3 Advantages & 6 Disadvantages of Omega 6 Fatty Acids + Ultimate Nutritional List
Omega 6 fatty acids are essential for our health, we would not be able to do without. Without omega 6 fatty acids we would have to deal with inflammation.
On the other hand, omega 6 fatty acids are also harmful to health. They can also cause inflammation instead of prevention. These low-grade inflammations are the main cause of chronic diseases such as cardiovascular diseases.
To keep the risk of chronic diseases as low as possible, it is important that you know what to look out for and that you know what omega 6 is. What you have to pay attention to, I will tell you in this article.
What else you will learn:
- The main types of omega 6
- The relationship between omega 6 and omega 3
- The health benefits of omega 6
- The dangers of omega 6
- The ultimate omega 6 nutritional list
What is Omega 6?
Omega 6 is a collective name for a group of different polyunsaturated fatty acids. They are primarily used by the body as fuel.
Most unsaturated fatty acids in our Western diet are omega 6 fatty acids. You do not have to worry about whether you get enough of it. You may worry about whether you do not get too much of it! More about that later.
The best-known and most important omega-6 fatty acid is linoleic acid, for which the abbreviation LA is often used which comes from the English-language Linoleic Acid.
Linoleic acid is important because it is an essential fatty acid; your body can not make it yourself.
Linoleic acid is the only essential omega 6 fatty acid. The other omega 6 fatty acids can be created by your body from LA.
Gamma-linolenic acid (GLA / Gamma-linolenic acid) is a non-essential omega-6 fatty acid. This fatty acid is contained in relatively large quantities in mother’s milk and some vegetable oils.
Most of the GLA is synthesized by the body in dihomo-gamma linolenic acid (DGLA / Dihomo-Gamma-Linolenic Acid).
Why a balance between omega 6 and omega 3 is important
Part of the DGLA can then be converted back into arachidonic acid (AA / ARA / Arachidonic Acid). This is a source of type 2 eicosanoids and these have the property to reduce the anti-inflammatory effect of omega 3 fatty acids (source, source).
This does not detract from the fact that type-2 eicosanoids are important, they are important substances for the immune system. Only when we have too much of it do inflammation and inflammatory diseases increase (source).
Omega 3 fatty acids, of which EPA and DHA in particular, are a source of type 1 eicosanoids and have an anti-inflammation effect, they protect the heart and blood vessels and stimulate the immune system.
- You can read more about the health benefits of omega 3 fatty acids in my extensive article about this.
Linoleic acid can, therefore, be converted into arachidonic acid, eventually via the intermediate steps GLA and DGLA.
Indirectly, linoleic acid can, therefore, have an inflammation-enhancing effect.
This is only the case when the omega 6 and omega 3 fatty acids are not in balance. Unfortunately, this is always the case within our Western diet, our Western diet contains much more omega 6 fatty acids than we need (source).
Vegetable oils, such as sunflower oil and soya oil, are rich in omega-6 fatty acids. These vegetable oils are also used to manufacture margarine, low-fat margarine and baking and roasting products. These oils are also widely used by the food industry in foods such as cakes, pastries, snacks, sauce and crisps. As a result, there are a lot of omega-6 fatty acids in our diet.
Historically, people’s diet consists of large amounts of omega-3 fatty acids (from fish, nuts and vegetables) and small amounts of omega 6. The making/refining of vegetable oils (which are rich in omega 6) is a process we have only seen since Do 100 years.
Our body did not genetically adapt to large amounts of omega 6 that are currently in our diet with chronic diseases as a result.
The figure below shows how the consumption of linoleic acid (omega 6) increased in the period from 1909 to 1999. In 1909, 3% of the calories came from omega 6 fatty acids, which more than doubled to 7.5%.
The image comes from this research. As can be seen in this study, the proportion of omega-3 fatty acids in our diet also decreased during this period.
To prevent inflammation, the optimal ratio between omega 6 and omega 3 fatty acids is 1: 1 (source). This while the ratio in our Western diet is 15: 1 (source). The advice is, therefore, to focus on less omega 6 fatty acids and on more omega 3 fatty acids (source).
This means 2 to 4 times as much omega 6 as omega 3 in your diet.
This is always a lot lower than the average ratio of 15: 1 as it will be for many people given the content of their shopping cart.
