The Dangers of Omega-6

Omega-6 Blocks Omega-3 Conversion

Since our bodies make DHA and EPA out of Omega-3, you’d assume we could just eat lots of Omega-3 foods to ensure we are making enough DHA and EPA.  Unfortunately, getting enough DHA and EPA isn’t as simple as eating more Omega-3.

Research suggests that Omega-6 inhibits the conversion of Omega-3 into DHA and EPA. So, the Omega-3 from foods like walnuts (2,542 mg Omega-3 but 10,666 Omega-6) or sesame seeds (105 mg Omega-3 but 5,984 mg Omega-6) may not be adequate sources of Omega-3 for conversion into DHA and EPA.

Note that getting enough Omega-3, DHA, and EPA isn’t just a concern for vegans and vegetarians. The Standard American Diet (appropriately called SAD) is low in Omega-3 while simultaneously very high in Omega-6. One report found that Americans are consuming between 14 – 25 times more Omega-6 than Omega-3. Most health experts recommend keeping Omega-3 to Omega-6 ratios at 1:4.   Other experts recommend keeping the ratio even lower at 1:1.

To meet DHA and EPA recommendations, vegetarians and vegans should strive to exceed the RDA for Omega-3 while simultaneously keeping their Omega-6 intake low.

Omega 6 Causes Inflammation

Ancestral evidence shows that humans evolved on a diet where Omega-3 and Omega-6 were in a 1:1 ratio.  Today, the typical Westerner consumes 14 to 25 times more Omega-6 than Omega-3.  As mentioned, Omega-6 causes inflammation whereas Omega-3 reduces inflammation.  Researchers believe that this imbalance of Omega 3:6 is causing an inflammatory response in the body.

Inflammation is a root cause of numerous diseases and disorders common in the Western world.  These range from arthritis to heart disease to asthma. Yes, there is a huge amount of research which shows that diets high in Omega-6 but low in Omega-3 are linked to these diseases. As a result, you’ve got experts recommending that we should consume Omega 3:6 in a 1:4 ratio, or even strive for a 1:1 ratio.  You’d pretty much have to eat nothing but cold-water fish and flax seeds to meet that ratio though.

Before you get too worried about your Omega 3:6 ratios, bear in mind that the evidence mostly shows that it is Omega-6 from processed food which is to blame.   When the Omega-6 is from natural foods, it doesn’t seem to have a negative effect on health.

For example: 1 oz (28 g) of sesame seeds contain 105 mg of Omega-3 and 5,985 mg of Omega-6.  That’s a 1:57 ratio!  Yet, there is evidence that shows sesame seeds reduce inflammation.  Nutrition isn’t as simple as dubbing something pro-inflammatory or anti-inflammatory.  Other components of sesame seeds affect the inflammatory response; it isn’t just Omega-3 and Omega-6.  The bottom line? If you are eating natural, unprocessed foods, don’t worry too much about getting the right ratio of Omega 3:6 – at least as far as inflammation goes.  With this in mind, we’ve compiled a list of the best vegan sources of Omega-3. All of these foods also have low Omega-3 to Omega-6 ratios.

