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Omega 6 vs. Omega 3 – What is the difference?

“Eat less fat” – that advice seems simple enough. But did you know that some fat is necessary and there are some types of fat that we actually should eat more of?

“Eat less fat” – that advice seems simple enough.  But did you know that some fat is necessary and there are some types of fat that we actually should eat more of? 

Both Omega-3 and Omega-6 are “essential fats”.  In other words, our bodies cannot manufacture them and they are necessary for a healthy life.   They both have health benefits when used in place of less healthy fats.   Researchers are still debating how much of each type is necessary, but overall they recommend more Omega-3s and using Omega-6’s in place of saturated and trans fats.

Omega 3’s

Primarily found in seafood as well as nuts, leafy greens and seeds, Omega-3 fatty acids appear to reduce inflammation which is a major contributor to many chronic health problems such as cardiovascular disease, arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease, Alzheimer ’s disease and obesity. 

Oily fish, such as tuna, salmon and sardines are some of the best sources of DHA and EPA Omega-3 fatty acids.  Research has shown that people who eat higher amounts of fatty fish have lower rates of heart disease and stroke.(1, 2)   DHA is also important for supporting brain and eye health.  (3, 4)

Nuts and seeds like Walnuts, flax seeds and chia seeds, and some leafy greens, like kale and Brussel sprouts, are plant sources of Omega 3’s.

Omega 6’s

Omega – 6 fatty acids may also help reduce the risk of heart disease when used in place of saturated and trans fats, they lower bad cholesterol (LDL), are important for normal growth and development, assist in brain function, and help our nervous system function properly. (5)  

Vegetable oils such as Canola Oil, Safflower Oil, Soybean Oil and Corn Oil all contain Omega-6 fatty acids. 

Most Americans have no trouble getting enough of these fats, and many health professionals would argue that we eat too much.  The bottom line is, when they are used in place of less healthy fats and in small amounts, these fats are an important part of the diet and have important health benefits. 

What should you eat?

  • Eat a variety of seafood – at least 2 servings a week.  Fatty seafood, like tuna, salmon and sardines are excellent sources of Omega – 3’s.*
  • Add nuts to salads, rice, cereal or vegetable dishes.
  • Use small amounts of liquid oils, like canola oil or olive oil, in your cooking or salad dressings. 
  • Add flaxseeds, chia seeds or sesame seeds to cereal or mix into smoothies, soups or top your salad with them.
  • Eat leafy green vegetables a few times a week and get plenty of other fruits and vegetables.
  • Follow a Mediterranean Diet to get all the health benefits from these fats as well as other nutrients your body needs to stay healthy!
  1. Journal of the American Heart Association. 2013; 2:e000506
  2. Journal of the American College of Cardiology. 2005; 46(1):120-124
  3. Lancet. 2007 369(9561):578-585
  4. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2008; 87(3):548-557
  5. Circulation. 2009;119:902-907

*Tuna is an excellent source of Omega 3 fatty acids.  The amount of Omega 3’s in the different types of tuna varies and may contain 80mg – 240mg mg per serving EPA and DHA combined.