The Bulletproof Guide to Omega 3 Vs. Omega 6 Fats

Ever wondered what’s the deal with all the different types of fats you find in your food and on nutrition labels? Here’s what’s going on with omega 3, omega 6 saturated and trans fats right now.

BIG news: the FDA recently ordered food manufacturers to stop using trans fat in their products within three years. The agency has even gone a step further, proposing that foods get rid of partially hydrogenated oils (PHOs), chemically altered fats that the FDA argues are no longer “generally recognized as safe.”

If the decision gets finalized, trans fats and PHOs may be a thing of the past, unless the manufacturer gets FDA approval.

Here’s why the FDA’s decision rocks: trans fats have been linked to cancer, obesity, metabolism issues, heart disease, Alzheimer’s, and more [1,2,3]. More studies show that trans fat promotes overall inflammation in the body, but worst of all – your brain pays the highest price with memory loss, depression and reduced cognition [4,5,6]. Eliminating trans fats from all food is a win for anti-kryptonite food fighters everywhere. It also may force food companies to start using higher-quality fats in their products.

With change on the horizon, what better way to celebrate than by adding to your knowledge about fats?  The type of fat you eat is key to your performance — that’s why the Bulletproof Diet suggests eating 50-70% of your calories from fat every day. With that in mind, here’s a quick primer on different types of fat, with a particular focus on Omega 3s, Omega 6s, and how you can balance the two to your body’s advantage, setting the foundation for a Bulletproof life.

Understanding Fat

I specifically designed the Bulletproof Diet to introduce the correct types, amounts, and ratios of fat into your system for optimal hormone balance, weight loss, and wellbeing. Different types of fat behave differently in your body. Most of those differences come down to the shape of the fat’s tail and the stability of the fat.

Check out the tail

Fat molecules look kind of like mice: they have wide bodies with thin tails coming off them. Tail length in fats is important because it changes how your body processes them. As a general rule, the shorter the tail, the more rare and anti-inflammatory the fat itself. That’s why the Bulletproof Diet recommends eating fats with short and medium tails, like those found in grass-fed butter and Brain Octane oil.

Know the fat’s stability

Stability is also important when you’re choosing which fats to eat. The stability of a fat largely depends on how many binding sites it has open. Fats with fewer open binding sites are more stable – they’re less likely to let a free radical oxidize them by stealing an electron. Oxidized fats speed up aging and create inflammation. Here are the three types of fat, from most stable to least:

Saturated Fats

In saturated fats, all the binding sites are filled (“saturated”). Take a look at the diagram of a saturated fat below. It’s like a big dinner table, and each “H” is like a person in a chair. Every seat at the table is taken; a free radical can’t get in anywhere to grab an electron and oxidize the fat.

Saturated Fat

Monounsaturated Fats

Monounsaturated fats are relatively stable, but they’re not quite as stable as saturated fats. “Mono,” meaning one, indicates that there is one place for a free radical to enter. The table is full except for one seat, as you can see below.

MUS Fat

Polyunsaturated Fats

Polyunsaturated fats are the least stable fats. Poly is Greek for “many,” and as the name suggests, polyunsaturated fats have multiple binding sites exposed, making them particularly open to oxidation. Seats at the table are open left and right, and it’s easy for the free radical to get in and mess with the fat.

PUS Fat

It’s important to note that just because a fat is unstable doesn’t mean it’s bad for you. You should just handle less stable fats more carefully to make sure they don’t oxidize or spoil. That means avoiding ones that are heavily processed or exposed to high heat.

In fact, two types of the most important kinds of fat are unstable. Omega 6 and omega 3 fats are both polyunsaturated, and they’re key to survival. Your body can’t produce omega 3s and omega 6s on its own; you get them from food. That’s why low-fat diets are bad for you — they systematically deprive you of the fats your body needs to function at its best.

