Omega Ratio: Part 1
This post is an installment in our 52 Health Hinges series. Remember, “Small hinges swing big doors.”
[Click here for Part 2 of the 2-part Omega Ratio series.]
Many of the things that we now need to consider for optimal nutrition and health are new because our environment has changed.
One of these things is the Omega-6 to Omega-3 ratio.
It’s unlikely that your grandparents ever had to think about this; they ate naturally, and that was that.
But today, understanding this ratio is necessary. Both Omega-6 and Omega-3 fatty acids are essential in our diet, so this isn’t a matter of being “good” or “bad.” The trick, in our modern world, is getting the ratio correct.
What? This sounds complicated. Do I need some sort of chemistry set to get my ratio correct?
No. It’s complicated, but not that complicated. And you’ve come to the right place. I’ll break it down for you.
The good news is that this doesn’t change any of the prior recommendations that I’ve made; this just gives more context as to WHY these recommendations will make you healthier.
This is a meaty topic, so I’ll continue this discussion in next week’s post, too.
The Ideal Ratio
The significance of the ratio between Omega-6 to Omega-3 was realized only a short time ago, in the 1980s, at a National Institute of Health (NIH) conference in Washington D.C. Research had just uncovered that Omega-3s were critical for health, and it was at this conference they realized that it wasn’t simply the presence of the Omega-3s that were important, but their ratio to Omega-6s.
The ideal ratio for health and longevity is 1:1 (Omega-6: Omega-3).
Like I’d mentioned before, achieving this ratio was something that came effortlessly as our ancestors ate naturally. But lately, things have gotten out of whack.
Let’s look at the current ratios of different cultures around the world (listed as Omega-6: Omega-3):
- Inuit = 1:2.5
- Japanese = 3:1 (traditional Japanese diet, not the “Americanized” Japanese diet)
- European = 6:1
- Standard American Diet = 20:1 to 40:1
Okay, so comparing the above against the ideal of 1:1, you can see that we’re far from ideal.
But why should you care?
When this ratio is out of whack, you’re going to have an increase in silent inflammation. Remember, inflammation is at the root of all modern, chronic disease, like type 2 diabetes, cancer, obesity, heart disease, and autoimmunity.
Omega-6 fatty acids are pro-inflammatory and Omega-3 fatty acids are anti-inflammatory.
In the last century, Omega-3 consumption decreased from our food supply immensely as industrialization of food lead to the increase in consumption of Omega-6.
There are two main culprits driving this change. I categorize them this way:
1. You are what you eat.
2. You are what you eat eats.
Today, let’s focus on reason 1 and save the juicy details of reason 2 for next week.
Reason 1: You are what you eat
We’ve been talking lately about how fat is not the enemy and how to choose healthful fats for your diet. Today, I hope that this information is the icing on the cake and helps you pull it all together.
You are what you eat. And with the advent of the modern vegetable oil industry, your ratio of Omega-6 to Omega-3 has been going in the wrong direction.
This chart compares the Omega-6 and Omega-3 content of various industrial seed oils.
Many of the oils in the above list were on my “never” list a couple of weeks back; now you understand why I made that recommendation.
Knowing what you know now – that these industrial seed oils are devoid of Omega-3s and abundant in Omega-6s – it’s not difficult to see how consuming these oils in large quantities could significantly impact your fatty-acid ratio and cause inflammation and disease.
Of course, there’s one exception to the rule; the Omega-6 fat gamma linolenic acid, or GLA, acts more like a healing Omega-3 fatty acid. GLA can be found in evening primrose, black currant, borage, and Siberian pine nut.
Next week, we’ll cover the second reason why our Omega-6 to Omega-3 ratios are off. Remember, you are what you eat eats.