. I used to eat Brazil nuts for the selenium but then I noticed something – the ratio of “off-tasting” nuts to “good” ones was pretty high no mater where they came from. I did a bit of reading and apparently these are quite susceptible to mold issues. I don’t know if the funky ones I had were a result of mold or what, but if something tastes wrong I don’t think you should eat it. And they cost enough that I don’t want to have to throw half of them away. I’ve stopped eating them entirely.

    1. I noticed the same thing with Brazil nuts. I buy them in bags from Trader Joe’s and I noticed quite a few of them tasting as you put it “off-tasting” and the others “good”. I may switch to a different nut or find another source.

      1. I never ran into bad Brazil nuts. However, realizing that their Selenium content could very from region to region (due to lands are poor in minerals), I pretty much gave up on them for the sake of a supplement (Carlson’s lab), that will deliver a steady amount. And by the way, I use is for thyroid support and Iodine balance.

        People leaving in California, should make an attempt to buy fresh green almonds (great in salads or added to lamb dishes due to their tangy flavor), or fresh harvested and dry almonds in the shell. Same goes for Pistachios.

        After reading the “cold cuts” article, I was concerned for a moments that Mark was going to stir us in a different direction… Kidding (-:

      2. I’ve found that with Trader Joes too. I was buying nuts from both Trader Joes and Whole Food and although Trader Joes was cheaper I stopped wasting my money because so many nuts tated off. I find there are many less off nuts in the bags from Whole Food, so happily I can enjoy my cashews, walnuts, and almonds on a weekly basis still:)

    2. Did you buy them shelled or whole?

      I suspect that nuts are one of those items that get stored in a rotating schedule so that good years can make up for bad years and so, you’d be right in that it probably doesn’t matter where they come from if it is an industry-wide practice.

      1. I buy in the shell brazil nuts and store them in the freezer, from what I have heard this is supposed to mitigate the mold issue, does anybody have an opinion on this?

        1. Freezing them makes them much easier to get out of the shell in one piece, and will slow the growth of almost everything to near or full stop.

        2. I buy only sprouted nuts, primarily from Blue Mountain Organics, which i keep frozen, and add in minute quantities to my ‘witches brew’ in the Vitamix; i’ve had no problems.

    3. So happy to hear this! Hope it’s entirely true! Have been eating many many 3-lb bags of roasted salted pistachios from Costco, for over two years. No noticeable weight gain or ill effects.

      1. The bad thing about pistachios in the shell from Costco is that they’re now $20 a sack.

        1. I know! I eat a 3-lb bag nearly every week, which adds up to a lot of money, but for me, pistachios are a food group, and what better thing to spend my money on than food for my body. They are $5.00 more per bag than when I started buying them. Worth every penny, especially since learning the Omega 6’s may not kill me.

    4. I found the same thing – can’t find brazil nuts that don’t smell and taste rancid.

      1. Nuts.com. I’ve yet to receive a bad batch of brazil nuts.

      2. Get the non GMO organic raw ones from amazon.com. never a bad one and I buy ten pounds at a time and store in the pantry. Food to live by I think is the brand

    5. I noticed the moldy taste too. Then my wife started soaking a few in a cup of filtered water overnight in the fridge and problem solved. No moldy taste, and better texture too!

  2. Freaking out about omega-6 is one aspect of Paleo that never made sense to me, so I have ignored it. Great to get the full scoop on the ratio. I eat lots of nuts and as much avocado and fish as I can afford. Since I am retired and on a limited income, that will never be enough to cause any problem. LOL

    1. +1. I love sardines and good salmon and eat a lot of it. Ditto with nuts. I buy our nuts from Natural Grocers (probably not a nationwide chain). They come prepackaged and are kept refrigerated at the store. I freeze them after I get them home. Buying nuts from bulk bins is probably not a good idea. They get rancid if they set too long at room temperature.

    2. I concur. I generally ignore all the latest research on micro nutrients as it’s mostly BS. Almonds bad? Puleeeze! Who would ever think that? Just basic common sense tells you that pretty much any whole food that dates back to the dawn of man can’t be bad for you. I’m not including stuff that is literally poisonous of course. Getting all worked up about the latest study that views whole food through a prism of micro nutrients is bound to be wrong. That’s why we make fun of all the “eggs are evil” crowd. They miss the point entirely that an egg is a whole food, not just 250mg of cholesterol in a shell. Turns out they we even wrong on the cholesterol part as well due to faulty micro-nutrient reasoning. The Paleo crowd often follows the same faulty reasoning as well by viewing foods as a a collection of specific nutrients and not a whole experience. If you don’t want to develop an eating disorder, it’s best to keep all the studies at a healthy arms length and take them with a big grain of salt.

      1. Your comment means well, but it’s too cavalier; if you think almonds as we know them today go back to the dawn of time you are in for a surprise. You wouldn’t have been able to eat a “dawn almond”; it would have poisoned you. Domesticated almonds have been modified from the early versions to mitigate the prussic acid in them, otherwise known as hydrogen cyanide.

        1. This is an area where I think the paleo crowd gets a bit nuts (no pun intended!). In addition to what Tyrannocaster wrote, the modern domesticated banana is nothing like its wild cousin, which is filled with seeds and not sweet at all. Technically, bacon didn’t exist either because curing meats had not been invented and the meat would have come from something approximating a wild boar (which most modern people do not want to eat because they’re very gamey), not a modern pig, even an heirloom breed pig.

          If you really think about it long and hard and apply some deductive reasoning, you’d probably even come to the conclusion that it’s far more likely that paleo homo sapiens ate insects and rodents far more often than they ate anything approximating large animals. Eating “paleo” might be better for people than consuming large quantities of grain-based products but don’t kid yourselves into thinking you’re actually eating like a caveman unless cockroaches, rats, and opossoms are often on your dinner plate.

          1. I eat uncured wild boar belly every day with my nearly raw pastured beef, bison, or lamb burger, with a pastured egg on top. Tastes fine to me…

          2. Insects are a big favorite around the World. They are on Breakfast Menus in Mexican restaurants .Rats,Bats,and Horses are on the menu in France. Bon Appetit !

        2. Friend told me elderly woman’s first visit home to Croatia in 60 years who had severe lactose problem ,had none eating Bread in Croatia !

      2. Any whole food that dates back to the dawn of man won’t be bad for you…. if you eat that food in the amounts that dawn man did. A few high PUFA nuts wouldn’t hurt prehistoric man because that’s all he could find. But a 3-pound bag from Costco would add up to too much PUFA.

        1. I’ve seen archeological studies which found middens of pistachio shells discarded by humans, way back into the Paleolithic.

          1. Yes, I think the one I saw was 1.38 Mya … salted, roasted pistachio midden!

      3. Almonds from the u.s. are pasteurized but not from Europe. Does pasteurization mean anything? I don’t know but one does wonder, “Is it necessary, and does it reduce the enzymes, etc.” We’ve become a nation or paranoid bewilderment when it comes to food, what’s good, what’s bad, what will kill us, what will make our love life better or destroy is, give us cancer, heart disease, diabetes, ADHD, Alzheimer’s, make us ugly, fat or stupid or all of the above. Who has the best information regarding diet? Vegan don’t, vegetarians don’t, omnivores come closest but also have the worst diet overall, only a few select omnivores have it together. I don’t but after reading what vegans and vegetarians live on I know that would kill my brain and my emotional balance. Why? I’d be so obsessed it would be all I could think about. Thanks, but as they say, no thanks. I’ve never seen any groups of people more obsessed over food than the two just named. You are no longer who you are, you’re damaged goods due to diet lunacy. .

        1. We’re descended from Puritans, who think everything is evil and dirty (unless THEY’RE doing it), and must be killed!

          1. A common mischaracterized view of the Puritans, just like wearing all black and having big buckles on their hats. There were many sects (similar to most religions) where the fundamentalists were actually in the minority.

