You know that omega-3 fatty acids are good for you, so omega-6s must be twice as good, right? Not exactly. When we polled Eat This, Not That!'s Twitter audience, a whopping 46 percent of users thought that omega-6s were "great." Unforunately, we have some bad news for those peope: Not all omega fats are created equal, and omega-6 fatty acids are not as glorified as omega-3s.
First, What Are Omega-3 Fatty Acids?
So what exactly sets these two similar-sounding fats apart? Omega-3s are a class of polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA).
The class can be split further into three different types, including docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA). Both of these omega-3 fatty acids are found in fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, and herring.
The third omega-3 is alpha-linoleic acid (ALA), which is a plant-based fat found in nuts, seeds, and grasses (hence why many grass-fed cow's milk will contain omega-3s).
These three fatty acids can improve heart health, lower triglycerides, fight inflammation, and even protect against cognitive decline. What's more, one study in the journal Scientific Reports found that fish oil may be able to activate brown fat production, helping the body burn fat and therefore aid weight loss.
And Now, How Omega-6 Fatty Acids Differ
Omega-6 fats are also essential PUFAs that must be ingested via food and supplements. They are called "essential" because your body does not produce omega-6s on its own, so you have to consume it through food sources.
Healthy sources of omega-6s come from whole foods such as meat, eggs, nuts, and plant-based oils. While omega-6s can reduce inflammation, support bone health, lower high blood pressure, and protect your heart like their monounsaturated counterparts can, many processed foods contain high amounts of these fats, which can upset the omega-3 to omega-6 fat ratio and tip the scale in favor of chronic inflammation.
These processed, omega-6-heavy foods include potato chips, fast food burgers, deli meats, pasta dishes, and salad dressings, to name a few. Eating a diet rich in too many sources of omega-6s can lead to an increased risk of inflammation, heart disease, and metabolic diseases.
While a healthy diet has a balance of omega-3s and omega-6s, the average American consumes 20 times as many omega-6 fats as omega-3s.
How to Fix Your Omega-6 Balance
While you can't (and shouldn't) completely avoid omega-6s, you can steer clear of unhealthy foods that are packed with the inflammation-causing fats—think fried foods and anything that has vegetable oil in its ingredient list. For starters, swap your regular vegetable-based oil for coconut oil or extra virgin olive oil. Both of these oils have been shown to reduce cholesterol and trim your waistline.
Another simple switch? Next time you're strolling through the supermarket's meat aisle, opt for choosing the grass-fed beef over the conventionally-raised kind. Because grass contains higher levels of ALA than corn or soy, grilling a grass-fed burger is an effortless way to obtain more omega-3s in your diet. What's more, grass-fed beef contains more CLA, a naturally-occurring trans fatty acid and antioxidant, that has been shown to produce significant reductions in body fat, according to a study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
While you shouldn't steer clear of omega-6s altogether, aim to balance your diet by swapping unnatural omega-6-rich picks with their healthier counterparts. Harvard Medical School reminds us that in order "to improve the ratio of omega-3 fats to omega-6 fats, [we must] eat more omega-3s, not fewer omega-6s." These 25 Best Sources of Omega-3s can help you achieve a better balance and kick inflammation to the curb.