Omega 3s and omega 6s exist in a ratio to one another. There’s a cap on the total amount of the two that the body can use, so they end up competing for space. Omega 6s are inflammatory, while omega 3s are not. You need both, but because of the inflammation factor, it’s optimal to maximize omega 3s and minimize omega 6s.

What makes Omega 3 fats so special?

Omega 3s are great for your cells. They are an integral part of cells membranes throughout the entire body and affect the cell receptors in these membranes.

Omega 3s also provide a launchpad for making hormones that regulate blood, heart, and genetic function.

Studies show that omega 3s help prevent heart disease and stroke, may help control lupus, eczema, and rheumatoid arthritis, and may protect against cancer [7].

Types of Omega 3s

Amazing sources of omega 3s include wild salmon, grass-fed beef, algae oils, sardines, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, walnuts and flaxseeds. You can also optimize omega 3s through superior supplements like Krill oil.

There are three common types of omega 3 fatty acids:

  • EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) – both are long chain omega 3 fatty acids, and both come from animal sources. DHA is the really good one: it keeps your nervous system functioning and provides anti-inflammatory benefits. Higher consumption correlates with improved mood, greater insulin sensitivity, increased muscle growth, and better sleep.

Science has shown that EPA and DHA are especially important for pregnant women. Many prenatal vitamins contain them, but you’re better off getting them from food [8].

  • ALA (alfa-linolenic acid) – this is a short chain omega 3 fatty acid. ALA comes mostly from plant sources, and most animals can’t really use it, so they convert it to the super-powerful DHA we just talked about.

Herbivores and opportunistic omnivores like mice and rats are great at converting ALA to DHA. Humans, on the other hand, can only convert about 8% of ALA to DHA [18]. That’s one reason why chia seeds and flaxseed oil don’t rank particularly high on the Bulletproof Diet Roadmap. The people selling chia seeds are quick to tell you that their product is high in omega 3s; what they fail to mention is that the omega 3 isn’t the right kind. You still convert some of it to DHA, but getting your DHA directly from animal sources is much more efficient.

Drop those fries and move away from the basket!

So how many omega 3s should you eat to get optimal benefits? It largely depends on your omega 6 consumption.

Omega 6 fats are also necessary for survival, but they’re not nearly as beneficial as omega 3s. Omega 6 fats help with brain function, muscle growth, and hormone production, but they also cause inflammation, and they compete with omega 3s in the body. The ideal is to eat just enough omega 6s to function, but no more, and to balance them with lots of omega 3s.

  • For most people, an omega 6 to omega 3 ratio of 4:1 is ideal– that’s 4 omega 6s for every 1 omega 3 [17].
  • Anti-aging experts suggest going even further, maintaining a 1:1 ratio or higher in favor of omega 3s.
  • The average American eats a ratio of anywhere from 12:1 to 25:1 omega 6 to omega 3 [15, 16]. Not good.

A big reason for the skewed ratio in the U.S. and other countries that eat Western diets is the types of oil in our foods. The most common source of omega 6s is linoleic acid, found in corn oil, soybean oil, safflower oil, cottonseed oil, sunflower oil, poultry, and some nuts and seeds.

These oils are cheap to produce, so many companies use them in processed foods like candy, cookies, crackers, popcorn, granola, dairy creamer, margarine, frozen pizza, and other snacks. Soybean oil is so overused that it constitutes 20% of the calories in the average American diet [9]. Many of the oils are also genetically modified and produced with toxic solvents.

Omega 6 oils are unstable because they’re made of polyunsaturated fats (lots of seats open at the table). Cooking at high heats, microwaving, or frying will oxidize the fats. Oxidized omega 6 does damage to your DNA, inflames your heart, and raises your risk for several types of cancer, including breast cancer. It also interferes with brain metabolism [10, 11, 12, 13, 14].

When companies use these oils in packaged foods, they stabilize them to increase shelf life through a process called hydrogenation. Hydrogenation takes already harmful fats and converts them into synthetic trans fat. Trans fat is even worse for you.

