Good Fats and Bad Fats

Increase Intake of Omega-3 and
Reduce Omega-6 Fats for Improved Health

Most of us want to increase our overall health and energy level. We want to prevent heart disease, cancer, arthritis, depression and Alzheimer’s. One of the best things we can do to address these concerns is to balance the intake of the omega-3 fats and omega-6 fats in our diet.

These two types of fat, omega-3 and omega-6, are both essential for human health. However, the typical American consumes an excess of omega-6 fats in their diet while consuming very low levels of omega-3. The ideal ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fats is 1:1. Our ancestors evolved over millions of years on this ratio. Today, though, our ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fats averages from 20:1 to 50:1! That contributes to the diseases of civilization mentioned above.

The primary sources of omega-6 are corn, soy, safflower, and sunflower oils. These oils are overabundant in the typical diet, which explains our excess omega-6 levels. Limit these oils as much as possible to get closer to the ideal ratio. Omega-3, meanwhile, is typically found in flaxseed oil, walnut oil, and fish. Animals that are fed grain or artificial pellets (feedlot ruminants or farm raised fish) have less omega-3 than animals that eat a natural diet of grass or sea food.

Olive oil is a monounsaturated oil that does not upset the critical omega-6 to omega-3 ratio. It is best to obtain a high quality extra virgin olive oil, because it can easily go rancid when exposed to air, light or high temperatures. Peanut oil is another monounsaturated oil, but it is high in omega-6 content, so its use should be limited. Canola oil is also monounsaturated, but it is not recommended because most of the omega-3s in canola oil are transformed into harmful “trans fats” during processing. Even organic cold-pressed canola oil is questionable because it is more unstable than olive oil and becomes rancid very easily.

Trans fats are the most harmful type of fats. They are formed when unsaturated fats are exposed to prolonged heat, for example during the deep frying of foods such as french fries, or the hydrogenation process. Many foods on the grocery shelves have “partially hydrogenated oil” as an ingredient (margarine, cookies, crackers, donuts, baked goods, salad dressings, etc). These trans fats should be avoided. A recent report by the National Academy of Science’s Institute of Medicine concluded that “It is recommended that trans fatty acid consumption be as low as possible while consuming a nutritionally adequate diet.” Animal fat such as butter or lard, even though rich in saturated fat and cholesterol, is not as bad as trans fats and has some positive nutritional value.

Two kinds of omega-3 fatty acids are crucial to human health, DHA and EPA. These fatty acids are pivotal in preventing heart disease, cancer, and many other diseases. The human brain is also highly dependent on DHA — low DHA levels have been linked to depression, schizophrenia, memory loss, and a higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s. Researchers are now also linking inadequate intake of these omega-3 fats in pregnant women to premature birth and low birth weight and to hyperactivity in children.

While flaxseed oil and walnut oil are good sources of omega-3 fatty acids, they are unfortunately not the DHA or EPA type, and the body’s ability to manufacture DHA or EPA from these fatty acids varies from person to person and decreases with age. The omega-3 fats found in fish are rich in DHA and EPA.

Eating fresh fish, whether from the ocean, lakes and streams, or farm-raised, is no longer recommended. Mercury levels in all fish have now hit dangerously high levels across the world, and the risk of this mercury to your health now outweighs the fish’s omega-3 benefits.

Routine consumption of foods or supplements containing omega-3 fats is encouraged as a key ingredient in improving health. Fish oil contains the highest levels of omega-3 fats with EPA and DHA fatty acids, and the process used to make the oil removes the mercury that is often found in fresh fish. The “Now” brand of fish oil from GNC and the Carlson brand of fish oil or cod liver oil are good products. But some small amount of toxin may remain in fish oil. Depending upon metabolic type and individual factors, flax oil supplements may be best for some people.

Grass-fed beef (not the common corn-fed beef in most grocery stores) is another outstanding option for increasing omega-3 intake, but it is hard to find and expensive (it can be ordered over the Internet — see Dr. Mercola’s web site for links). A cheaper and more accessible source is Gold Circle Farms “DHA Omega 3” eggs that can be found at Whole Foods or Weaver Street Market.

Adapted from the website