I always strive for the ideal ratio of 1: 1 because it contributes to optimal health.
Benefits of omega 6
Benefit # 1: Source of Energy
We need energy to live and fats are a high-calorie source of energy. They give our body 9 kcal energy per gram.
Omega 6 fats are primarily used by the body as an energy source. This means that the body will appeal to omega 6 fatty acids more than omega 3 fatty acids.
However, the body will first use carbohydrates as an energy source and only switch to fat burning if insufficient energy from carbohydrates is available. In other words, the omega 6 fats are only burned if you do not eat more calories than your body needs.
Omega 6 helps against arteriosclerosis by increasing HDL cholesterol. This reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease (source).
However, this is only the case if the omega 6 – omega 3 ratio is in balance.
And that is something that the manufacturers of ‘healthy’ omega 6 rich oils ‘forget’ mention on their packaging that states that ‘omega 6 is good for the heart’.
Benefit # 3: helps prevent diabetes
Conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) is good for insulin sensitivity. This helps CLA reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes and also contributes to achieving a healthy weight (source, source, source). This effect is enhanced in combination with omega 3 fatty acids (source).
CLA helps to lose weight because it stimulates fat burning and promotes the breakdown of fat cells (source, source, source, source). Before you run to the store to buy CLA supplements; there are also studies that show no effect (source, source, source).
In a meta-analysis of 18 studies into CLA, the final conclusion was that CLA causes moderate weight loss (source). The effect is strongest during the first 6 months, after which the effect gradually disappears.
CLA is in small quantities in our food (meat and dairy). These are natural trans fats. These improve insulin sensitivity while artificial trans fats actually worsen it (source).
Because CLA is in our diet in such small quantities, CLA supplements are for sale.
If you want to buy this, be very careful that the CLA comes from natural sources (such as meat or dairy) otherwise you will have a counterproductive effect.
CLA supplements that are manufactured by chemically processing planic oils should be avoided at all times. These are trans fats that deteriorate insulin sensitivity.
Disadvantages of omega 6
Disadvantage # 1: can contribute to chronic inflammations
Omega 6 can contribute to chronic inflammation; this is the case when we eat up to a lot of omega 6 fats (source) in relation to omega 3.
Chronic inflammations can eventually lead to chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular diseases and cancer.
Disadvantage # 2: increases the risk of miscellaneous disorders
The omega 6 – omega 3 ratios of 15: 1 as it is currently in our ‘normal’ Western diet is associated with an increased risk of miscellaneous diseases and disorders (source).
- NAFLD / NASH (non-alcoholic fatty liver)
- Heart and vascular disease
- IBD (Inflammatory Bowel Disease such as Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis)
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Alzheimer’s disease
Disadvantage # 3: oxidizes quickly
The omega 6 fatty acids in our diet are mainly derived from vegetable oils that are used for baking or deep-frying and foods that are heavily processed such as margarine, pastries, biscuits and snacks.
What these foods have in common is that they are heated to high temperatures, or have been heated during production.
The problem with the heating of polyunsaturated fatty acids is that they then oxidize quickly. The fatty acids react with the oxygen in the air, causing them to oxidize.
The body can be overloaded with these oxidized fatty acids which cause oxidative stress and harmful substances (such as free radicals) in the body (source).
For this reason, too, it is best not to bake in vegetable oils rich in omega 6 fatty acids (such as sunflower oil or soy oil).
Disadvantage # 4: Trans fats
Products with omega 6 can also contain trans fats. The consumption of trans fats is directly related to all kinds of chronic diseases such as cancer, diabetes, obesity and cardiovascular diseases (source).
Trans fats can occur in, among other things, the following omega-6 rich products: margarine, low-fat margarine, fry and roasts, but also in non-hydrated vegetable oils such as soya oil and rapeseed oil (source).
Disadvantage # 5: a lot of omega 6 is related to depression
Where omega 3 is just right to prevent depression, high omega 6 consumption can make you feel depressed (source).
Researchers discovered that there is a relationship between high omega 6 consumption and suicides (source).
She also discovered that high omega 6 (at low omega 3) consumption will lead to violent and aggressive behavior.