The Omega 3 vs Omega 6 ratio has been abused. The prevalence of vegetable oil and processed grains in Western diets has thrown the ratio way off, contributing to chronic inflammation, cancer, neurodegenerative diseases, heart attack, and many of the other common health problems in the U.S. A core aim of the Bulletproof Diet is to restore that skewed ratio.

Find your optimal fat balance

The fewer inflammatory omega 6s you eat, the more the omega 3s you eat will be able to build and strengthen your body.

Check out these charts to give you added insight into Omega 3/Omega 6 ratios in foods themselves:

 

n3n6 graph 1

n3n6 graph 2

n3n6 graph 3

To up your ratio, eat plenty low-mercury fatty fish like sockeye salmon, go for grass-fed butter and meat, swap omega 6 oils for those higher in omega 3s, and always check the ingredients when you buy packaged food.

Have you balanced your fat ratio and noticed a difference in how you feel? Any of your own hacks to share with the rest of us? Post it all in the comments, and stay Bulletproof!

 

Click to read the complete list of references.

 

Omega-3 : Omega-6 balance

Omega-3 and omega-6 are two types of polyunsaturated fatty acids. They are both required for the body to function but have opposite effects when it comes to the inflammatory response and cardiovascular health. Too much omega-6 and too little omega-3 are among the causes for many diseases in modern society.

Fat is perhaps the most diverse class of dietary macronutrients in regards to nutritional value and physiological effects. Currently, most people understand the differences between the good (unsaturated fat), bad (saturated fat) and ugly (trans-fat) fats described in Fat Metabolism 101. We know that oils derived from animal fat are not good for our health due to their high levels of saturated fat and cholesterol, and that oils derived from plants are generally good for our health due to their unsaturated fat content. However, not all unsaturated fats are healthy. Many plant seed oils such as sunflower, peanut and corn oil are rich in inflammatory polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) and devoid of anti-inflammatory PUFAs. On the other hand, some plant seed oils such as canola and olive oil have balanced PUFAs and are considered healthier. Therefore, it is important to distinguish between the types of PUFAs in dietary oils for optimal health.

PUFAs are fatty acids that have two or more double bonds in each molecule. There are two types of PUFAs in dietary oil: omega-3 and omega-6, also known as ω-3 and ω-6. They are distinguished by the position of the first double bond. Omega-3 fatty acids have their first double bond at the third carbon atom from the methyl end of the carbon chain while omega-6 fatty acids have their first double bond at the sixth carbon atom from the methyl end (Fig.1).

Structural representation of ALA

Figure 1. Structural representation of ALA (ω-3) and LA (ω-6), two essential fatty acids and the most common PUFAs found in dietary oil. The red numbers represents the carbon atoms counting from the methyl end of the chain. The blue counts from the carboxyl end.

The most common omega-3 fatty acids in the human diet are ALA, EPA, and DHA while the most common omega-6 fatty acids are LA and AA (Table 1). The omega-3 fatty acid ALA and the omega-6 fatty acid LA are referred to as essential fatty acids because the body cannot synthesize them. Essential fatty acid deficiency can lead to dermatitis, stunted growth in infants and children, increased susceptibility to infection, and poor wound healing. In human cells all long-chain omega-3 fatty acids are synthesized from ALA and all long-chain omega-6 fatty acids are synthesized from LA.

TABLE 1.THE MOST COMMON OMEGA-3 AND OMEGA-6 FATTY ACIDS AND THEIR DIETARY SOURCES

TYPES ABBREVIATION COMMON NAME STRUCTURE DIETARY SOURCES
Omega-3 ALA α-Linolenic acid C18 : 3 Oils: flaxseed, olive, canola
EPA Eicosapentaenoic acid C20 : 5 Fish oil, marine algae
DHA Docosahexaenoic acid C22 : 6 Fish oil, marine algae
Omega-6 LA Linoleic acid C18 : 2 Oils: corn, soybean, 
sunflower, peanut
AA Arachidonic acid C20 : 4 Small amount in meat, 
dairy products and eggs

