The balance of omega-3s and omega-6s is what is “critical” in nutrition, The absolute amounts are generally secondary to the ratio of omega-3s to omega-6s. The more omega-6s you consume, the more omega-3s you need in balance, in principle. Seems simple! But it’s only one part of the answer to “How much omega-3s do I really need?” Like many nutritional questions, the answer depends … It depends on several factors, and on a bigger picture.
What kind of omega-6s are you consuming?
Natural sources of omega-6s include nuts and seeds, vegetables and leafy greens. These natural omega-6s have different effects in the body than processed omega-6 oils do. Processed oils extracted from seeds, corn, soy, etc. are found in processed foods purchased from stores and restaurants, and are more pro-inflammatory than natural food sources. So where you get your omega-6s makes a difference as to how it balances with your omega-3s. If you’re eating lots of leafy green vegetables with your omega-3s, you’ll obtain metabolic balance easily. If you’re ingesting lots of processed oils, you’ll need higher amounts of omega-3’s to balance.
What kind of omega-3s are you consuming?
There are animal sources and plant sources of omega-3s. In a healthy body environment, plant-based omega-3s are easily converted to the anti-inflammatory forms of EPA and DHA. But if the body is excessively loaded with omega-6s, (particularly processed omega-6s), or is highly inflamed, the enzyme required for that conversion from plant omega-3s to EPA and DHA is depleted. Conversion doesn’t occur, or occurs inefficiently. Inflammation is harder to quell, and continued inflammation derails the enzyme production. Under those circumstances, without the enzyme, animal sources are required to provide adequate anti-inflammatory EPA and DHA.
How do you cook your fish? If you eat fish to improve your health, to obtain more omega-3s in your diet, check how you cook your fish! Most of us don’t cook at home with corn, soy, or canola oils, but restaurants and food-product vendors do. If fish is cooked in high omega-6 oils (such as corn, soy, sunflower, safflower, sesame, canola oils), the high-omega-6 cooking oil may block the oil absorption of the omega-3s into your metabolism. At home be sure to use oils that are higher in omega-3s or high in medium chain fatty acids (e.g., olive oil, coconut oil) to cook your fish. Use olive oil for cooking only at low temperatures; coconut and avocado oils are stable at higher temperatures. (Yes, avocado oil has more omega-6 than omega-3, but other factors prevail!)
What’s the bottom line? No simple formula or ratio is the answer. Eat the best quality food you can with awareness of the nutritional benefits, and minimize your use of processed foods. And above all, enjoy your food – joy is an anti-inflammatory factor!