By Maddie Hoeks, BS, CSUN Dietetic Intern
Increasing Omega-3 Fatty Acids In Our Diet
The American diet has definitely taken some detrimental turns. More specifically, there has been a significant increase in omega-6 fatty acid consumption and a decrease in the omega-3 fatty acid consumption. This is partially due to modern agriculture and changes in how our livestock is being fed1. These changes have lowered the amount of omega-3 fatty acids in a variety of foods such as animal meats, eggs, and fish1. Dietary choices also play a huge role in this change. Currently we see a ratio of around 20:1 of omega-6 to omega-3 fat intake in Western diets today1. A ratio of 4:1 is more desirable and associated with a 70% decrease in total mortality2.
What are omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids and why does the ratio matter?
Omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids are known as essential fatty acids because they are vital for our health. They must come from the food that we eat because our bodies cannot synthesize them. Omega-6 fatty acids in the correct amount are needed by our body as they play a huge role in brain function, growth and development, skin and hair growth, bone health, and even help regulate our metabolism and reproductive system3. The problem is that we are getting too much of this particular fatty acid. Too much omega-6 fatty acid can lead to atherosclerosis, inflammation, obesity, and diabetes. Omega-3 fatty acids on the other hand, can actually decrease the risk to these diseases1. More specifically they can decrease risk for cardiovascular problems, reduce formation of plaque in arteries, and increase good cholesterol known as HDL in the body4.
Where Do Omega-6 and Omega-3 Fatty Acids Come From?
Omega-6 fatty acids are very abundant and found in the seeds of many plants with exception of coconut, cocoa, and palm1. Omega-3 fatty acids are found in fish and other seafood, especially cold water and fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel, tuna or herring. Omega-3 fatty acids are also found in nuts and seeds such as flaxseeds, chia seeds, and walnuts. Some oils also contain omega-3 fatty acids such as flaxseed oil, soybean oil, and canola oil5. You can also get more omega-3 fatty acids from supplements such as fish oil5.
How Can We Better Our Omega-6 to Omega-3 Ratio?
We can start with making simple changes in our diets that may go a long way. We can choose to use oils that are high in omega 3-fatty acids such as flaxseed oil, perilla oil, canola oil, and olive oil, instead of oils high in omega-6 like corn oil, sunflower oil, safflower oil, and cottonseed oil.1 As mentioned earlier, fish have high amounts of omega-3 fatty acids and the American Heart Association recommends having fish at least twice week5. We can add flaxseeds or chia seeds to a simple fruit smoothie or yogurt. By knowing what foods have higher amounts of omega-3 fatty acids we can make many changes to our diets and reap the benefits. Try this simple recipe that is packed with omega 3’s and fresh flavors!
Grilled Salmon Salad
Marilyn Magaram Center Recipe
- 2 salmon fillets (6 oz. each)
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/2 cup olive oil
- 20 asparagus spears
- 1/8 tsp, white pepper
- 1/2 pound baby salad greens
- 1 cup Kalamata olives, sliced
- 2 oranges, peeled and segmented
- 1 red onion, thinly sliced
- 1/2 tsp orange peel zest
- 1 Tbsp shallot, finely chopped
- 1 tsp light brown sugar
- 1 cup canola oil
- 1/2 Tbsp olive oil
- 1 Tbsp rice vinegar
- Warm pan.
- Drizzle olive oil over salmon and sprinkle with salt.
- Grill salmon for about 5-10 minutes on each side.
- Combine salad greens, olives, oranges, and onion into a large bowl.
- For the dressing combine the orange zest, shallots, brown sugar, canola oil, olive oil, and rice vinegar together in a bowl and whisk well.
- Grill asparagus spears lightly for 10 minutes.
- Season with a pinch of white pepper. Enjoy!
- Simopoulos AP. The importance of the ratio of omega-6/omega-3 essential fatty acids. Biomed Pharmacother. 2002;56(8): 365-79.
- Simopoulos AP. An Increase in the Omega-6/Omega-3 Fatty Acid Ratio Increases the Risk for Obesity. Nutrients. 2016;8(3):128. doi:10.3390/nu8030128.
- Omega-6 fatty acids. Penn State Hershey Medical Center. http://pennstatehershey.adam.com/content.aspx?productId=107&pid=33&gid=000317. August 5, 2015. Accessed September 30, 2018.
- Dragomir A, Rusu E, Posea M, Radulian G. Decrease of Atherosclerosis Markers and Oxidaive Stress after 1 Year Administration of Omega-3 FAtty Acids Supplements in Patients with Metabolic Syndrome. Rom J Diabetes Nutr Metab Dis. 2014;21(3):175-183. doi:10.2478/rjdnmd-2014-0022.
- Omega-3 Fatty Acids. National Institutes of Health. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Omega3FattyAcids-Consumer/. Publication data unavailable. Updated June 8, 2018. Accessed September 6, 2018.