    3. Ha! Same here, I love nuts, avocados and fish but realistically can’t afford a quantity that will cause any potential negative health effects. Glad Mark clarified this though because I was buying into it for a while.

  3. Great article Mark. I personally don’t worry too much about the Omega 3:6 ratio. I mainly focus on eating healthier options, keep the fried foods low, and might occasionally pop a fish oil pill.

    On a side note, does anyone have any tricks to increase blood flow to extremities? My right foot has been feeling a hair numb along the right side (running along the pinky toe phalanges) and alternating it in hot/cold water seems to have helped it, leading me to believe it’s a circulation issue.

    1. I’m interested in answers to your side note as well. I have chronic venous insufficiency that began during a career as a morbidly (super) obese truck driver (yes, being obese seemed to be a prerequisite).
      Thanks to the PB and the paleo/primal/ancestral lifestyle community I’ve taken care of the obese part. Now I ride a desk, but continue to wear medical support hose…sexy, huh?

      1. Ooh…got photos? Just kidding; please don’t share. Try Hematrex from Global Healing Center.

    2. Ideally, see a doctor and get tested for B12 deficiency. You could try taking super-doses of B12 orally, but it’s not very well absorbed so doctors usually just give B12 shots if you’re deficient.

      1. An allopathic doctor probably won’t test for methylation problems. Another route is to test your own DNA with Family Tree DNA (not affiliated), download your raw data and upload it to Genetic Genie and/or Promethease to discover these, which may indicate an increased need for B12. It may take more than B12 lozenges in the form of methylcobalamin to make right methylation defects, depending on which ones you might have.

      2. I’d make sure that is methylcobalamin not just cobalamin for best B12 absorption. Jarrow makes a good chewable one with 5000ius per tablet.

        1. Rats, didn’t see the post right below, sorry for the duplication of info.

      3. I’ve been talking to a B12 scientist lately, & oral is indeed all but useless. Transdermal (if you buy the right brand) is almost as good as injected, uptake-wise, & much easier.

        Many of us need methyl & adenosyl, as we can’t convert hydroxy or cyano.

        1. Supposedly, the FDA just banned transdermal B-12 as an ‘unapproved drug’!

    3. There are some herbs that are very helpful for increasing circulation. The list is as follows: Horse Chestnut, Dandelion Leaf, Butcher’s Broom, Cayenne Pepper, and Prickly Ash Bark. Most of your local health food stores should also have combinations for circulation. One really good supplement is called “Leg Veins” by Nature’s Way. Hope this helps.

    4. My right foot has been feeling a hair numb along the right side (running along the pinky toe phalanges) and alternating it in hot/cold water seems to have helped it, leading me to believe it’s a circulation issue.
      — Jacob

      Hi Jacob, I sometimes have the same problem. It may not be circulation, but tight muscles. I recommend stretching with a foam roller. Start with glutes then, t-bands. It helps me.

      1. So I took nearly everyone’s suggestions tonight to see if they’ll help. First I foam rolled the heck out of my foot, then took a multivitamin for the vitamin b, then took a magnesium supplement, and finally made a concoction of cayenne pepper, acv, ginger, and turmeric and chugged it down. Overkill? Maybe but that’s just the way I roll. Will try for a few days and see if I get any results.

        If anyone is interested, comment back in a few days and I’ll post an update. Need the reminder though. 🙂

        1. Multivitamin probably doesn’t have enough good quality B vit to be if use for nerve issues IMHO .

    5. Look up Pettibon Technique. It’s a method of chiropractic that uses daily traction and getting normal lordorsis curves to the spine. The combination of daily traction (you can do it free at home with special devices (not expensive) which temporarily increase space between vertabra and the lordorsis also increases the space. This increased space takes pressure off the nerve roots. Viola’ nerves function properly! I had reoccurring back problems for 25 years, Richard Hyde DC in Wheaton Illinois used the Pettibon Technique on me and no back problems for 8 years. If fact I can now do dead lifts, race cross country skiing and go for long car rides with no back problems. Full disclosure; I don’t work for Pettibon and I am a full price cash paying customer to Dr Hyde, since insurance cover it.

    6. Are you sure it’s not a pinched nerve in your lower back? Especially if it’s somewhat isolated to the pinky toe on one foot. Sounds like a pinched nerve to me.

    7. Jacob,

      In response to your request for increasing blood flow to your extremities, please read “Eat for Heat” by Matt Stone. For that matter, any of his books would be of help to you.

      LOVE this post Mark!! Thanks so much!!

    8. Seriously, try 1:1 omega6/3 ratio for 2 weeks, making sure sugars/net carbs are below 100g/day, and minimal to no grains.

    1. It most certainly is! In fact, you could make a delicious and pretty FRUIT SALAD from avocado, olives, yellow peppers and tomatoes…. 🙂 – which are all botanically fruit.

    2. Yup! It is citrus. We grow them here in my valley right alongside oranges and lemons.

      1. Avocado is technically a fruit, but it’s not citrus. It’s part of the Lauraceae family.

  4. Excellent post, Mark. Thank you so much. It puts my mind at ease, not having to worry quite so much about the Omega 6:Omega 3 ratio I’m taking in each day. I love to hear nuts get vindicated, too. I love them all! And avocados. I’m eating a half or one almost every day with my lunch and loving it and how it fuels me for the rest of the afternoon.

    1. Ditto–this ongoing clarification via new research is great. And once again, what we’re looking at here intuitively makes sense; keep the O-3 coming, don’t fret about good sources of O-6.

  5. I’m ready to be put in suspended animation for 500 years. Will that be enough time so that when I wake up we darn well actually know something beyond a doubt?

    1. Nope! Our world is fluid and the only thing we know about “without a doubt” is that our bodies eventually die.

      In the mean time, I am excited to not have that ratio question nagging my brain anymore.

      1. Exactly! Great point that I think I feel is way too underrated.

        We’re not going to be here forever. so why not enjoy our food and pleasure within reason. If it’s a whole food – it’s good for crying out loud.
        If we can get it organic ok great.

        Sometimes your good old fashioned instincts know better. I knew the paleo guys had this part wrong. It made no sense.

        I’m all for nutrient-dense whole food but There’s no way to pin point exactly how our primal ancestors ate, and even if we could it does not mean to *mirror* exactly how they ate – would benefit everyone.

        I would venture to say they did not deal with the common modern health issues more so because of their lifestyle… they moved, ate, Spent more time outdoors, rested plenty, connected with eachother each other more so as nature intended vs today. They didn’t have to count calories, and sweat micronutrients lol

        Sleep well, get sunlight, have fun with exercise laughter and pleasure, that’s far more important than ratios.

        How sad it would be to live your life “healthy”
        But without the pleasure of bacon, pistachios,
        And avocados.

        I don’t think so!

    2. How about a time machine that will send you back to the lower-paleolithic era!!?? 😀

  6. I already eat nuts daily and don’t worry about anything except blood sugar levels. Avocados helped to drop my suddenly elevated cholesterol numbers painlessly (soluble fiber?).

    My numbers are great and Doc is happy, even though I declined the obligatory statin. 😉

    1. Me too. Too many blood sugar concerns and foods that are off limits to try to structure diet around 3:6 ratio. It would just be too restrictive.

      1. You wouldn’t want to anyway–Omega-3 raises blood sugar (says so in the PDR for Herbs & Supplements).

  7. I have never bought into the omega 3:6 ratio. It just happens that people with a really skewed omega 3:6 ratio MUST have a huge intake of PUFA oils. You can’t have a ratio of 1:20 eating real food, it’s not possible. It isn’t the ratio itself, but that the ratio is an indicator of a diet extremely high in processed foods and rancid fats. Simply balancing it out with fish oil won’t do anything. In fact, it’ll probably make it worse since fish oil is refined the same way canola and soybean oils are, meaning it likely contains trans fats and will be highly polymerized before it reaches your lips.

