Chronic inflammation is one of the main problems behind most health issues — it causes pain, stiffness, swelling, and slows healing. It gets in the way of proper circulation, which leads to our cells, tissues and organs not getting all the nutrients that they need in order to function optimally, and hinders their ability to clear waste products properly. And all this leads to and exacerbates disease.
One of the quickest and most effective ways to begin to make your diet less inflammatory, reduce systemic inflammation, and improve your overall health, is by improving your ratio of Omega-6 to Omega-3.
And that’s what we’re going to talk about today!
First, there’s something I want you to understand about chronic inflammation… it is not a root cause… it’s a symptom. It’s a result, caused by other factors that are the true underlying problems. And one of those underlying problems that causes chronic inflammation is an inflammatory diet, which leads, inevitably, to more and more inflammation, which wreaks havoc in your body.
This is both bad news and good news. It’s bad news because — as I discuss in The #1 Root Cause of Disease — inflammatory diets are incredibly common today. But it’s good news because there are very do-able solutions for this which you can begin implementing, today!
The main issue here is that certain fats in foods, called Omega-6 fatty acids, are pro-inflammatory, and most of us are getting waaay too many of them in relation to their counterpart, the anti-inflammatory Omega-3 fatty acids.
Anthropological evidence suggests that human beings evolved eating a ratio of Omega-6 to Omega-3 somewhere between 4:1 and 1:4, and that our optimal ratio of Omega 6:3 is around 1:1.
But the average ratio of Omega 6:3 these days is more like 16:1! No wonder there’s so much chronic inflammation plaguing so many people!! This unhealthy ratio is believed to be one of the most damaging aspects of our modern diet.
How has this happened?
The main cause of this unhealthy ratio is a shift in our diets from animal-based fats to plant-based fats (esp veg oils) over the past several decades. The two most important omega-3 fatty acids, EPA and DHA, do not exist in plant foods (except algae), and animal foods contain less of them than they used to due to the way they are produced (see my post Is Pastured Meat Really Better For Your Health? for more on this topic).
We have been told for decades that plant fats are healthier for us than animal fats (not true!), and as a result, there has been a huge increase in the consumption of “vegetable” oils, as well as an increased consumption of nuts and seeds and products containing them.
These changes have led to a significant increase in Omega-6 fatty acid consumption over the past several decades, and at the same time, a significant decrease in the consumption of Omega-3 fatty acid rich foods.
As I discuss in depth in my blog post, The Best and Worst Vegetable Oils, industrially-processed seed oils (aka vegetable oils) are loaded with Omega-6s (and other destructive components such as bleaches and deoderizers) and are very inflammatory and health-damaging.
These oils didn’t exist at all until about 100 years ago, and their availability and use have dramatically increased over the past 60 years due to increased availability and intense marketing campaigns.
And this matters because…?
Because in addition to the pro-inflammatory nature of Omega-6s – which is highly problematic on its own – increased consumption of Omega-6s leads to a high amount of Omega-6 in the structure of our cell membranes, which makes our cell membranes less flexible and more fragile. Sounds bad, right? Well it is! Cell fragility and inflexibility speeds aging, and is strongly associated with an elevated risk of heart disease, among many other health issues.
Benefits of Omega-3s
On the other hand, there are many positive health effects of Omega-3 fatty acids.
For example, their heart health benefits are significant, as are their brain boosting benefits. And Omega-3s have been shown to improve all types of mental health issues, including anxiety, depression, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.
This is in part due to the fact that Omega-3s give brain cell membranes that desired flexibility and strength that they need in order to function optimally, and they also provide anti-inflammatory protection to brain cells. And mood issues, mental health disorders, and brain function decline (ex. poor concentration, impaired memory, and dementia) are all strongly associated with higher levels of inflammation in the brain.
Avoid These Vegetable Oils
So, the single most important thing you can do to reduce your Omega-6 intake is to avoid the highly inflammatory, industrially-processed seed oils that are high in Omega-6, as well as the processed foods that contain them. This means avoiding the following:
The fats and oils that you should use instead, are:
- avocado oil
- cocoa butter
- coconut oil
- lard (pig fat)
- macadamia nut oil
- olive oil (but don’t cook with it!)
- palm oil
- tallow (ruminant fat)
Minimize Nuts and Seeds
Another way to minimize your intake of inflammatory Omega-6s is to reduce your consumption of most nuts and seeds, since they tend to be high in Omega-6s.
Omega 6:3 Ratios in Nuts
Most of the nuts we commonly consume in the Western world are very high in Omega 6s compared to Omega 3s. For instance, look at almonds! 😲 No wonder people don’t tend to feel their optimal best when consuming nuts.
*Peanuts are technically legumes, not nuts, but are included here since they are typically thought of as nuts.
