Omega-6 fatty acids are essential for the human body. The body cannot produce them itself and has to absorb them through food. The omega-6 rich foods therefore play an essential role.
This article explains why a balanced fatty acid ratio is important and which foods are high in omega-6. The omega-6 food table and an overview of the relationship between omega-6 and omega-3 will help you to balance the intake of fatty acids in the long term.
the essentials in brief
- Omega-6 fatty acids are polyunsaturated fatty acids. They are essential for our body - it needs them for many metabolic processes. Our organism cannot produce them itself and is therefore dependent on the supply of omega-6 fatty acids with food.
- Omega-6 fatty acids are found in both animal and plant foods. The Western diet includes vegetable oils, nuts and seeds, certain grains, animal fats, and many processed foods rich in omega-6 fatty acids. As a result, too much omega-6 fatty acids enter our body.
- The correct ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids is more important than the intake of omega-6 fatty acids through food. A favorable ratio ensures that the functions of both fatty acids remain in balance (5,9,11) and so important processes in our body can function properly.
Omega 6 in food: what you should know
The polyunsaturated omega-6 fatty acids are rarely mentioned in connection with a healthy diet. They are just as important for our body, because it needs both omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids in sufficient quantities to stay healthy.
It has been found that the western diet contains more omega-6 fatty acids than necessary. (1,4) Experts therefore recommend that you greatly reduce your consumption of foods rich in omega-6 fatty acids, such as sunflower oil, canola oil, corn oil and processed foods. (18,19,20)
The most important omega-6 fatty acids include: linoleic acid (LA), gamma-linolenic acid (GLA), dihomogamma-linolenic acid (DGLA) and arachidonic acid (AA). These fatty acids perform common tasks in the body, but also act individually in specific areas. They build on each other in the metabolism. Linoleic acid can only be ingested through food. It produces gamma-linolenic acid and arachidonic acid.
What is the role of omega-6 fatty acids in the body?
The health effects of omega-6 fatty acids remain controversial. Some studies suggest that linoleic acid can reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and related mortality. (12,13,14)
A meta-analysis of linoleic acid intervention studies found that there was no evidence of a cardiovascular benefit (15,16) or that the results of the studies did not take into account ethnicity and health status. (17)
The German Society for Nutrition (DGE) states that an increased intake of omega-6 fatty acids with possible evidence reduces the risk of developing coronary heart disease. (20)
However, omega-6 fatty acids are important to our overall health. Our body needs omega-6 fatty acids for the maintenance of cells and nerves because they are an essential part of cell membranes.
Walnuts are rich in polyunsaturated fatty acids. They are also characterized by the ideal ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids (4:1). (Image source: Congerdesign / Pixabay)
They stimulate skin and hair growth, maintain bone health and regulate metabolism. They stimulate the immune system to be more active, have an influence on blood clotting and the constriction of blood vessels. (5)
In addition, omega-6 fatty acids play an important role in regulating inflammation. (1,3) They also affect cholesterol levels: they lower the "bad" LDL cholesterol concentration in the blood, but unfortunately also the "good" HDL cholesterol. (19.20)
What is the recommended amount of omega-6 fatty acids daily?
The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) proposes 10g as the label for the reference intake for linoleic acid (the main omega-6 fatty acid), which is in line with recommended intakes for adults in the general population in European countries. (18) In Europe, an average intake of between 7 and 19 g per day is observed.
There are many good sources of omega-6. The recommended amount is easy to achieve.
The German Society for Nutrition (DGE) recommends covering 2.5 percent of the total daily energy intake with the omega-6 fatty acid linoleic acid. (19,20) Since omega-6 fatty acids are found in many foods and our bodies can store them, an omega-6 deficiency is less likely.
Which foods are rich in omega-6 fatty acids?