    But here’s the REAL question: where is there ACTUAL DATA that shows omega 3 and omega 6 fats are essential to LIFE? They are called “essential fatty acids” because the body simply doesn’t manufacture them endogenously. There is no data that says you can’t survive without them. I don’t see why anyone should purposely seek out them, they’re unstable in general at human body temps. IMO, ultimately, a low PUFA diet is best.

    1. I agree with so much of what you said! And you’re probably right about not seeking them out, I think eating a whole plant foods diet will cover everything. I mean, the healthiest civilizations in the world do NOT worry about ratios, they don’t supplement, and they don’t worry about RDA of nutrients, they just eat real food. Meanwhile, here in the western world we’re obsessing over everything and have the most diseases regardless. It’s obvious that it’s our refined junk food diets over here that cause all the diseases and inflammation, then you have the fish oil industry (no more fish left in the sea within 40 years many experts say thanks to all this commercial fishing, too, which of course means a dead ocean and thus planet and horrific suffering in the mean time) and other industries banking in on it all. You can’t trust anyone, but you can trust nature, observations and common sense but sadly people seem to rely on that less and less.

      Studies actually show that generational vegetarians have been able to convert EPA and DHA out of omega-6. Our bodies are amazing and the scientific community can’t begin to figure it all out, plus the studies are severely lacking as this article incidentally pointed out.

      I do think it’s probably a good idea to include flax or chia seeds in the diet for omega-3’s and their other awesome benefits though. But I actually recently got off of algae oil supplements as after digging, it seemed that such unnaturally high levels of DHA could cause an imbalance in the body, which made sense. Then I got to thinking about rancidity etc. not to mention it’s nearly impossible to find one of those supplements without palm oil which is one of the most destructive epidemics on the planet and number 1 rainforest (and orangutan) killers (including “sustainable” palm oil) on the planet next to animal agriculture. I honestly didn’t notice a difference in my health or brain functioning when on the DHA supplements and off them, if anything, I’m feeling better now and I’m not supplementing, just including flax and/or chia and sometimes hemp seeds in my diet which I did when I was supplementing as well.

      Anyways, it seems to me that while we’re all either living off of junk food or obsessing over the perfect ratios and what not here in the western world, the healthiest civilizations are just eating real food, not supplementing, and not worrying about it, and most importantly, just living…

  8. Do we really consume vegatable oils?, like brocccoli, lettuce or spinach oils, or oils made out from seeds?……thanks, lmb

    1. Vegetables oils aren’t really from vegetables in the way most people think about “vegetables” (none of the veggies you listed make oils). Vegetables oils come from plants such as soybeans, sunflowers, corn, rapeseed (canola oil), cottonseed, and safflower. The oil comes from the seed of the plant, not the green leaf material.

  9. One big disadvantage to nuts is that they are very high in oxalic acid. Many people are sensitive to it. It can form precipitates, usually with calcium ion, not just in kidneys (kidney stones) but in heart muscle, skeletal muscle, interior of bones (crowding out bone marrow to cause anemia) and brain. These crystals are jagged and tear tissue.

  10. Not an expert here, but above you have focused on the enzymatic pathway, as you put it, however, omega 3 and omega 6 have other related implications, for example in membrane structure / function.

    Pediatric Research (2011) 70, 325–326; “Omega 3 Fatty Acid Supplements and Cardiovascular Health: Commentary on the article by de Jong et al.” for example, states: “Omega-3 fatty acids exert their effects by altering membrane structure and function, eicosanoid metabolism and action, and nuclear transcription factors regulating the gene expression.”

    Perhaps it is also necessary to comment on other related roles of omega 3 and 6 rather than just focusing on metabolic pathway. I know you’re a busy guy, Mark, but would love to hear what you think.

    1. Hey, I just wanted to note that Mark did address these issues, he just worded it differently, eg:
      “If we eat too much linoleic acid, the story goes, our tissue levels of AA will spike and predispose us to excessive inflammation and all the disease fallout that entails”.
      Tissue levels of AA refers to the membrane content of an omega 6 acid

      1. Thanks so much for your response, Cat. My comment above about this issue is probably just rooted in my own lack of thorough understanding about omega 3 and 6.

        A passage from this article out of Stanford, http://web.stanford.edu/group/hopes/cgi-bin/wordpress/2010/06/omega-3-fatty-acids/, sums up what I was getting at:

        “Both omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids are stored in the cell membranes of tissues and have two primary functions. First, they are structural components of cell membranes where they ensure fluidity, stability, and act as gate-keepers in the cell. Second, both omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids are converted into a number of important, active molecules called prostaglandins.”

        From my first quick read of Mark’s post I felt the focus was on the second function mentioned in this passage and I wanted to hear more about the first function. I guess if I had a question from Mark’s post, it would be:

        Is there an importance of omega 3 and 6 balance related to their function as structural components of cell membranes, apart from their conversion into prostaglandins?

        (or are these really actually just 2 sides of the same coin?! -wish I had a deeper understanding)

  11. In the end it is just important to eat a large variety of vegetables, fish and meat and nuts. I think this post just confirms that eating too much of anything can be unhealthy.

    1. “Too much” is the ever-disputed variable here. Like “moderation”.

    2. I couldn’t agree more! The simpler the better. Lately, with few exceptions, I tell folks that if it has a label, you are making a compromise. Some labeled items may fit the 80/20 bill, but most are industrially processed frankenfoods…

  12. I think this is a great post, this is a conclusion I had come to in a less formal manner after seeing a lecture on Omega 6 pathways not all being inflammatory and also considering the logic of real foods. The conclusion is again that highly processed foods (vegetable oils) are bad (or the method in which they are used) and so is an Omega 3 deficiency. Eat real whole foods. It’s a good message.

  13. As usual if you focus in real whole food and even some grass fed beef you won’t have to worry about your ratios of 6:3 The average American is around 20:1 and as much as 40:1
    Nature has perfect ratios and the more of the real stuff you add in it pushes away the bad
    Start by making your own salad dressing out of olive oil and red wine vinegar and toss the store bought vegetable oil based ones.

  14. Lately I’ve been reading that we are supposed to soak nuts before we eat them. What’s with that?

      1. I have a theory about phytates. The red skins in nuts and peanuts are a barrier to insects and so if you eat the nuts with the skins it “keeps da worms away.” *grin*

    1. Soak them overnight in salt water (8 hours) and then bake in oven for 12 hours at 150 oF to dry them out. This helps reduce the “anti-nutrients” like Tyrannocaster referenced (phytates) that prevent you from fully absorbing other nutrients in the nuts. They taste a lot better too!!

      1. >They taste a lot better too!!

        I second that. We do them in a dehydrator but I’m sure the oven method works too. They taste different but better – less acidic is the way I would describe it, but also crunchier. Soaking and drying really tames walnuts, which otherwise are a problem for me because of their acidity.

      2. +1. Nourishing Traditions has the recipe for this. I’m drying soaked nuts as I write this.

      3. This process is an overkill, if you don’t mind me saying. An easier way, would be to grab a handful of almonds (2 days worth) and place them in a small vessel with cold water and a sprinkle of salt, around bed time. All you’ll need to do in the morning, would be to rinse them and pop the skin off. You can place the remaining almonds in the fridge. Or put in a blender with spring water and make almonds’ “milk” – in case you soak a large batch.

        For larger portions, place the soaked almonds in a baking tray and bake at 100 Celsius or 200 Fahrenheit or below for about 40 minutes to an hour. And trust me – they won’t oxidase (: but you will cut on your energy bills.

      4. I don’t eat baked nuts because the PUFAs oxidize easily once heated. I tried to soak but eating them wet was disgusting. Therefore I eat nuts in limited quantities, not very often and raw. No need to consciously consume omega 6 oils because they are unavoidable anyway. It’s the O3-s we need to focus one preferably in the form of wild caught sea fish.

  15. Interesting thoughts. I have been thinking a lot about this recently myself. I concluded similar, that as long as we are eating real foods then we should be OK. Nature tends to give us food packaged up and ready to eat, with all the nutrients and enzymes we need to digest it properly. It is only once we start producing food in a factory, extracting oil in isolation that I think that there is a problem – because it is no longer as nature intended us to eat it.