Note that macadamia nuts, while having an Omega 6:3 ratio slightly higher than the optimal <4:1, have very little actual Omega 6 content, and have the healthiest protein, fat and carb profile of all the nuts, which puts them in the green (good) category. Check out my Macadamia Nut Bread recipe for more on this.
Omega 6:3 Ratios in Seeds
Like nuts, many seeds are high in Omega 6s.
Eat Animal Foods That Are High In Omega-3
You can also improve your Omega 6:3 ratio by consuming more Omega-3 rich foods.
High quality animal proteins and fats are the best sources of Omega-3 fatty acids (as well as many other essential nutrients), and should constitute the bulk of your caloric intake.
But what types of animal proteins and fats are best?
Why Sourcing Matters
As I talked about in my post Is Pastured Meat Really Better For Your Health?, pastured and wild meats are more nutritious than CAFO (concentrated area feeding operation, aka feedlot) meats, and they are much less inflammatory as well, in part because they contain up to 6x as many Omega-3s. CAFO animals are fed grain-based feeds (usually largely corn and soy), which reduces their Omega-3 content, and increases their Omega-6 content.
So choose pastured and wild animal fats and proteins as much as possible.
Another effective way to increase your Omega-3 intake is to eat seafood at least once or twice per week. Fatty fish like salmon are particularly good sources, and wild caught are best, as farmed fish tend to be problematic, for a number of reasons.
Aren’t There Healthy Plant-Based Sources of Omega-3?
Yes, there are some plant sources of Omega-3, including seaweed, flax, chia and hemp seeds, and walnuts. However, these contain a type of Omega-3 called ALA. The human body is inefficient at converting ALA into the active forms — EPA and DHA — and this conversion process is hard on our livers.
For this reason, animal sources of Omega-3s, such as fish, pastured or wild animals, and eggs from pastured poultry, are better choices.
Supplementing With Omega-3
If your dietary intake of Omega-3s could use a boost, consider taking a good quality fish oil supplement to increase your Omega-3 intake, as well.
My favorite is Carlson’s Maximum Omega 2,000, as it is a high quality product that contains a concentrated dose of Omega-3s (1,000mg per easy to swallow gelcap) at a competitive price, and it has the best DHA content of any Omega-3 supplement I have found (which means more heart, brain, mood and other health benefits).
For significant inflammation, pain, and/or mood issues, and for elevated cholesterol (esp LDL), doses of up to 8,000mg (8 gelcaps) per day have been used by many people with great success – take them with food, and split it up into at least 2 separate doses per day
Note of caution: Omega 3 is a blood thinner, so if you are on blood-thinners already, or if you have or develop easy bruising, stop the Omega 3. And as always, check with your doc first if you are at all uncertain about whether Omega 3 supplementation is safe for you.
A significant body of evidence suggests that a high dietary intake of Omega-6, and an Omega 6:3 ratio of >4:1, may promote several chronic diseases, and that, conversely, keeping your Omega 6:3 ratio under 4:1 (and ideally closer to 1:1) confers many health benefits, including improved mood, brain function, and heart health, improved cholesterol profile, and reduced stiffness, pain and inflammation.
To improve your Omega 6:3 ratio:
- Avoid seed (“vegetable”) oils and the processed foods that contain them.
- Minimize your intake of nuts and seeds, and when you do have them, focus on those that have the lowest amounts of Omega-6:
- Macadamia nuts
- Flax seeds
- Chia seeds
- Hemp seeds
- Eat plenty of Omega-3 rich animal fats and proteins, including something from the sea* at least once or twice a week, especially:
- Mackerel (Atlantic & Pacific)
- Oysters (Pacific)
- Sablefish (Black Cod)
- Salmon (Atlantic & Chinook)
- Tuna (Bluefin)
- Boost your Omega-3 intake with a good quality Omega-3 supplement.
*For a more complete list of seafoods and their Omega-3 content, check out this chart.
Take Your Time
Most people have large amounts of Omega-6 fatty acids stored in their body fat and in all the cell membranes throughout their body, and it can take a while to remove and replace them with healthier fats. So stay the course! Reaping the benefits from an optimal Omega-6 to Omega-3 ratio is a process that requires long-term diet and lifestyle changes – most people find that making changes gradually over time works best, so be patient and stick with it.
Want to know what else you can do to improve your overall health and well-being?
Check out my Roadmap To Optimal Health, and begin/continue walking the path outlined there.
Work With Me
If you’re an existing patient of mine and would like to discuss how to know if omegas are an issue for you and get a customized treatment plan for optimizing them, book a consult with me by going here and clicking the Book Now button under Consultations.
Not a patient of mine yet but thinking you might like to be? Great! Schedule yourself a free Discovery Call so we can talk about your health goals and issues and see if we’re likely to be a good fit! 😊