While both omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids belong to what’s called polyunsaturated fats, they have distinct differences. They are both referred to as “essential” because they are a necessary part of sustaining a healthy body. The importance is underlined by the fact that our bodies cannot make them, so we must get them through dietary means.
Omega-3s get most of the press, particularly for their anti-inflammatory and heart disease prevention benefits. Additional benefits include improving arthritis, preventing cancer, and improving your skin’s condition.
Like an infomercial… but wait, there’s more! Omega-3s improve eye health, and benefit brain function, improving mood and memory.
Dietary sources of omega-3 fatty acids include fish, such as salmon, rainbow trout, black cod, and sardines. If you are a vegetarian, don’t like fish, or just want to mix it up, walnuts, flaxseeds, beans, and winter squash are a few examples of of plant-based omega-3 sources.
The role of omega-6 fatty acids is a little more complicated.
Omega-6 is an important part of a healthy diet, having similar benefits as omega-3. Clinical studies have shown that omega-6 helps reduce arthritis pain, clear acne, and aid in cancer treatment. But, too much omega-6 can cause problems, including inflammation, heart attacks, thrombotic stroke, arrhythmia, arthritis, osteoporosis, mood disorders, obesity, and cancer. The trick is to strike a balance.
Omega-6 deficiency is very rare in the U.S. The American diet typically contains more than 10 times the needed amount of omega-6. That’s because it comprises the primary oil ingredient that is added to most processed foods, and we all know that processed foods are in abundance in our diets.
While this balancing act may seem complicated, it ultimately boils down to the basics of healthy eating: minimize processed foods, and include ample servings of fish in your diet (2-3 times a week), and/or plant-sources of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. It’s essential to your health.
(Source: University of Maryland Medical Center)