  16. This is great stuff. I’ve always been a fan of nuts and avocado, and have been limiting them the last couple of years due to the ratio question. It makes sense that whole foods have it figured out, and that isolated seed oils are the real problem.

    I occasionally consume seed oils at restaurants or seminars and at other people’s homes, so I take a fish oil supplement here and there to make up for it (or eat fish). I really with the general public would learn about the problems associated with the junky seed oils and end their use sooner rather than later…it can be annoying to think about every ingredient in food you are presented with.

    All in good time, I figure. For now – good to know that snacking on nuts won’t exacerbate the problem.

    Graham

  17. Thanks for this article Mark. I’ve been thinking a lot recently about the Kung and all those mongongo nuts. Surely they didn’t have all our health problems. Raw almonds have always felt extremely healthy to me, and unlike roasted, salted almond butter, for example, I don’t feel triggered to gorge. What we think we know about nutrition is always in flux, so ultimately I defer to my body’s intuition. Oxidation is surely the biggest factor with SAD omega-6. Whole raw nuts don’t seem to oxidize that easily. It’s odd that when people think of whole foods, they usually include oils, juices, butters, and flours/meals, so long as they don’t have additives. The truth is, the more we break down the organic matrix of a food, the more likely we will have problems with it. Even “good” refined foods, such as nut butters, when eaten in unlimited amounts can keep many people from having the body composition of a hunter-gatherer (more important to some than others). While I would never remove olive oil or butter from my diet, I make a point to use all refined foods with care. I think this approach circumvents a lot of issues.

  18. How much almond milk is reasonable to consume on average per week or per day? I’ve never made it myself, so not sure how many almonds it takes to make a cup of the milk, but wondering what “moderation” means in this case. It’s a great substitute for dairy milk, but don’t want to overdo it. A cup (8 oz) a day too much?

    1. Primalpal, if you’re going to consume almond milk, I definitely recommend making it yourself in order to avoid the synthetic vitamins and other questionable ingredients all the commercial brands contain.

      It’s really easy to make, and you can get 4 cups of almond milk from 1 cup of almonds. Just soak 1 cup almonds (raw – not roasted or salted) overnight in filtered water with 1/4 tsp or so of sea salt. Rinse thoroughly and discard the soaking water. Blend for 2 minutes with 4 cups fresh filtered water (I also add a little stevia and vanilla). Strain (I use a paint strainer bag from Home Depot) and store the milk in a quart mason jar. It will last for about 4 to 5 days in the refrigerator). I discard the remaining pulp but some people use it for baking.

      As for how much is reasonable to consume; I can’t answer that. I think it would be hard to overdo it with almond milk (which is mostly water) compared to eating the nuts whole or using a lot of almond meal or flour for baking.

  19. Thanks for the great info!

    I’ve been trying to figure out an “affordable” option for oils to use in making my own salad dressings and mayonnaise — avocado oil is just too pricy for me on a bi-weekly basis, and even decent olive oil is pretty expensive.

    Since I’m not heating these up, what is your thought on use of something like grapeseed oil for dressings and mayo?

      1. I appreciate that you are trying to be helpful, but you haven’t really answered my question, which is still — are there other options, i.e. grapeseed oil.

        Costco, as ‘affordable’ as it is, is not in my town, and I neither own a car to drive 45 minutes, nor can afford the membership required to get the great deals on huge quantities.

        1. TJMaxx has a food section…. and that is where I buy all my oils. They get odds and ends of “artisan” foods and I often find avocado oil and real olive oil from small producers there.

    1. Use some olive oil and squeeze lots of fresh lemon…not bottled stuff. It makes everything taste good…or it brings out the taste. Use garlic olive oil. Yummy.

      1. I do that, and pretty regularly. But honestly, that gets boring, and I’d like a little variety.

        I have asked this question in several different forums now — why is it that I always get an answer about how great simply using olive oil with something else is, rather than an answer to my original question?

        1. Hmm… Maybe it’s because your attitude is just plain annoying. Why not just try the grapeseed oil instead of asking about it and then shooting down the replies you get?

        2. My attitude is annoying? I don’t think it is too much to ask that people answer the actual question being asked. I definitely didn’t ask the original question with any attitude, just a request for information. I think it is amazing how condescending people are about particular ingredients.

          And… what’s wrong with asking about something particular I’ve been wondering about, since it correlates exactly to the topic on the post, but don’t want to try, just like I can’t afford to replace the olive oil I have that is suspect because I can’t find the brand on the last of those evaluated for impurity?

        3. Mdv, you asked and you got answered. They weren’t the answers you wanted so you found fault with them when you could have just let it go. There’s no requirement here for people to provide you with the answers you’re looking for. People ask questions all the time and don’t get answers. I thought your responses to the people who did take the trouble to offer suggestions were borderline rude.

          The solution to your problem isn’t hard: It’s called “Do your own research.” There are many types of oil available. Shop around until you find one that works for you. Sometimes a little trial and error is unavoidable.

        4. Thanks so much for the lecture, Shary. I’ve definitely learned my lesson, and won’t be asking any more questions in this forum in the future. For sure, it’s been a pointless waste of my time, and let to completely unnecessary aggravation (from you).

          For the record, though, I heartily disagree that asking for the answer to my original question, rather than lots of non-answers, is rude! And having asked the question IN CONTEXT (vis-a-vis the blog post), isn’t this the appropriate place to inquire, since the the information I’ve found so far has been uninformative??? Not to mention the fact that you are also being rude, assuming that I did not do any research at all before asking the question.

          And yes, I’ll admit, NOW I *am* being rude. No need to reply — I won’t be reading any future comments here.

    2. Grapeseed oil not a good choice because it is chemically processed. The most economical choices will be olive oil or coconut oil or combo of for your mayo.

  20. While I can certainly find it likely that oxidized 6 might pose special dangers, and yes it’s true that many places only change out their oil once per week because great vats of oil is expensive to purchase, and I could see that potential other benefits of various nuts MIGHT outweigh concerns about 6, But I don’t see your argument about why the ratio doesn’t matter that much. As far as I can see, you have not anywhere refuted the evidence that too much 6 crowds out processing of 3. Is your argument then that other things in nuts might compensate for their 6? If so, the evidence given was not huge. Although certainly the evidence for the benefits of omega 3 supps are complicated by the fact that it is a blood thinner and other blood thinners like aspirin have also been shown statistically to lessen cardiovascular events, one might assume this to be the case due to a large percentage of Americans not being all that healthy and needing the extra help.. Still, I don’t see why exactly the flipflop on this issue. We’ve known all along that nuts have useful nutrients but also a lot of 6, why now are the nutrients favored over the fears of 6 intake? Don’t get me wrong, I am not a huge 6 phobic like some, but for this particular article, I don’t clearly see your reasoning behind the flipflop.

    1. “Still, I don’t see why exactly the flipflop on this issue.”

      I agree, Eva. I don’t see the new and convincing evidence for n-6 being harmless, and Mark cites a variety of studies (Landis, etc.) in this post showing the harm in a poor 6/3 ratio, or, perhaps, simply too much n-6.

      Chris Kresser wrote a series of articles arguing that the best way to bring the 6/3 ratio into balance is to reduce n-6 intake, and that n-3 supplementation and/or dietary increases are less important.

      http://chriskresser.com/how-much-omega-3-is-enough-that-depends-on-omega-6

      Also, if you occasionally eat Standard American Diet Food, you’ll get lots and lots of n-6 from a very small proportion of your caloric intake. Wouldn’t it be better to help offset that with a low n-6 diet during your Primal eating?

      I agree with Mark that nuts are much healthier than corn oil, deep fried fast foods, etc. And I love nuts – I’ll keep eating some of them, whether or not they are good for me. And some nuts, like Macadamia, aren’t really high in n-6.