Disadvantage # 6: increases the risk of cancer
Foods with omega 6
Omega-6 fatty acids are also present in foods that contain omega 6 and vice versa. Here you will find a list of foods that are particularly rich in omega 6 and poor in omega 3. That is why this list is not ‘complete’. If you want to know what omega 3 is in (and less omega 6), then look here.
The following foods are rich in omega 6:
- sunflower oil
- Salad oil
- Soya oil
- Peanut oil
- Corn oil
- Safflower oil
- Olive oil
- Walnut oil – walnuts
- Sesame oil
- Rice oil
- Avocado oil
- Margarine and low-fat margarine
- Baking and roasting products
- Red meat
- Peanuts – peanut butter
- Fatty fish
These foods are explained below.
Many people bake and deep-fry in sunflower oil. It has a healthy image, a neutral taste and it is cheap. The oil is made by pressing out sunflower seeds, a real ‘natural product’ and therefore a healthy image.
Sunflower oil contains vitamin E and many unsaturated fatty acids. These are omega 6 (62%) and omega 9 (20%) fatty acids. Omega 3 fatty acids hardly occur. Sunflower oil is therefore not favorable for the optimal omega 6 and omega 3 ratio of 1: 1.
Because sunflower oil is suitable for heating, it is hydrogenated. This also means that nutrients are lost and dangerous trans fats are created.
For baking, you can use an alternative such as coconut oil, ghee or butter. These saturated fats do not disturb the omega 6 – omega 3 balance and are much more resistant to high temperatures.
Oils that you can find in salad oil are sunflower oil, soy oil, rapeseed oil and corn oil. The red thread will always be that salad oil is very rich in omega 6 fatty acids and very low in omega 3 fatty acids. Again not favorable for the omega 6 – omega 3 ratio.
And this vegetable oil is also hydrogenated.
Soybean oil is the most widely used vegetable oil worldwide. That is not because this oil is so healthy, but because it is so cheap.
The omega 6 – omega 3 ratio of soy oil is fortunately already a lot better than that of sunflower oil.
Soy oil consists for 7% of alpha-linolenic acid (omega 3), 51% of linoleic acid (omega 6) and 23% of oleic acid (omega 9). The remaining 14% consists of saturated fatty acids.
Unfortunately, soy oil is also hydrogenated to make it more resistant to heating. This creates the notorious trans fats (source).
This oil smells somewhat of peanuts and has a high smoke point which makes it much used for stir-frying or frying.
This oil is rich in unsaturated fatty acids and contains all essential fatty acids. But unfortunately, this oil is not as healthy if you use it a lot or use it regularly. This also has to do with the notorious omega 6 – omega 3 ratio.
Corn oil is extracted by pressing the germs of maize. The oil is neutral in taste, is (refined) resistant to heat and is therefore often used for baking.
Corn oil contains 54.2% omega 6 (linoleic acid) and 0.8% omega 3 (alpha-linolenic acid) which makes for a very unfavorable omega 6 – omega 3 ratios.
This oil is made from the seeds of the safflower thistle, this is a plant that is related to the artichoke. This oil is not suitable for heating, there will soon be a chemical reaction where harmful substances are released. Heating will also affect the taste.
Safflower oil consists of no less than 71.9% omega 6 and contains only 0.2% omega 3.
As the name suggests, olive oil is made by pressing out olives.
The healthy olive oil refers to the oil that is extracted from the first (mechanical) pressing. This contains all the nutrients that make the oil so healthy. This is called extra virgin olive oil. This also tastes best and contains the important (poly) phenols (antioxidants).
In order to obtain even more oil from the olives, other methods are used after the first pressing (such as the use of chemical agents or heating). This oil is not ‘extra virgin’ and this oil does not have the healthy properties because the antioxidants, in the extraction process, have been lost.
Then you still have refined olive oil that is obtained by using solvents and/or a lot of heat. This ‘mild’ olive oil can also be mixed with cheaper oils such as soy oil (which is not always mentioned on the package).
To get an idea of the chemicals used in the production of (refined) vegetable oils, you can view the video below to see how rapeseed oil is made. The principle is the same for other vegetable oils. Even chemicals are used to bleach the oil and to deodorize the oil. Does not seem really conducive to your health.
The video below shows how extra virgin olive oil is made of high quality. The olives are pressed mechanically and care is taken that the temperature does not exceed 27 degrees. This way the micronutrients are stored and the fatty acids do not oxidize.
