A Complete Overview of Omega-6 Fatty Acids for Your Health

by Matt Weik, BS, CSCS, CPT, CSN

Omega-6 fatty acids are polyunsaturated fats that are found in nuts, seeds, vegetable oils, and fatty cuts of meat. These fats are considered essential and must be obtained through consumption or supplementing the diet.

Omega-6 fatty acids play a role in immune function, cardiovascular function, mood, joint function, and brain development. The body cannot produce omega-6 fatty acids, so it is important to include them in your diet to reap their health benefits.

Is Omega-6 Fatty Acid Healthy?

Omega-6 fatty acids belong to a group of unsaturated fats called polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs).

Other types of PUFAs that you can easily get through your diet are omega-3 and omega-9.

Studies suggest that many years ago, humans consumed equal amounts of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids in their diets, which was beneficial to their health.

However, in recent times, many people in the US consume far more omega-6s than omega-3s. Researchers believe that the ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids in a typical Western diet is around 20:1 or higher today (not good).

Omega-6 fats are common in processed food items such as crackers and cookies, fast food, and various fried foods.

Potential Health Risks of Omega-6

Omega-6 fatty acids are essential for our health, but most people get far too much of them. Here are some potential health problems of omega-6 fatty acids that you should be aware of.

1.      Inflammation

Too many omega-6 fatty acids in the diet can cause inflammation and increase your risk of developing heart disease, cancer, diabetes, autoimmune diseases, and other chronic conditions. According to a study, it was found that a higher dietary intake of omega-6 fatty acids can lead to inflammation, which can cause tissue damage and other diseases.

2.      Obesity

Omega-6 fatty acids are known to increase inflammation, and this can lead to obesity. Obesity is a major risk factor for heart disease and diabetes, so it’s important to keep your intake of omega-6s balanced with other fats like omega-3s, which can help reduce inflammation.

3.      Diabetes

Omega-6 fatty acids increase insulin resistance and inflammation, which can make it harder for your pancreas to produce insulin. This can lead to diabetes if left untreated.

4.      Heart Disease

Omega-6 fatty acids increase inflammation throughout the body, including in the arteries that feed blood to the heart. This may increase your risk for conditions like coronary artery disease or congestive heart failure.

Food Sources High in Omega-6 Fatty Acids

According to some studies, eating more omega-6 fatty acid and not enough omega-3 acid can lead to health problems. Here are some food sources that are higher in omega-6 fatty acids:

·         Walnuts (10.8 g per 1-ounce serving)

Walnuts are a good source of omega-6 fatty acids. The most common omega-6 fatty acid in the diet is linoleic acid (LA). This essential fat is required for normal growth and development, as well as cardiovascular function. It also helps promote healthy skin, hair, and nails.

·         Grapeseed Oil (9.5 g per tbsp)

This oil is a good source of linoleic acid, an essential fatty acid. It’s also rich in antioxidants, and it’s considered to be a more stable alternative to olive oil for those who want to use it for cooking.

·         Sunflower Oil (8.9 g per tbsp)

Sunflower oil is a good source of omega-6 fatty acids. It contains about 10 percent linoleic acid, which is an essential fatty acid that the body cannot produce on its own. Sunflower oil also contains vitamin E and other crucial nutrients that promote heart health.

·         Mayonnaise (5.4 g per tbsp)

I kid you not, mayonnaise made the list. Mayonnaise is one of the richest sources of omega-6 fatty acids. The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends that most healthy people consume no more than 3 grams per day, though, but many Americans (unfortunately) exceed this amount.

·         Pine Nuts (9.3 g per 28-g serving)

Pine nuts are a good source of omega-6 fatty acids. They contain linoleic acid, which is an essential polyunsaturated fatty acid (PUFA). This means that it is necessary for human health but can’t be made in the body from other nutrients.

·         Sunflower Seeds (9.3g per 1oz serving)

Sunflower seeds are a good source of omega-6 because they contain high amounts of linoleic acid. Sunflower seeds also supply other essential nutrients, including protein, magnesium, potassium, and vitamin E.

It is important to note that some food sources, mainly the oils with the highest omega-6 fat content, have little to no omega-3 fatty acids.

If a person consumes these food items, they should balance the omega-6 fatty acid intake with omega-3 rich foods such as flaxseeds, fatty fish, walnuts, and seaweed.

It is also important to remember that many processed and fried foods contain cottonseed, corn, or soybean oil. If someone consumes a lot of these food items, their omega-6 intake can wind up being much higher than their omega-3 intake.