    2. Eva: I think Mark’s point was that 6 DOES crowd out processing of 3, but if you eat preformed DHA and EPA, then it doesn’t matter because DHA and EPA don’t need to be converted from ALA.

    3. The key point was that with adeqate Omega 3 in the form of DHA or EPA, that is the key, the Omega 6 pathway issue is not relevant. If you have “clean” omega 6, i.e. the nut, not processed, rancid vegetable oils, Omega 6 not bad, the ratio less important. You can find discussions elsewhere that not all Omega 6 is inflammatory, which was also a main critique. I would not characterize this is a flip flop, rather the evidence is clarifying itself.

      1. I don’t think that key point was well made that the ratio doesn’t matter, I’d like to see more evidence. Sure, nuts and avocados may be correlated with some healthy things and surely they DO have nutrients. But that research is correlational isn’t it. ANd likely done on SAD eaters most of whom already have a 10 to 1 or so ratio of 6 to 3. So they ate a few nuts and avocados along with the oceans of grain oil, that extra amount of 6 may not have mattered much in the sea of already consumed 6, it would be just a few more drops. And the nutrients from the avos and nuts may well be something they didn’t get much of otherwise, not like a good paleo eater who already eats nutrients regularly.

  21. I have an avocado a day for a year now. love the taste! One thing about these vegetable oils….it drives me insane that here in the UK it is almost impossible to find olives in olive oil. it’s always sunflower or rap seed oil. Why on earth would olives be drenched in sun flower oil? I just don’t get it. Even expensive, “organic” varieties are swimming in this crap. this stops me from buying olives and the ones in jars come in some sort of brine and have a shell life of a year or so – don’t particularly want to eat that.
    in fact, in the UK, almost all “healthy” snacks like sun dried tomatoes, fresh salads with a dressing, feta cheese salads and so on come in sun flower oil.

    1. Canned fish as well. And mayonnaise.

      But olives in anything other than their own oil makes a total joke of food.

    2. Yep, I’ve noticed the same here in Scotland, Mr G and I spent ages in the aisle of Tesco the other day trying to find olives in olive oil, we have plumped for olives in salted water to avoid the awful oils. The Finest Haliki olives are in extra virgin olive oil, but, with sunflower oil!

    3. Google “olives” – the Wikipedia article is informative. Most of the olives ever produced have spent time in brine, which, among other things, is harmlessly preservative. Those sold in oil have been put there after the ripening/fermentation processes.

      You can drain and store them in olive oil, but keep them in the fridge, and for not long – oil is an anaerobic medium, and, unless sufficiently heated with its contents (ie, canned), can grow botulism carried on said contents…

      Easy to do a short marination in olive oil/herbs/aromatics prior to serving.

      And BTW – boiled eggs in their shells, even if refrigerated, have been found to incubate botulism. Best to peel if you are going to keep them.

      Why the other icky oils? They are cheap, and there is not enough of the good stuff to go around.

      1. whoa…. didn’t know that about the eggs. I boil a batch of our farm eggs every week and leave them in the fridge…in the shell. I thought they’d stay ‘fresh’ longer. I guess I will be peeling them from now on. Thanks for that good bit of info.

    4. Our local health food store carries cured, dried olives from Peru that are wonderful. They are wrinkled like raisins and are not packed in any oil. Also, they are not cured with lye, which many/most olives are.

  22. I think this is so true. I have found that since I have been a little more relaxed with my eating, and not as worried about every little thing, I feel better! I’m glad I don’t have to worry that one ice cream cone is going to screw up my omega 3 ratio!

  23. Mark’s article is right on, I’d say –

    Omega 6 –> inflammation… yes, in the end conversion to Arachidonic acid – however, first, LA-Omega6 converts to GLA, which is an important anti-inflammatory –
    EveningPrimrose oil, for example, rich in GLA, is used supplementally/therapeutically for inflammatory conditions –
    The statement ‘Omega6 causes inflammation’ is only a half-truth… or better half-a-truth –

    It remains two considerations for improving the general population’s fats and oils intake
    – Improve the quality (un-refined) of the oils they eat (and that includes looking after eating the right kind of Omega6 oils, too)
    – Correct the lack of Omega3 oils (lack being due to dietary choices, as well as the fact that Omega3 is much more instable/deteriorates easier than Omega6, thus is more difficult to produce with appreciable shelf-life without refining; thus large-scale commercial companies are generally not interested in that business )

    Refining of culinary oils, mainly for purpose of producing a shelf-stable product – which means taking out all the live nutrients that could spoil – can include use of SodiumHydroxite (lye), Phosphoric acid, Bleaching clays, heating to frying temperatures of 250Degrees Celsius (buring off rancid odour/flavour molecules)… then sitting on supermarket shelves in clear soft-plastic bottles, then people take those home and fry it yet again…
    no wonder so much inflammation going around !

    This reality has very little to do with the Omega3-Omega6 topic, really – eat chemically-adulterated-nutrient-devoid food and you get sick – pretty straightforward –

    Additionally, our body’s ability to convert Omega3 and Omega6 (the essential fatty acids) to all the other fatty acids requires at least a range of O3 : O6 balance
    (as mentioned in the article, between 1: 1 to 1 : 4 of O3 : O6 seems fine for the human body)
    and the ability seems affected, too, by presence of transfatty acids, too much sugars, alc, hormonal imbalances, too heavy meat consumption

    It takes dedicated NaturalHealth companies with specifically designed facilities to make those oils, for example Flaxoil, in a healthy manner without heat/chemical refining (by the way, Flaxseeds being small and relatively hard, even regular pressing can generate heat up to 150DegreeCelsius !! Those oils may need refining/deodorizing still, yet, technically can be labelled ‘cold-pressed’, as no external heat is used –
    I give educational seminars for FloraManufacturing, Vancouver, Canada; (consider it a disclaimer ) they make the ‘Udo’sOil’ and Organic Canadian FlaxOil, for example, and have their own uniquely designed and made pressing Facilities, which maintains temperatures far below, eliminates oxygen contact, and limits light exposure –

    The processing makes the difference in nutritional quality of oils, and is the reason why even generally more abundant Omega 6 deserves attention from a natural heath perspective –

  24. I’m in the southwest, so avocado is mandatory. Also, can’t give up my almond crackers and salsa! Anyway, just had a physical – blood sugar is low (pre-diabetic before starting paleo last year). Good cholesterol high, the rest of the numbers low – so not going to worry about a thing, now.

  25. Personally, I don’t fear ANY REAL food. I avoid commercial grains because they are GMO or super hybridized, not because someone decided to add them to a Paleo or Primal list! Native Americans ate maze, and did quite nicely on it.

    Also, I’ve learned to listen to MY body and eat the foods that work best for me.

  26. I don’t worry about eating avocados, they are a treat in our house as they are not cheap to buy in Ireland and we often have to wait quite a while for them to ripen after buying them.
    When I was in Portugal last winter I ate lots of almonds because they grow there and tasted so much better than nuts bought in Ireland.

  27. For all the almond eaters out there did you know that some the 1970’s all almonds grown and sold in the U.S. are pasteurized either by radiation or steaming so a lot of nutrients are destroyed. They started doing this because 33 people got sick back in the 70’s from eating a bunch of bad almonds from a mass producer. Now if you want truly raw almonds you have to buy them imported. Easiest way is through Amazon. Interestingly almonds that are grown here but exported are not pasteurized, they only burn off the nutrients for us Americans. Go figure.

  28. I read that the FDA is coming out with the newest and best version of Soylent for us soon so we don’t have to worry about any of this. The “Green” version, I believe.

  29. Thanks Mark…I never have avoided an Avocado or fresh Guacamole in my life despite anything I’ve ever read!

  30. the lady who shudders at the sight of one of those three gallon Costco jugs of corn oil

    THIS lady shudders at the sight of the entire cooking oil dept. at Sam’s Club–has anybody ever actually SEEN anybody buy this stuff? Boxes and boxes of 3-gallon jugs of cottonseed oil, sunflower oil, corn oil, and peanut oil–my circulation seizes up just LOOKING at it!