Flax SeedsNot surprisingly, flax tops our list as the best vegetarian source of Omega 3. One ounce of flax seeds packs in 6388mg of Omega 3 (nearly 6 times the RDA). You get 1655mg of Omega 6 in the process, which helps keep your Omega 3 to Omega 6 ratios in check. To get an even bigger boost, you can take a tablespoon of flax oil which delivers 7196mg of Omega 3.
Chia SeedsChia seeds have only recently gotten mainstream attention (at least beyond use on ceramic “pets”) – and it is long overdue! A single ounce of chia seeds packs in 4915 mg of Omega 3 but just 1620 mg of Omega 6. They are also loaded with calcium (1oz=18% RDA), fibre, and manganese.
Hemp SeedsHemp seeds have a great Omega-3 to Omega-6 ratio. One ounce of the seeds will provide 1100 mg Omega-3 and 2700 mg Omega-6.
Mustard OilIf you are looking to cut back on your Omega-6 (as most of us should be), then you may consider swapping your olive oil salad dressing for mustard oil instead. Mustard oil has 826 mg Omega-3 and 2146 mg Omega-6 in a tablespoon. Compare this to the 103 mg Omega-3 and 1318 mg Omega-6 found in olive oil! You can usually find mustard oil in Indian food stores.
SeaweedSeaweeds not only have fairly high amounts of Omega-3, but they are also one of the only vegan foods which also have EPA and DHEA. Spirulina (58 mg Omega-3, 88 mg Omega-6 per tablespoon) is one of the best choices. Wakame is a good runner up.
BeansBeans don’t have as much Omega-3 as seeds or nuts. However, they still can help you meet your RDAs all while avoiding excess Omega-6.   Mungo beans — aka Urad Dal — are by far the best choice with 603 mg Omega-3 and just 43 mg Omega-6 in one cup cooked (not to be confused with mung beans). French beans and navy beans are also good choices. To really get the most out of these super foods, sprout them first!
Winter squashWinter squash is a surprisingly good source of Omega-3, with 338 mg per cup cooked – and you’ll only get 203 mg of Omega-6.
Leafy GreensTo meet calcium and iron RDAs, vegetarians should be loading up on leafy greens. It turns out that greens are also a decent source of Omega-3 too. A cup of cooked spinach has 352 mg of Omega-3 with only negligible amounts of Omega-6. Broccoli rabe, collards, kale and grape leaves are also good sources of Omega-3.
Brassica FamilyVegetables in the cabbage family have a surprising amount of Omega-3. Cauliflower is the most notable with 208 mg Omega-3 and just 62 mg of Omega-6 per cup, cooked. Broccoli and Brussels sprouts are also good choices.  Greens in the cabbage family are also a great bio-available source of calcium.
BerriesBerries are not only good sources of antioxidants, vitamins and minerals, but they also are also a good vegetarian source of Omega-3. Blueberries top the list with 174 mg of Omega-3 per 1 cup serving while simultaneously only delivering 259 mg of Omega-6.
Wild RiceWild rice should be a staple for all vegetarians and vegans. One cup cooked delivers lots of iron, protein, fibre, magnesium, zinc, and manganese. You’ll also get 156 mg Omega-3 while only taking in 195 mg of Omega-6.
Herbs and SpicesVirtually all popular herbs and spices have a great Omega-3 to Omega-6 ratio.  Cloves are one of the best at 86 mg / 52 mg per 2 grams, as is oregano (73 mg / 18 mg), marjoram (49 mg / 18 mg), and tarragon (44 mg / 11 mg).  You probably aren’t going to meet your RDAs for Omega-3 on herbs and spices alone, but the added nutrition is a good reason to make your foods more flavourful.
MangoesMangoes are one of my all-time favourite foods. These succulent citruses pack in 77mg of Omega 3s per fruit. They are one of the few vegetarian sources of Omega-3 which have less Omega-6 than Omega-3 (just 29 mg per fruit).
Honeydew MelonA cup of honeydew melon balls delivers 58 mg of Omega-3. Like with mangoes, it also has less Omega-6 than Omega-3 (46 mg).

Rancidity in fish oil, toxicity of fish

While all cold-pressed and delicate oils have the risk of rancidity if they are not stored properly or refrigerated after opening, fish oil is very much prone to rancidity even under ‘proper’ preserving conditions.

Shockingly, a recent major study from Norway looked at 113 different over-the-counter fish oil capsules and found that 95% of them were rancid.

On a personal report: when I worked at a natural food market, it was common knowledge among a co-worker/supplements specialist that most people consume rancid fish oil without even knowing it!  The ‘turpentine’ smell that refrigerated fish oil often has, as well as frequent burping that consumers experience after just a small spoon of fish oil are both tell-tale signs of oil rancidity. Don’t believe me? Just look it up— rancidity and spoilage of fish oil is the #1 complaint among fish oil consumers.

Furthermore, consuming fish has never been more hazardous to human health, as well as nervous system and neurological functions.  Mercury levels are the most recognized concern of fish consumption, however, fish are often contaminated with high levels of dioxins, pesticides, furans, PCBs and other environmental contaminants due to the intense pollution of our lakes and oceans.

In fact, according to a report by The Environmental Working Group (EWG) of an analysis of fish contaminants and nutrient data, people who follow the federal government’s guidelines on seafood consumption are likely to consume too much mercury, and too few omega-3 fatty acids!

The omega-3 conclusion

The truth is that the plant kingdom is abundant with sources of ALA, EPA and DHA, we’ve just only cultivated and created a market for a very small variety of what is out there.  Some of the best sources of omega-3 are found in wild berries, many wild edible weeds, and of course many other sea vegetables that are seldom cultivated and sold on the market.  Luckily there is enough plant-based sources of omega-3 available in health food stores and online for the average vegan to get all the omega-3s they need.  And the more vegan choices people make, the more encouraged companies will be to begin cultivating more plant-based sources of omega-3 rather than animal-based sources.

You can get all the essential omegas-3s that you need on a vegan diet!  Ethically, environmentally, and sometimes even for your own health – it is far better to consume vegan alternatives to fish and fish oil.  So, whether you’re vegetarian, vegan or omnivorous, incorporating and choosing the awesome plant-based sources of omega-3s is worth doing.

Adapted from Article Sources:

  • Diane Vukovic | Nutrition
  • Erin Janus|
Three Cooking Oil Bottles Isolated on Seamless White Background