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The Skinny on Omega-3 and Omega-6 Fatty Acids

Omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids are types of fats that are essential for good health. Since our bodies can’t make these fatty acids, we have to get them through our food. Omega-3s and omega-6s have opposing tasks in the body. What that means is we need a consistent ratio of both in order for our bodies to function normally.

Omega-3 and Omega-6 Fatty Acids Basics

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Where to Find Omega-3 and Omega-6 in Food

Omega-6 fatty acids are plentiful in the western diet so we typically have no problem getting all we need from food. Omega-3 fatty acids comprise two major types: ALA (alpha-linolenic acid) or EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid). ALA is found in plant sources of omega-3 and needs to be converted to EPA or DHA before it can be used.

When the omegas are balanced, inflammation is regulated and necessary — for example, it helps stop a cut from bleeding. However, when the ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids is skewed towards omega-6, what you can get is chronic and excessive inflammation.

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How Much of Omega-3 vs. Omega-6 Should I Eat?

With omega-3s:

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  • The American Heart Association recommends folks eat at least 1 gram of EPA/DHA per day for heart health and a minimum of 7 ounces of fish per week.
  • Meanwhile, 2 to 4 grams of EPA/DHA per day is recommended as a therapeutic level for depression.
  • If you’re vegetarian or vegan, choose omega-3 supplements with EPA and DHA, preferably from a DHA algae source.

With omega-6s:

  • The American diet typically has too much omega-6 fatty acids in it, so eating fewer omega-6 rich foods is advised.
  • Focus on eating less processed foods made with inexpensive oils rich in omega-6. Instead, cook with extra virgin olive oil.
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