    Re: avocados–I had to give them up, because the fructose was causing me to gain weight. Once I quit eating them, I lost 4 lbs. I may go back to one or two once in a while, but no more ritualistic morning avocado smoothies for me.

    Re: nuts–a couple of handfuls twice daily for me!

  31. You know what I like about this blog?

    Here is what was said before.
    Here is what the new evidence shows.
    What was said before seems to be wrong, so let’s embrace what we now know to be right.

    The above builds a lot of trust in the readership. This is certainly not the first time Mark has come out and dissmissed things he previously advocated in the light of new evidence.

    1. Yes, the posts are balanced and reasonable.

      Can’t think of another example just now. But I’m sure others have links.

        1. And his 45 day alcohol experiment, and the quantity of fruit eaten come to think of it … agreed … finding a source that is ready and willing to re-consider is priceless – and I type from Scotland where our ‘leader’ seems to think he is NEVER wrong, and everyone else will come to their senses in the end … arrrhhhhh

    2. +1000. I really appreciate Mark’s balanced, common sense approach to each issue. It not only inspires trust in the readership, it also elevates the overall intelligence level of the readership. Compared to another popular newsletter that seems bent on inspiring fear and paranoia (consequently bringing the nut cases out of the woodwork), the MDA articles and accompanying comments are like a breath of fresh air. Thanks for all you do, Mark!!

  32. Lands’ equation for the percentages of
    highly unsaturated fatty acids in
    cell membrane phospholipids is not
    really a ratio; it’s a hyperbolic
    equation. I mostly notice better mood
    when the Omega-6 gets below 50%.
    Studies on people who eat vast amounts
    of linoleic acid will not show that the ratio matters.

  33. Your observation that most of the omega-6 fats that Americans eat are highly processed foods so that means that they are likely oxidized fats makes a lot of sense.

    I also worry about oxidized omega-3 fats. And it does not take much for fish oil to oxidize. My wife complained that the liquid fish oil that I was taking was leaving a sticky area on the bathroom counter that was difficult to remove.

    My wife also remarked that her new cast iron skillet that we have only used with butter, lard, or tallow to cook in did not have a hard buildup of residue that our old cast iron skillets did (mostly used to cook with vegetable oils).

    All of this leads me to the question why are omega 3’s good for us? What evidence do we have that the omega 6’s and omega-3 are really essential? Or is this just something that everyone knows? Do we really have strong evidence of this? Since they oxidize so easily even without cooking I am suspicious.

    1. That’s a good question for seasoning carbon steel woks – good or bad/SFA or PUFA?

      1. I haven’t seasoned carbon steel woks, but I’ve had excellent results from seasoning cast iron cookware with lard, the way my grandmother told me to. Seasoning is roughly the same chemical process on carbon steel, so the procedures should be compatible.

        I bake cookware in the oven for 2 hours at 500, with a pan on the shelf below the cookware to catch drippings, then leave them in the oven until it cools. Fair warning – this results in a lot of smoke! An outdoor gas grill is a better choice if you have one available, just put down foil with the edges turned up over the grate directly below the cookware, to shield from direct heat and to catch the drippings.

        This is a different method than that given by most cast iron manufacturers, but it results in a slicker, tougher season. My wife, a chemical engineer, tells me that this is likely because the higher temperature causes more crosslinking of the polymers that form as the fat heats. She speculated that the cast iron manufacturers recommend the lower temperature with shortening because it results in less smoke and is likely to result in fewer complaints.

        1. Cheers. I guess a wok is more difficult because of sloping sides.

          I wonder if seasoning is recommended at all, because even high smoke point oil will break down.

    1. Love the concept of consuming nuts…and activating them seems ideal too. BUT…those of us who love our macadamia, almonds and cashews coated in chocolate…are we devaluing the efficacy of nuts by doing this?

    2. I think people would do whatever made the food palatable within reason. Soak it, grind it, ferment it, etc. Native peoples came up with procedures to make acorns edible, for example.

  34. Phinney and Volek down pints of sunflower oil *comedic tone*. My guess is excess 6 becomes a fuel and depletes stuff like muscles and hormones. Bit like sugar. But, I doubt it has the insulin response of sugar, insulin problems being close to the core of many a problem.

  35. “Omega-6 fat is thus “bad” because the most abundant source of it in our diet is heated vegetable oil, because it’s so susceptible to oxidation, because excessive heating can even create trans-fats out of it…”

    Ok, but what about, if I want to bake a cake with walnuts, almonds or poppy-seeds?
    In this case I heat the vegetable oil in the nuts and seeds. Is it bad, and does omega-6 fat in these baked nuts oxidize, do trans-fats arise out of them?

    1. My take on it is to eat only raw nuts to avoid any oil-heating issues.

      1. Thank you, I think, you ar right, I will also do that, or I bake only occasionally. 🙂

  36. It wouls interesting to also hear about the conflicting research on our ability to to convert ALA into EPA and DHA. Some studies say we convert it just fine while others say that we actually convert very little of it.

  37. I could be wrong but I think the absolute amount of omega-6 linoleic acid is of major importance. About 4-1/2 years ago I heard Bill Lands mention that there 4,000 milligrams of omega-6 in each 28 gram, one ounce serving of peanuts. Realizing my mistake, I stopped eating peanut butter sandwiches for lunch. Within two months my leg pains were gone. A year or so later I noticed that my gingivitis had cleared up. At this juncture I have regained much of the strength and stamina I lost as I approached retirement age.

    Once alerted to the omega-6 hazard, as I term it, I began collecting research and articles about the effects of high omega-6 intake. For example, here is a quote from a Joseph Hibbeln interview:

    “But the issue of high fat diets needs to be looked at very carefully. Just as all polyunsaturates are not created equal, all high fat diets are not created equal. A good example of this is an animal study we did where we compared three high fat diets. All with 60% of calories from fat, in mice. We compared high fat diets that resembled the linoleic acid, Omega 6 intakes, comparable to the levels at the beginning of the century, which was about 1 percent of calories, and those high fat diets with 8 percent of calories, more similar to the amount of Omega 6 in the diet simply from soy oil in the U-S diet, today. Moving from 1% to 8% linoleic acid in the mouse diets, not only tripled the levels of arachidonic acids, but also tripled the levels of a critical derivative of arachidonic acids, which is an endogenous cannabinoid, which creates a similar affect to marijuana. So it’s the brains own marijuana like molecules, and we were able to triple the body’s marijuana like hormones, three times higher in the liver and about 20% higher in the brains just by altering the linoleic acid in those two high-fat diets. Normally those high fat diets used for mice in studies are composed of high linoleic acid, found in soybean oil. When we deleted that one single molecule, the Omega 6 fatty acid, we were able to obliterate the ability of a 60% high fat diet to induce obesity in the mice.” http://www.meandmydiabetes.com/2013/03/10/vegetable-oil-associated-with-more-heart-deaths-nih-scientist-joe-hibbeln/

    1. Not clear if cannabinoids are good or bad? BTW it’s effect, not affect, unless possibly you’re talking about animation.

  38. Just a heads up regarding almonds from Costco. I couldn’t get them to sprout properly and found out they are pasteurized with a gas as opposed to steam.

    Costco brand Kirkland Signature: Both the Kirkland Signature chocolate-covered and whole almonds are fumigated with PPO, which a spokesman said he was told doesn’t remain in the nuts, despite the fact that almonds containing residues of up to 300 parts per million of this chemical, which California regards as a “known carcinogen,” can be legally sold. – See more at: http://foodidentitytheft.com/trying-to-avoid-almonds-that-are-gassed-heres-a-little-guide/#sthash.lKQfsm2j.dpuf

  39. Looks like the long term studies are starting to trickle through about omega 3’s.
    I had to quit taking them for now because of my health issues attributed to them.
    My research lead me to the Dart 2 studies which is kinda alarming. I’ve been
    taking 3-4 capsules a day of a good FOS5 brand for many years now. Since
    I quit, my symptoms are going away. I was originally sucked into the omega 3
    theory many many years ago namely because of the Greenland Eskimo studies.
    Yes, their diet is high in omega 3’s, but NOT an isolate pill form. They eat
    foods that are high in O3’s. That’s the ticket. Stop the isolates and just
    eat real food!

