Your über-healthy diet makes a nutritionist proud: chia-seed pudding for breakfast, kale salads for lunch, juices as snacks and curried wild salmon for dinner. You’ve checked off omega-3’s, fiber, magnesium, antioxidants, phytonutrients, protein and even turmeric!
But look a little closer, and the diet is missing an essential nutrient – omega-6.
Omega-6’s are equally as important as omega-3’s. You can’t synthesize them, nor can you convert the omega-3’s to omega-6’s. You must get them from your diet. If you eat the Standard American Diet (red meat, dairy, processed foods and everything doused in corn and soy oil), you’ll be getting a bucket full of them. If you don’t, then perhaps the recommendation to increase your omega-3’s and decrease your omega-6’s isn’t right for you.
In fact, if you’re eating wild salmon four times per week, tossing flax-seed oil into your smoothie, adding chia seeds to your salads, snacking on walnuts and taking a fish oil or flax oil supplement, then it’s quite possible you’re omega-3 dominant. Ten years ago, before everything was omega-3 enhanced, we, as nutrition students, ran our fatty acid profile. To our surprise, but not our professor’s, we were omega-3 dominant. It was a great experiment in the concept “just because something is good for you, doesn’t mean that more is better”.
The ideal essential fat ratio is 3:1, in favor of omega-6’s. The Standard American Diet is typically 20:1, but if you’re eating an abundance of omega-3’s not balanced by sufficient omega-6’s, the ratio could be flipped to 5:1 in favour of omega-3’s. While being omega-3 dominant is not deleterious, it will change the fluidity of the cell membranes and make the cells less responsive. You may have PMS, allergies, a suppressed immune system and a lowered libido (and be frustrated – aren’t omega-3’s supposed to help this?). The good news is, it’s an easy fix.
The best dietary source of omega-6 is hemp seed. Hemp seeds contain gamma-linolenic acid (GLA), the active omega-6 form. Sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds and raw nuts also contain omega-6, but in the inactive, linoleic acid (LA) form. To convert this to the anti-inflammatory GLA, you’ll need a sufficient amount of Vitamin B6, Vitamin C, zinc and magnesium. Alcohol, NSAIDS and stress all interfere with this conversion process and will limit the benefit you receive from the raw nuts and seeds.
To optimize your fatty acid balance, simply follow the below advice:
- skip the chia seeds in your salad and use hemp seeds instead
- replace flax oil with hemp-seed oil in your smoothie
- make a tahini salad dressing as sesame seeds are rich in omega-6’s
- skip the omega-3 supplement if you eat three tablespoons chia seed or a 6oz piece of wild salmon per day as your diet is sufficient in omega-3’s
- snack on raw or dehydrated pumpkin seeds as they are rich in omega-6 and zinc, which helps with the conversion of LA to GLA
- toss sunflower seeds into a kale salad as sunflower seeds are also rich in omega-6 and zinc
- seek out flax crackers made with flax seeds and sunflower seeds for a better omega 6:3 ratio
- never eat commercial cereal with flax seed in it as the flax seed has gone rancid due to the heat from commercial processing
- if you have been prescribed high-dose fish oil, take CoQ10 and a powerful antioxidant supplement to offset the potential omega-3 rancidity
- get a fatty acid profile run (sorry New Yorkers, licensing restrictions stop us from running this in your state)
If, however, you eat the Standard American Diet or a slight upgrade from it, completely ignore this advice as you’ll be omega-6 dominant. Instead, enhance your diet by taking this mini detox.