Long-chain omega-3 fatty acids (EPA and DHA) provide many health benefits with regard to their cardiovascular disease prevention properties and anti-inflammatory effects. DHA is also directly involved in visual and neuronal cell development. Adequate amounts of omega-6 fatty acids are also beneficial to human health since many bioactive signaling molecules, especially ones involved in immune response and cardiomyocyte (muscle cells) contraction, are derived from them. However, omega-6 fatty acids tend to be over-supplied while omega-3 fatty acids are under-supplied in modern Western diets due to industrialized food oil production. This overwhelming intake of omega-6 leads to hyperimmune responses and interferes with the proper function of omega-3 fatty acids, causing detrimental effects associated with chronic cardiovascular diseases and inflammatory responses (Table 2).

TABLE 2. THE EFFECTS OF OMEGA-3 AND OMEGA-6 FATTY ACIDS ON CHRONIC DISEASES.

CHRONIC DISEASES RISK FACTORS COMMENTS OMEGA-3 OMEGA-6
Cardiovascular 
Diseases
Arrhythmias (irregular heart beat) Causes sudden cardiac death Lowers Increases
Thrombosis (clot) Leads to myocardial infarction or stroke Lowers Increases
Atherosclerotic plaque Leads to atherosclerosis Lowers Increases
HDL Good cholesterol Increases Lowers
LDL Bad cholesterol Lowers Increases
Triglycerides Cardiovascular risk factor Lowers Increases
Inflammatory 
Responses
IL-1 (Interleukin 1) Inflammation response Lowers Increases
IL-6 (Interleukin 6) Inflammation response Lowers Increases
CRP (C-reactive protein) Inflammation response Lowers Increases

Due to the opposing effects of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, a healthy diet should contain a balanced omega-6:omega-3 ratio. Human beings evolved eating a diet with a omega-6:omega-3 ratio of about 1:1. Modern Western diets exhibit omega-6:omega-3 ratios ranging between 15:1 to 17:1. Epidemiology and dietary intervention studies have concluded that while an exceptionally high omega-6:omega-3 ratio promotes the development of many chronic diseases, a reduced omega-6:omega-3 ratio can prevent or reverse these diseases. For example, a ratio of 4:1 was associated with a 70% reduction in mortality in secondary coronary heart disease prevention and a ratio of 2.5:1 reduced rectal cell proliferation in patients with colorectal cancer. A lower omega-6:omega-3 ratio in women was associated with decreased risk for breast cancer. A ratio of 2:1–3:1 suppressed inflammation in patients with rheumatoid arthritis, and a ratio of 5:1 had a beneficial effect on patients with asthma, whereas a ratio of 10:1 had adverse consequences.

Furthermore, a high omega-6:omega-3 ratio is especially detrimental to carriers of certain genetic variations. For example, minor allele carriers of the APOA5 gene have elevated triglycerides levels and minor allele carriers of 5-lipoxygenase polymorphism in the gene promoter region exhibit increased risk for atherosclerosis. Other gene polymorphisms that are affected by this ratio include CD36 (a cell surface scavenger receptor) and TCF7L2 (a transcription factor). Lowering the omega-6:omega-3 ratio is particularly important for these variant carriers to prevent chronic diseases.

Fig.2 shows the fatty acid composition as well as the omega-6:omega-3 ratio in common food sources. It is clear that many plant seed oils contain no omega-3. Long-term ingestion of these oils without supplementing omega-3 from other sources will gradually incur hyperimmune responses and associated chronic diseases. It is also clear that most animal-based fats are actually well-balanced with regard to the omega-6:omega-3 ratio (chicken fat is an exception), but due to the high percentage of saturated fat, consumption of animal fat still needs to be restricted in an appropriate amount. Overall, canola oil has the most balanced fatty acid composition, not only due to a good omega-6:omega-3 ratio, but also because it contains a high percentage of monounsaturated fat which is beneficial to human health. Olive oil, although moderately high in the omega-6:omega-3 ratio, also contains a high percentage of monounsaturated fat. Most importantly, olive oil also contains a high amount of antioxidants and the substance squalene that has been shown to have anti-cancer effects. Therefore, olive oil is another good choice of healthy food oil. Deep sea fish oils such as salmon fat are excellent sources of omega-3. Flaxseeds oil is also a rich source of omega-3. It is a good option to use for a omega-3 supplement.