  40. I actually stopped eating nuts completely and feel a lot better (I have gut dysbiosis and thyroid issues, though). I think the problem with Paleo/ Primal diets could be that a lot of people eat nuts almost every single day, and then make desserts with nut flours. Eaten once a week shouldn’t be a problem especially for those with healthy guts but I don’t think Grok ate nuts every single day as a mid-afternoon snack either…

  41. What about pecans? I buy the Trader Joe’s raw pecan pieces because they’re cheaper than macadamias, walnuts, or even pistachios.

    And I’m pretty tired of all the bourgeois crooning about “pastured, organic, grass-fed,” blah, blah, blah. An organic chicken is about $6 a pound. Conventional leg quarters can be had for $0.079 a pound! I have to eat. How about some paleo pointers for the poor?

    Oh, yeah, after all the blathering about “resistant starch” (and I’ll try almost anything to improve my gut since I suffer with hereditary chronic diverticulitis) I simply could not find green bananas–until I checked the plantains at a local mercado!

  42. And what about seeds? All clear to eat my sunflower/pumpkin/flax mix?

  43. Avocados were never an issue for me. My question is about drinking too much almond milk? If I eat more than a handful of almonds, my lower unit feels it’s affects. So wouldn’t too many glasses of almond milk have the same affect? Good info Mark.

  44. Another question, should I still soak all nuts in salt water for 24 hr and cook and roast at low heat in the oven ?

  45. Mark, you are basically arguing that we don’t need to limit omega 6 consumption as long as we get enough preformed EPA/DHA because the harmful effects of omega 6 are confined to it’s tendency to compete with plant based omega 3 for conversion to the active forms.

    HOWEVER, correct me if i’m wrong, but I think that AA also competes with EPA for cell receptors…so an excess intake of omega 6 could still limit the cellular concentration of EPA and create a pro-inflammatory environment.

    1. I’d be curious too if there are other mechanisms downstream where LA would compete with EPA/DHA. Maybe there just isn’t much literature on this yet. This study did say there is a downstream reaction between LA and arachidonic acid, though not between LA and EPA/DHA: “It is possible that as LA increases in the diet it maybe competing with AA for reacylation into phospholipids.”

      Basically, I don’t think omega-6’s are out of the woods yet, and polyunsaturated fats are still just too vulnerable to oxidation and should be minimized (in high heat cooking) for that reason anyway.

  46. Thank you Mark for an in-depth analysis of LA and ALA, while making it easy to understand. I truly enjoy understanding the deeper analysis, but some times it tough to understand the details. Your writing style lends itself to fuller understand the details. Keep rocking and rolling! Thanks

  47. Didn’t fear avocados and nuts before and don’t fear them now. Eat them in moderation.

  48. Like everyone has said: terrific article! I’ve been Primal for two years and all of my health issues are resolved (now to kick my butt on the fitness aspect!). Becauase I am now so healthy, I’ve given up meaningless obsessions. I do still watch my sugar intake (yes, even fruit) but that’s about it. I’m mostly obsessed that I get the best quality foods in general and eat a wide variety of them.

  49. While I enjoy the amount of science in your article you failed to mention that linoleic acid and arachidonic acid contribute largely to the production of pro-inflammatory oxylipins within the body. These n-6 fatty acids also compete with omega-3 fatty acids (ALA, EPA, and DHA) for the same enzymes (COX, LOX, and CYP450), however they produce pro-resolving oxylipins. There will always be competition at these enzymes as omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids are substrates for both of them.

  50. THANK YOU for finally addressing this debate (which has also been going on in the forums). It was really starting to confuse me when I thought I should even limit my avocado intake.

    However, I do wonder about the studies-I assume the subjects were average American eaters. Substituting part of their diet with nuts is likely better than the completely SAD diet they normally eat, in which case a decease in inflammation would be expected. The question is, how would the results differ in the context of a paleo diet that includes nuts regularly versus one that doesn’t?

  51. I just don’t like Omega 3 fatty acids, and it is in high amounts in the packaged food, so I have almost stopped eating packaged food

  52. OK, Mark, thanks for the nutty info…er, I meant, nut info…but what about pecans? I buy those at Trader’s because they cost less–much less, like half, if you choose the bits and pieces–than the others; even less than pistachios, which you seemed to approve of. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting making a meal out of them, I just chuck a handful into a salad (instead of cheese, specifically blue or gorgonzola, which was hard for me to give up: but finally got me off the weight loss plateau I’d been stuck on for six months).

  53. A serious question: how many avocados are too many avocados?

    A few weeks ago, I had a medium Haas raw avocado for breakfast, and it hit the spot. So, I’ve been having one darn near every morning since. They’re easy to find, easy on the budget, and A+ healthy. I’m not the least bit “tired” of them, but just want to make sure I’m aware of any overconsumption side-effects. I know “they” say that too much of anything is a bad thing, but I think there are exceptions to that rule.

  54. Delighted to read my instinct that advocados are “good” is vindicated! Same for nuts. Want a recommendation for a diet with the correct omega3/6 for someone allergic to seafood? Thanks

  55. Why is it then that if I eat a lot of nuts, I break out? And I Do take a krill oil supplement daily. I’m getting preformed omega 3, but that doesn’t seem to be enough… Can anyone explain this!? It seems like the ratio does matter for me

    1. Super late comment here, but I’ve noticed this too. And I have lots of piercings – whenever I indulge in omega 6, they are inflamed and sore the next day.

      1. Very Very late but nuts and contains horific amount of arginine and bad ratio lysine/arginine wich cause break out

  56. I’ve been diligently tracking my food intake for a year now. In 2015, I average 2.1g per day of Omega 3 & 14.4 g per day of Omega 6, so a 1:6.86 ratio.

    This is according to the fat profiles for conventional meat, poultry and dairy, but I eat organic (always)/pasture raised (as much as possible), so perhaps the Omega 6 is a little lower & Omega 3 a little higher?

    I have food allergies, so I eat only fermented dairy, beef, chicken, turkey, fish (no shellfish), rarely pork, veggies & fruits (no nightshades), cocoa, carob & rare nut/seed indulgences (they give me eczema). The only oils I eat are extra virgin olive oil, butter & once in a while palm oil.

    I was looking around wondering if I need to work on my Omega 3:6 ratio. I suppose I could go the way of eating more fish & less poultry, which would be more to my personal tastes, but I think that will have to wait til I move to a less expensive area for seafood later this year.

  57. Worried about Omega 6 leading to inflammation? Why not have your doctor run. hs-CRP as a general measure of inflammation. If the n-6 in your diet is causing concern, I would think it should be reflected in an increase in your CRP.

  58. Hi Michelle, olive oil is believed to be the best oil. But better fatty acids profile has canola oil. The best will be unrefined. Omega 6 to omega 3 ratio for olive oil is 9:1, for canola oil 2:1. The best is definitely linseed oil (0,31:1). Remember that it has to be stored in cool and dark place (fridge will be great) and you can’t cook on it.

  59. Just wondering if this research still holds true as there is so much conflicting information online. I eat a handful of soaked almonds, walnuts, pumpkin seeds, chia seeds and sunflower seeds daily! Sometimes, 3-4 soaked brazil nuts too, along with a tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil. I eat 3 eggs a day but also eat either sardines, mackerel or salmon daily. Lots of omega 6…. but no processed junk. All organic and raw nuts/seeds. Are these omega 6 rich foods doing me much harm? Confused.