Olive oil consists for the most part (73%) of oleic acid. This is monounsaturated fat which can also be found in large quantities in coconut oil.
The omega 6 component of olive oil is 9.7% while the omega 3 component is only 0.76%. Olive oil has an unfavorable (about 10: 1) omega 6 – omega 3 ratios. However, this is amply compensated by the anti-inflammatory substances it contains. In this way, oleic acid reduces the inflammation markers (source, source).
Research also shows that olive oil helps to prevent oxidation of small LDL cholesterol particles (source). This is important for the prevention of cardiovascular disease. Studies also showed that olive oil lowers blood pressure (source).
Because olive oil mainly consists of oleic acid (which is a monounsaturated fatty acid) it is reasonably resistant to heating (up to 180 degrees). However, the antioxidants can be damaged by (prolonged) heating. In order to take maximum advantage of the health benefits of olive oil, you should, therefore, use it the best (also) cold, for example in salads.
You can read all about the health benefits of olive oil in my article.
Walnut oil – Walnuts
Walnut oil, compared to other vegetable oils, has a fairly favorable omega 6 – omega 3 ratio (5: 1). It consists of 57.8% omega 6 (linoleic acid) and 13.5 omega 3 fatty acids. Since linoleic acid is an essential fatty acid, you can obtain this fine by eating walnut oil (or real walnuts). This way you get this essential fatty acid without disturbing the omega 6 – omega 3 ratio too much.
Walnuts are very healthy. Walnuts contain polyphenol compounds and phytochemicals that reduce inflammation (source). They lower the LDL cholesterol (source), reduce the risk of diabetes type 2 (source) and protect the blood vessels (source).
Other nutty species also contain omega 6 fatty acids. In addition to omega 6, nuts also contain omega 3 fatty acids. Walnut is the richest of omega 3 in relation to omega 6 of all nutty varieties.
For this reason, walnuts are seen as the most healthy nut species.
This oil is made by squeezing the seeds from the sesame plant. The oil of roasted sesame seeds has a nutty taste while the oil extracted from raw seeds has a neutral taste. You find sesame oil a lot in Asian cuisine.
Sesame oil contains 41.3% omega 6 fatty acids and 0.3% omega 3 fatty acids. This vegetable oil also has an unfavorable omega 6 – omega 3 ratios.
Unrefined sesame oil can be heated to 177 degrees while the semi-purified version can be used up to 232 degrees. However, this oil is not suitable for prolonged heating.
If you want to use sesame oil to give flavor to a hot dish, it is best to add the oil at the last time and use a different oil – such as coconut oil – to bake the dish.
Rice oil (rice germ oil) consists of about 40% linoleic acid (omega 6) and hardly contains omega 3. It is also rich in oleic acid which is beneficial.
Rice oil is made from the membranes and the germ of rice. Rice oil is cheap because it is a by-product of white rice. For white rice, it is stripped of the membranes of which the oil is made. In Asia, rice oil is widely used for baking and stir fry.
Although rice oil can have many healthy properties, the rice oil as you find it in the supermarket does not have so many healthy properties. The refining of rice oil is a rather intense and laborious process using chemical solvents such as hexane. The oil is also heated to high temperatures. Because of this heating and refining, many antioxidants and micronutrients are lost.
Avocado oil contains – for vegetable oil – relatively little omega 6: 18% linoleic acid. Like olive oil, avocado oil consists mainly of oleic acid: 50%. It is also rich in vitamins A and E and many micronutrients that have healthy properties.
Avocado oil is at least as healthy as olive oil and thanks to its high smoke point (271 degrees) avocado oil is suitable for baking.
Margarine and low-fat margarine
The main component of margarine and low-fat margarine is usually sunflower oil or soy oil. This is often supplemented with vegetable oils such as palm oil and rapeseed oil. Because the main ingredient of margarine and low-fat margarine consists of sunflower oil or soy oil, it will always be rich in omega 6.
Kinds of Margarine are also available that are ‘rich’ in omega 3. This contains (a small amount of) flaxseed oil and rapeseed oil. This is in any case more favorable for the omega 6 – omega 3 ratio.
There are also kinds of margarine in which some coconut oil is processed. This is usually only a small amount and it is added to the healthy image of coconut oil.
There are several reasons why you should use an alternative (such as butter) for margarine.
