Nikhil Bhandary MD, Jessica Fernandez MD

Omega-3 and Omega-6 Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids

Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (Omega-3) are important due to their anti- inflammatory benefits. Omega-3 fatty acids are divided into 2 main components, These are eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).

Omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids (Omega-6) have pro-inflammatory effects. Omega-6 can potentially promote more fat storage since it suppresses GLUT4, which is an insulin receptor8. (Insulin sensitivity is good, suppression of insulin receptors are bad) Omega-3 increases the expression of GLUT4 which increases sensitivity to insulin and as a result less fat is stored in our body (8).

Unfortunately, we consume more omega-6 fatty acids in the Western diet than we do Omega-3. A decrease in Omega-6 and an increase in Omega-3 fatty acids can have a reduction in inflammatory diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, IBD, cancer and cardiovascular diseases(16). This can be done by increasing the amount of fatty fish such as salmon, sardines, mackerel, albacore tuna, as well as by taking high quality fish oil supplements16. Other great Omega-3 foods are flaxseed, chia seeds, and spinach. On the other hand, eggs, poultry, and pork contain the greatest amount of Omega-6 fatty acids and a reduction in these types of food may be beneficial in your diet.

In Western diets, the ratio of Omega-6 to Omega-3 is 20:1 and it can go as high as 50:1!(8) The ideal ratio is 1:1 or 2:1(8). The proper ratio may vary according to the disease of the patient, for example, a patient with rheumatoid arthritis may benefit from a ratio of 2-3:1 and asthmatic patients from a ratio of 5:1(17). Even patients that suffer from chronic knee pain may benefit from having an omega 6: Omega 3 ratio of 6:3(18).

Different types of fat

Fats or triglycerides, like carbohydrates and proteins, are part of our daily nutrition. Fats are mostly made of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen linked in different ways. Fats are categorized by the chemical bonds they are composed of. These bonds dictate the use, or harm, of the fat once ingested. Common types of fat are saturated, monounsaturated, and polyunsaturated.

Saturated fats are generally found in solid form at room temperature. This category of fat will increase an individual’s LDL (bad cholesterol) upon ingestion, thus increasing the risk of developing cardiovascular disease. Saturated fats are commonly found in animal products(24).

Monounsaturated fats are known as healthy fats, which tend to lower LDL while allowing for higher levels of HDL (good cholesterol). These are widely known as the healthiest fats for one’s heart(24).

Polyunsaturated fats can lower LDL and total cholesterol, however also lower HDL. These fats are found in liquid form at room temperature. These are the fats divided into Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids. While both of these increase heart healthiness, Omega-3 fatty acids also aid in cognition(24).

Trans fats are found in both meat and dairy products. These are very dangerous in that they not only increase LDL, but also decrease HDL. Certain foods also undergo processes to increase their shelf lives for storage. These processes may also convert unsaturated fats into trans fats(24).

Cooking oils and healthy fats

Animal fats (usually saturated fats) can be used for cooking. These include butter, lard, chicken fat and tallow8. Olive oil, when it is extra-virgin, is the best oil to consume. It has been shown that it can have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties as well as beneficial effects on the cardiovascular system8. Olive oil can be used for cooking, but try to keep it on low heat since some of the health benefits can be reduced when it is left on a long time at a high temperature(8). Canola oil, which is used vastly to cook food, is “a heavily refined, genetically engineered product derived from the rapeseed plant that is believed to be toxic to humans and animals”.

How to read what you are reading: tips for being an educated consumer

Researching the benefits of certain types of foods versus others can be quite confusing.

One will often see statements such as “studies show,” or “it has been found.” Many factors such as sample size, and population studied can influence results substantially. It is important to realize that findings can often be manipulated to speak to the manufacturer’s interests.

In fact, the word “natural” as contained in food labels actually does not have a clear meaning and labels stating as much have not been deemed illegal. The FDA unfortunately does not have strict standards when it comes to labeling. Organic labeling is, however, verified by third party inspection, and supported by federal regulations(19).

It is also very important to investigate the all important serving size when researching nutritional information. Information can look great until you realize you must multiply the figures by 8 for an entire package.

Words such as “light,” “lite,” and “fat free” have no legal standard applied to them as well. For instance, reading that a product is 90% fat free indicates that this product is 10% fat. This may be a very high level depending upon the type of product(22).

Food Labeling for your meat

Local, Pasture-Raised: This is the premier choice of meat. These animals are locally raised and graze in open pasture. These animals consume a diet rich in nutrients, vitamins and minerals(8).

Certified Organic: These animals are grass or grain fed without antibiotic use, hormones, irradiation, or artificial ingredients. They are also given conditions allowing for freedom and exercise in a stress free environment Certified Organic suppliers are subject to regular USDA inspection, and are slightly less nutritious than pasture raised, grass fed animals(8).

Certified: This means they have been evaluated by the USDA in categories such as class, grade, and other characteristics(8).

Chemical-Free: No significant meaning. Not recogniazed by the USDA(8).

Free Range: This is applicable to Poultry alone. Signifies only that the animal has been given outdoor access. There is no legal definition here, and no guarantee meat is hormone or antibiotic free(8).

Fresh: No relevance to how animal was raised or slaughtered. Only implies meat has not been frozen prior to sale. Again, no legal distinction here(8).

Grass Fed: Animal is given access to grass, however there is no guarantee of a grain free diet. This is not regulated either(8).

Hormone/ Anitibiotic Free: Has no legality and is not subject to verification. The suggestion is this meat is better than your conventional product(8).

Kosher: Preparation under supervision and guidelines of a rabbi. This relates more to methods of separating production facilities and slaughter(8).

Natural: There are no artificial coloring, flavoring, or preservatives in the meat. This is not subject to verification(8).

What is GMO?

GMO stands for genetically modified organism. This is a plant, or other organism which has had its genetic makeup altered using one of several genetic engineering techniques. GMOs are generally considered unsafe in most developed nations, with the caveat being studies completed in the U.S.A. and Canada by the corporations producing these products themselves(20).

While they do in 64 other countries, GMOs do not require labeling in the U.S. or Canada. A good rule of thumb is anything containing soy, canola, cotton, or corn most likely contains GMOs(21).

GMOs are also known to be quite tolerant to herbicides This is both a benefit, and a detriment as this has caused a subsequent rise in herbicidal use throughout North America. This carries with it other adverse health risks as well(21).

GMOs do have benefits as well. They have a greater crop yield with higher concentrations of specific nutrients. GMO foods also are more sustainable in periods of heat, cold, or drought and they show I higher resistance to insects as well(21).

The ideas, concepts and opinions expressed in this article are intended to be used for educational purposes only. The author and publisher of this article are not rendering medical advice of any kind, nor is this article intended to replace medical advice, nor to diagnose, prescribe or treat any disease, condition, illness or injury. It is important that before you begin any diet or exercise program that you receive full medical clearance by a licensed physician. Author and publisher claim no responsibility to any person or entity for any liability, loss or damage caused or alleged to be caused directly or indirectly as a result of the use, application or interpretation of the material in this article(8) (modified from The Primal Blueprint book).