  60. So that conversion pathway has a bias for omega-6 conversion over omega-3 conversion? Since it’s a competing pathway, is there a way to preference it for converting omega-3s via food timing over omega-6s? Or would that be impractical?

  61. I just want to say thank you. I have a chronic inflammatory condition and have been going round and round in circles trying to get real evidence on whether nuts (particularly walnuts) are bad for inflammation. I also could not understand how they weren’t. Having read your latest blog, I am now returning to the nut as a snack source. Maybe we can’t answer all the questions about omega 6 vs omega 3 ratios, but you are right, we should not live by exclusion, simply taking more and more from our diet because we think something should be bad for us. Hopefully the scientists will get to really explain to us why a walnut has so much omega 6 in it, but still seems to have anti inflammatory properties. Interesting!

  62. Good article on the difference that is maddeningly left out of the studies and speculations, between whole (plant) foods omega 6 and refined foods omega 6. Clearly omega 6 in itself is not bad when not extracted and altered. I dislike the mentioning of animal products due to the detrimental effects they have on health, the gross un-sustainability, and the mass holocaustic cruelty. I find the animal products things misleading as eggs, for example, are very high in omega 6 and only have omega 3 if the poor chickens (watch earthlings) are supplemented with it (how insane is that!).
    But overall this article pointed something out that scientific studies do not address enough… the SOURCE of isolated nutrients and for that matter, organic vs. non organic vs. GMO. This is addressed nearly enough and in today’s world, that is just insane, but there’s good reason some of this is left out of most studies and that reason would be funding (among other things having to do with money).
    But it isn’t just science that leaves this stuff out, it’s the very loud, very quick to form a solid opinion, public. Someone learns bout omega fat ratios and the information network explodes and it’s all the same repetitive stuff being aggressively echoed and often times turns into a bit of “phone tag” without questioning anything, such as these vital questions, or rather observations and common sense, that you brought up here!
    It was actually very hard to find a good article on this that actually had some critical thinking.

  63. Good article on the difference that is maddeningly left out of the studies and speculations, between whole (plant) foods omega 6 and refined foods omega 6. Clearly omega 6 in itself is not bad when not extracted and altered. I dislike the mentioning of animal products due to the detrimental effects they have on health, the gross un-sustainability, and the mass holocaustic cruelty. I find the animal products thing misleading as eggs, for example, are very high in omega 6 and only have omega 3 if the poor chickens (watch earthlings) are supplemented with it (how insane is that!).
    But overall this article pointed something out that scientific studies do not address enough or sometimes at all… the SOURCE, and for that matter, organic vs. non organic vs. GMO. This isn’t addressed nearly enough and in today’s world, that is just insane, but there’s good reason some of this is left out of most studies and that reason would be funding (among other things having to do with money).
    But it isn’t just science that leaves this stuff out, it’s the very loud, very quick to form a solid opinion, public. Someone learns bout omega fat ratios and the information network explodes and it’s all the same repetitive stuff being aggressively echoed and often times turns into a bit of “phone tag” without questioning anything, such as these vital questions, or rather observations and common sense, that you brought up here!
    It was actually very hard to find a good article on this that actually had some critical thinking.

  64. I am really careful about fats I eat. Everything is raw, and just the good stuff. But my german Frau likes eating muesli, of course, and I am trying to learn just what cooking the relatively high amount of PUFAs in oats does to them.
    What exactly does typical cooking times n temps on whole soaked oats (or fermented oat mush I’m experimenting with) do to the omega 6 in there?
    Does it twist it into trans fats, etc?
    I know the highly processed omega 6 containing oils turn quite nasty, but wonder if a short cook on a whole or recently whole grain is a different story.
    I’ve read a ton and just get the general notion that omega 6 is heat light and air sensitive. Just don’t know what that means, exactly, and kind of anxious about potentially eating rancid or toxic oils at all.
    Thanks for any info.

  65. OMG! A *thinking person* sharing information! I’ve also found the omega 3/6 ratio of 1/1 to be silly. You basically can’t achieve it without sourcing your diet almost entirely out of the ocean. That doesn’t match up with the vast array of landscapes humans occupy.

    Thanks for the brain food

  66. I’ve been following this Omega 3:6 topic very closely. It does seem to be that the biggest factor in the problem is the lack of proper Omega 3 sources like fish,seafood, grass fed meats, etc. I found an interesting article that is pointing in a different direction. Can anyone here comment on whether or not this article/study holds water? I would love to hear Mark’s take on this. Here is the link.
    https://medicalxpress.com/news/2016-01-healthier-fats-heart-disease-deaths.html

  67. Just today i was starting to notice the high levels of omega 6 in eggs and almonds and chicken as opposed to omega 3 and that led me to furiously research more on linoleic acid, and not often am i lucky enough to get direct answers online in just one night, and even in such specific exact precise concerns as i am having. I am grateful i chanced upon this writeup, and then i realised, its u again marksdailyapple, the one i often get advice on other food relating directly and indirectly to lchf/inflammation etc. Thank u Mark. I can sleep well tonight knowing my concern is cleared up

  68. I wonder if the author has heard of cognitive dissonance…

    This is BOGUS!

    Learn how to title your articles properly.

  69. That s confusing me wether to eat omega 3 n onega 6 in what ratio n if person is diabetic n hyoertensive n he s avoiding fat contents to avoid blood pressure wha tis good for that person?what if he takes 100mg omeg n take avocaods, sunflower oil n oilive oil in his dietn avoid ghee n eggs etc?

  70. Great article! I am happy to have come across this “new” information because i love eating nuts even though i was completely aware of their previously dangerous omega 6 : omega 3 ratio. I especially enjoy the wild foraged varieties! Maybe one day conventional wisdom will change even further and we might then “discover” that we can simply substitute in things like nuts and seeds and avocados and coconut and sprouted/fermented grains etc. (all raw of course) in lieu of dead animal parts and continue to maintain a healthy lifestyle. What? No way! We may even begin to wonder how we ever bought into the “paleo” philosophy in the first place considering how much we always claim to “love” animals. Hmm, do we now? Maybe it was only our fear which prevented us from knowing that we would be just fine removing intelligent and social creatures from our menu. Maybe we only really ate them in the first place because we always had, we knew no better and we didn’t have to be a part of the “process”. We were always able to use money as a shield to those realities thus freeing ourselves from making a vital connection. Maybe as time progresses we will come closer and closer to making these connections. Truth always has a way of showing itself. That is the beauty of time!

  71. I have a come-and-go oral allergy to avocado, so I don’t eat it fresh (cooked/refined foods are much less likely to trigger oral allergy). I love it, but not enough to put up with instant hay fever and itchy mouth and the small but real possibility of it triggering a dangerous allergy. Fresh avocado on my hands will even inflame any faint cracks in my skin. Is it possible to get the benefits of the fats in avocado from anything at all processed, such as “naturally refined” avocado oil or heat-processed guacamole? Such products are the only way I can safely/comfortably consume avocado.

  72. Good article. Thank you. My blood tests would prove what you said above to be true. I had several tests that look for inflammatory markers. Thankfully they were all very low. Then I had an Omega Check done and my Omega 6 was way high….but not from processed food or unhealthy oils but rather from raw foods like nuts, seeds, avocados, etc. I also eat a lot of flax and chia which are high in Omega 3.
    So glad I found your article because after looking up all the foods I thought might possibly attribute to my high Omega 6 I became concerned about eliminating them because of all the other wonderful benefits of consuming them.
    I am of the opinion that most clean, organic, whole food in moderation together with some organic whole food supplements is still our best source for good nutrition and a relatively healthy body.

  73. Me too. I do not eat Brazil nuts either ..bad taste ….or a whole lot of others because of processing methods we are not told about on the labels. I stay away from all nuts and seeds that have a potential for fungus. I am down to just walnuts, almonds, and macadamias, and an occasional pecan. I eat a lot of seeds such as black seed, chia, flax, pumpkin, and some sesame in homemade bread made from Amaranth and Garbanzo flour and Humas.