Many types of beneficial fatty acids cannot be synthesized by the body, so they must be obtained through diet or supplements.
Among these are the essential fatty acids known as omega-3 and omega-6, which have come under a lot of scrutiny of late. They belong to the class of fatty acids referred to as “polyunsaturated.”
The two differ significantly in terms of chemical structure as well as the food sources from which they can be derived. Ideally, the human body should get equal amounts of both—a 1:1 ratio.
Omega-6 fatty acids can be found abundantly in our daily fare, such as seeds, nuts, plant-based oils, meats, eggs, baked goods and processed foods containing soy.
Nutritionists say that about 5 to 10 percent of a person’s daily calories should come from foods that contain these fatty acids. Replacing food containing saturated fats with omega-6 foods allegedly helps improve the functions of both the brain and heart.
However, over-consumption of omega-6 can have negative side effects. It has been linked to a long list of modern ailments, from asthma, obesity and cardiovascular disease to type-2 diabetes and cancer.
One of the primary sources of excess omega-6 today is vegetable oil, which is so pervasive in prepared foods.
Omega-3 fatty acids, on the other hand, can be found in abundance in fish or fish oils. This essential fatty acid has been found to reduce the incidence of heart disease, as well as a number of other illnesses or conditions as an anti-inflammatory. It plays a crucial role in the function of the brain and in normal growth development.
According to nutritionists, throughout 4-5 million years of hominid evolution, diets were abundant in seafood and other sources of omega-3, but relatively low in omega-6 oils.
Today, our diets have tipped too far in the direction of omega-6, approaching a ratio of 25:1 in many cases. This is believed to be one cause of the proliferation modern illnesses that were virtually unknown in Paleolithic times.
The solution is to reduce intake of foods containing omega-6 and increase those containing omega-3—less meat and grains, more fish and seafood. Alternatively, omega-3 supplements are readily available, too.
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