The most important are:
- Margarine is rich in omega 6 while it is poor in omega 3
- Margarine is a heavily processed product
- Margarine often contains (hardened) palm oil. This is rich in palmitic acid, this causes a reduced sense of movement and is bad for your mood (source, source, source, source, source).
- Margarine contains artificial trans fats (not always). These are very unhealthy, they cause inflammation that increases the risk of chronic illness (source, source, source).
Baking and frying products
The same applies to baking and frying products as to margarine. By using sunflower oil as a basis, they are always rich in omega 6 fatty acids. In addition, much use is made of (partially) hardened fats that are also unhealthy.
Do not be fooled by baking and frying products that pretend to be so healthy because they contain olive oil. The share of olive oil is small, and refined olive oil is used, which has already lost its healthy qualities.
An egg contains more omega 6 than omega 3. About 3 times as much, not optimal but certainly not worrying.
You also have omega 3 eggs. These are eggs from chickens that receive the special feed. They get to eat vegetables that contain omega 3 fatty acids or omega 3 enriched foods. This feed is then enriched with linseed oil.
Thanks to this adapted diet, the chickens can lay eggs that have a much better omega 6 – omega 3 ratio.
In an ordinary egg, an average of 1440 mg omega 6 and 475 mg omega 3 (3: 1 ratio) is present. An omega 3 egg contains an average of 1700 mg omega 6 and 875 mg omega 3 (2: 1 ratio).
Cows that have eaten grass have meat (and milk) with a much higher omega 3 content than cows that are fed with corn or other grains.
Because red meat contains little omega 3 (about 15 mg / per 100 grams), red meat will also negatively affect the omega 6 – omega 3 balance.
Pork contains a relatively large amount of omega 6. How much exactly depends on the part of the body from which the meat comes and what the diet of the animal was. But on average you come to about 800 mg omega 6 per 100 grams of meat. Certain pieces of pork, such as bacon, are much richer in omega 6. For example, pork bacon contains 4500 mg of omega 6 per 100 grams.
Pork also contains omega 3 but this is only a fraction of the omega 6 content, which makes pork bad for the omega 6 – omega 3 balance.
Peanuts are not a nut variety but a legume. The difference can clearly be seen in the acidifying profile of peanuts in relation
to nuts. Peanuts are very rich in omega 6 fatty acids, while they do not contain any omega 3 fatty acids (unlike nuts). They, therefore, disrupt a good omega 6 – omega 3 balance.
The same applies of course to peanut butter. Notice with peanut butter that no palm oil has been added.
Also, make sure that no sugars have been added to the peanut butter. You can also buy peanut butter that consists of 100% peanuts.
Instead of peanut butter, you can also use a nut paste, tastes almost the same but is better for your omega 6 – omega 3 balance.
Fish is known as a good source of omega 3 fatty acids. This is because fish contains the important EPA and DHA fatty acids in high concentrations. You can read more about the importance of EPA and DHA in my article about the health benefits of oily fish.
In addition to omega 3 fatty acids, fish also contains omega 6 fatty acids. The proportions vary by species, but the ratio will always be favorable for the fatty fish species. For example, salmon contains 982 mg of omega 6, while it contains nearly 3 times as much omega 3. Fatty fish species are therefore very favorable to achieve the optimal omega 6 omega 3.
- Omega 6 is needed, linoleic acid is an essential fatty acid
- We get too much omega 6 through our Western diet
- Diets rich in omega 6 are a major cause of the chronic diseases we are currently dealing with (this in addition to added sugars and refined carbohydrates).
- For optimal health a ratio of 1: 1 between omega 6 and omega 3 is important
- To achieve this ratio you eat less omega 6 and more omega 3
- Avoid the foods that are very high in omega 6: sunflower oil, safflower oil, corn oil, peanut oil, sesame oil, soy oil, cottonseed oil, grape seed oil, rice oil, margarine, baking and frying products and processed foods such as cookies, pastries, snacks and ready-to-eat meals.
- Provide generous amounts of omega 3 fatty acids in your diet by regularly eating fatty fish, walnuts, linseed oil, hemp oil, walnut oil and perilla oil. If necessary, supplement with omega 3 supplements such as fish oil, cod liver oil, algae oil or krill oil.
In short, focus on nutrition if you want to stay healthy!
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