An article in Openheart (the online, open peer-reviewed, cardiovascular medical journal) published recently highlights the importance of a balanced omega-6 to omega-3 ratio in the prevention and management of obesity. In this article the researchers note that scientific evidence has demonstrated that calories are not equivalent and that governments and organizations should establish policies based on science and not continue to focus exclusively on calories and energy expenditure, which have failed miserably over the past 30 years.
This is what the Functional Medicine community has been telling people for years. While the article just addresses the omega fatty acid ratio effect on obesity, I would like to give a little more background.
Throughout most of human history, our natural diets were high in seafood and other sources of omega-3 fatty acids and low in omega-6. Historically, humans consumed an omega-6 to omega-3 ratio that was roughly 1:1. History also indicates that at these ratios our society was essentially free of inflammatory diseases, heart disease, cancer and diabetes.
The problem today is that ratio has shifted to include far too many omega-6 due to the overconsumption of vegetable oils and processed foods high in vegetable oils. Here is a chart showing the ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 in various products.
Now, please keep in mind that omega-6 fatty acid is not all bad. You need both types of fat in your diet as they both perform distinct biological functions and offer health benefits. The real issue is when you have excessive amounts of either one. Most experts agree the omega 6:3 ratio should range from 1:1 to 5:1.
However, the unfortunate reality is that for most Americans it now ranges from 20 to 50:1. This ratio includes far too many omega-6 fats and to make matters worse they are coming in the form of highly processed vegetable oils which are not only high in trans fats, but mostly come from genetically engineered soy, corn and canola which contain dangerous herbicides like glyphosate.
It is important to know that deficiencies in omega-3 can also cause a range of health problems including increased inflammation, weight gain, diabetes, and allergies. So, getting omega-3 in the diet is important.
A great way to get the ratio back into balance is to avoid heavily processed foods. To improve your omega-3 to omega-6 ratio focus on eating high quality foods like raw nuts and seeds including organic flax, chia, sunflower, sesame, almonds and walnuts. As far as oils, use unprocessed organic oils like extra virgin olive oil, coconut oil, organic butter and avocados.
Avoid corn, canola and soy oil, hydrogenated fats, margarine and shortenings.
You should also consider taking a good quality omega-3 supplement. We currently recommend EPA/DHA Essentials by Pure Encapsulations.
Make sure to check out our in-depth articles on preventing and healing chronic diseases utilizing a Functional Medicine approach.
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Wishing you good health!
Mike Woodley, R.Ph, FAARM, FMNM
Reference: Open Heart 2016;3: doi:10.1136/openhrt-2015-000385 The importance of a balanced ω-6 to ω-3 ratio in the prevention and management of obesity. Journal of the American Heart Association January 2009