Understanding Omega-6 Fats

Omega-3 fats get a lot of attention for their health benefits, what about omega-6? What’s the difference between these fats and is there any truth the rumors that they are bad for you?

Omega-3 fats get a lot of attention for their health benefits, but what about omega 6? Learn the difference between these fats and if there's any truth to the rumors that they're bad for you.

The Role of Omega-6 Fats

Both types of omega-6 fats (linoleic acid and arachidonic acid) are polyunsaturated fats, which don’t clog your arteries like saturated and trans fats do. Similar to omega-3 fats, you must eat omega 6s because your body can’t make them on its own. Omega-6 fats play an important role in brain function, growth and development.

Sources of Omega-6 Fats

Main sources include vegetable oils, such as corn, safflower, sunflower and soybean. Omega 6s are also in nuts, seeds, eggs, meat and dairy products -- all whole foods that are full of fiber, protein, healthy fat, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. Even packaged foods such as baked goods and bagged snack foods are typically made with omega 6-rich oils. Since Omega 6s are in so many foods, it’s fairly easy to get your daily dose.

Getting Too Much?

Many experts believe that Americans eat too much omega 6 and too little omega 3. These two fats are connected because they’re broken down by the same enzyme after we eat them. Basically, if you eat too much omega-6 fats, those fats end up hogging more of the enzymes and leave less available for breaking down omega 3s. Some also claim that when omega-6 levels far outweigh omega-3 levels, your body might be set up for increased inflammation and associated medical conditions, including heart disease, depression and some cancers. As it turns out, though, there’s not a lot of evidence to support such claims. Read more about the omega-6 debate in this recent Washington Post article.

The Bottom Line

Make sure your diet contains a balance of both omega-3 and omega-6 fats. If you do think you need to add more healthy fats to your diet, make sure to cut back on other (less healthy) foods so the extra calories don’t lead to unwanted weight gain.

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