Fatty acid composition

Figure 2. The fatty acid composition and ω-6:ω-3 ratio in most common dietary fat.

The opposing effects of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids on human health are due to three molecular mechanisms: 1) they compete for the same set of enzymes to produce signaling molecules that have opposing physiological functions. While omega-3 derived signaling molecules are anti-inflammatory, omega-6 derived are pro-inflammatory; 2) they compete for direct transcription factors binding to modulate the expression of different sets of target genes; and 3) they compete to incorporate into cell membranes, directly impacting the function of the membrane.

 

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

There is some debate as to the optimal ratio of omega-3 fatty acids and omega-6 fatty acids for human health. This means that knowing the ratio of these two classes ofpolyunsaturated fats can be a useful tool in maintaining a healthy diet.

Ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fats in the diets of hunter-gatherers[edit]

It has been claimed that among hunter-gatherer populations, omega-3 fats and omega-6 fats are typically consumed in roughly a 1:1 ratio.[1] At one extreme of the spectrum of hunter-gatherer diets, the Greenland Inuit, prior to the late Twentieth Century, consumed a diet in which omega-6s and omega-3s were consumed in a 1:2 ratio, thanks to a diet rich in cold-water fish (which are a rich source of omega-3s) and completely devoid of omega-6-rich seed oils.[2]

Optimal ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fats[edit]

To date, "no one knows what the optimal ratio in the diet is for these two families of fats."[3] Susan Allport writes that the current ratio in Japan is associated with a very low incidence of heart and other diseases. A dietary ratio of 4:1 produces almost a 1:1 ratio of HUFAs in cell membranes."[3]

Andrew Stoll, who advocates the consumption of the two fats in a 1:1 ratio, states, "Once in the body, omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids follow parallel pathways, continually competing with each other for chemical conversion to various structures and molecules inside and outside the cells. Given this mechanism, it makes sense that the two fats might be required in approximately equal amounts."[4]

Both Stoll and Allport assert that present-day diets in the developed world have departed dramatically from this ratio. It has been estimated that in developed countries, the ratio of Omega-6s to Omega-3s is closer to 15:1[5] Another estimate is that "[t]he diet consumed by the typical American tends to contain 14 - 25 times more omega-6 fatty acids than omega-3 fatty acids."[6]

Fish[edit]

Food Citation Serving Size Omega-6 fatty acids (g) Omega-3 fatty acids (g) Omega-6 : Omega-3 ratio
Salmon, cold water, fresh and frozen, cooked [7] 4 oz (113g) 0.03 1.7 0.0  : 1
Sardines, canned in oil, drained [7] 4 oz 4.0 1.8 2.2 : 1
Tuna, canned in water, drained [7] 4 oz Trace 0.3 0.0 : 1
Tuna, canned in oil, drained [7] 4 oz 3.0 0.2 13.8 : 1
Cod, fresh and frozen [7] 4 oz 0.1 0.6 0.1  : 1
Mackerel, canned, drained [7] 4 oz 0.2 2.2 0.1 : 1
Swordfish, fresh and frozen, cooked [7] 4 oz 0.3 1.7 0.2  : 1
Crab, soft shell, cooked [7] 4 oz 0.1 0.6 0.2  : 1
Lobster, cooked [7] 4 oz 0.0 0.1 0.2  : 1
Bluefish, fresh and frozen, cooked [7] 4 oz 0.3 1.7 0.1  : 1
Salmon, canned, drained [7] 4 oz 0.2 2.2 0.1 : 1
Smelt, rainbow [7] 4 oz 0.2 0.5 0.4  : 1
Scallops, Maine, fresh and frozen, cooked [7] 4 oz 0.1 0.5 0.2  : 1