Omega-6 fatty acids are found in both animal and plant foods. The following foods are rich in Omega 6: (1)
|oils out||Thistle, sunflower, soy, corn germ, sesame, wheat germ, grape seed, peanut|
|fats||Pork, goose and beef lard|
|nuts and seeds||Walnuts, Pecans, Brazil Nuts, Pine Nuts, Sunflower Seeds, Pumpkin Seeds, Sesame, Poppy Seeds, Hemp Seeds, Chia Seeds|
|Grain||wheat, rye, corn and oats|
|Meat||Chicken, Pork, Beef|
|Other||Pork liver, egg yolk, tuna, liverwurst, salmon, mackerel|
What is the optimal ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids in the diet?
The German Society for Nutrition recommends consuming no more than five times as many omega-6 as omega-3 fatty acids so that the fatty acids can have a correspondingly balanced effect. (19,20) Unfortunately, most people are deficient in omega-3 fatty acids because our western diet is based on foods rich in omega-6 fatty acids. Here is the ratio of both fatty acids using some foods as an example:
|Groceries||Omega-6 to Omega-3 ratio|
|Canned Tuna (no oil)||1:20|
|Canned Tuna (in Oil)||15:1|
Why is the ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids important in the diet?
A favorable ratio between omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids ensures that crucial processes in the body work properly. In the metabolic process, omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids are processed using one and the same enzyme.
If the body absorbs too much omega-6 fatty acids and the ratio to omega-3 is no longer correct, omega-3 fatty acids can no longer use certain metabolic pathways and thus cannot unfold their effect.
Both fatty acids play an important role in the regulation of processes in the blood vessels and in inflammation. While omega-3 fatty acids dilate blood vessels and have anticoagulant and anti-inflammatory effects, omega-6 fatty acids have opposite effects.
They constrict the blood vessels, promote blood clotting and act to promote inflammation. However, as long as omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids are in balance, the immune system and blood vessels will be able to function normally. (7)
A balanced ratio between omega-6 and omega-3 is 5:1.
Due to dietary changes over the last few decades, the ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids has increased to an average of 15 to 1. (9)
If the ratio shifted in favor of omega-3, the incidence of various chronic diseases such as non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, cardiovascular disease, obesity, inflammatory bowel disease, rheumatoid arthritis, prostate cancer and depression could be reduced.
How do I achieve a good balance between omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids through food?
Reducing the intake of omega-6 fatty acids is very difficult, since many industrially produced foods already contain around ten times more omega-6. For example, some grain products have a ratio of 10:1 and higher (e.g. rye 11.5 to 1; wheat 14 to 1).
To improve the ratio between the two fatty acids in favor of omega-3, one should eat more foods rich in omega-3 and perhaps introduce some changes in food shopping and food preparation:
- used omega-3-rich rapeseed oil more often than omega-6-rich sunflower oil for frying
- expand the use of olive oil in your cooking
- introduce flaxseed oil and flaxseed into your diet
- avoid common fats like margarine or lard
- eat more fish, e.g. B. salmon, mackerel, herring or tuna
- eat walnuts, which contain a significant amount of omega-3 fatty acids
- Pay attention to the origin when buying fish, meat and dairy products (e.g. farmed salmon has less omega-3 than wild salmon; animals on fattening farms are fed grains rich in omega-6)
Eating a balanced diet can help you achieve the right ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 to support overall health.
What should you consider when eating a vegetarian diet with regard to omega-6 fatty acids?
An average vegetarian diet is comparable to that of people who eat fish and meat in terms of the intake of omega-3 fatty acids. However, the purely plant-based diet absorbs larger amounts of omega-6 fatty acids.
Therefore, foods with a high omega-3 content are particularly important for vegetarians and vegans in order to be able to correct the ratio in favor of the omega-3 fatty acids. Supplementation with omega-3 dietary supplements could also be considered.
Omega-6 fatty acids are among the most important fats for our health. They are essential for numerous functions in the human body. The organism cannot produce them itself and is therefore dependent on the supply with food.
Since many foods contain omega-6 fatty acids and the body can store linoleic acid well, a lack of omega-6 fatty acids is extremely rare. The main suppliers of omega-6 fatty acids are safflower and sunflower oil.
It is important not to look at one fatty acid alone, but rather the ratio of the fatty acids ingested to one another. The correct ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids should be 5 to 1. With a balanced diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids, any excess omega-6 can be balanced and the desired ratio can be achieved.
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