Nuts and Seeds[edit]

Food Citation Serving Size Omega-6 (g) Omega-3 (g) Omega-6 : Omega-3 ratio
Almonds, dry roasted [7] 1 oz (28 g) 3.5 0.0 3.5: 0
Chia seeds [8] 1 oz (28 g) 1.6 4.9 1 : 3
Flax seeds [7] 1 oz 0.4 1.8 0.2 : 1
Pecans, dry roasted [7] 1 oz 6.4 0.3 22 : 1
Pistachios, roasted [7] 1 oz 3.9 0.1 55.3 : 1
Pumpkin seeds, shelled [7] 1 oz 5.4 0.1 107.8 : 1
Sesame seeds [7] 1 oz 6.7 0.1 55.7 : 1
Walnuts [7] 1 oz 10.8 2.6 4.2 : 1

Oils[edit]

Food Citation Serving Size Omega-6 (g) Omega-3 (g) Omega-6 : Omega-3 ratio
Butter
Canola oil [7] 1 Tbsp 2.8 1.3 2.2 : 1
Coconut oil
Cod liver oil [7] 1 Tbsp 0.3 2.8 0.1 : 1
Corn oil 46 : 1[9]
Cotton seed
Flax seed oil [7] 1 Tbsp 2.0 6.9 0.28: 1
Ghee
Grape seed
Lard
Olive oil [7] 1 Tbsp 1.1 0.1 13.4 : 1
Palm oil (Hydrogenated)
Sardine oil [7] 1 Tbsp 0.5 3.7 0.1 : 1
Soybean oil (Hydrogenated)
Soybean oil, (Unhydrogenated) [7] 1 Tbsp 7.0 0.9 7.5 : 1
Tallow (Grain Fed) [10] 3.35% 0.2% 16.75 : 1
Tallow (Grass Fed) [10] 1.2% 0.8% 1.5 : 1
Walnut oil [7] 1 Tbsp (15 g) 7.2 1.4 5.1 : 1
Hemp seed oil [11] N/A N/A N/A 3 : 1 [note 1]

Grains and Beans[edit]

Food Citation Serving Size Omega-6 (g) Omega-3 (g) Omega-6 : Omega-3 ratio
Soybeans, dried, cooked [7] 1/2 cup 3.8 0.5 7.4 : 1
Tofu, regular [7] 4 oz 2.1 0.3 7.5 : 1
Nattō, regular [12] 1 cup 9.6 1.3 7.4 : 1

Green, leafy vegetables[edit]

Food Citation Serving Size Omega-6 (g) Omega-3 (g) Omega-6 : Omega-3 ratio
Spinach, fresh, cooked [7] 1/2 cup Trace 0.1 0.2 : 0
Green leaf lettuce, fresh, raw [7] 1 cup Trace Trace 0.5 : 1
Red leaf lettuce, fresh, raw [7] 1 cup Trace Trace 1.5 : 1
Boston lettuce or Bibb lettuce, fresh, raw [7] 1 cup Trace Trace 1.5 : 1
Chard, cooked [7] 1/2 cup Trace 0.0 N/A
Turnip greens, cooked [7] 1/2 cup Trace Trace 0.5 : 1
Dandelion greens, cooked [7] 1/2 cup Trace 0.1 0.8 : 1
Kale, cooked [7] 1/2 cup 0.1 0.1 0.9 : 1
Beet greens, cooked [7] 1/2 cup Trace Trace 4.0 : 1
Collard greens, cooked [7] 1/2 cup 0.1 0.1 0.8 : 1
Mustard greens, cooked [7] 1/2 cup Trace Trace 0.5 : 1

See also[edit]

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