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Health

How to get the right balance of omega-3s and omega-6s in your diet

The balance of omega fatty acids in the food we eat affects our health. But what does the evidence say about claims you should be seeking to reduce omega-6 intake as well as boosting omega-3s?

By Jasmin Fox-Skelly

23 April 2024

A fish merchant's stall in an indoor market.

Linda Steward/Getty Images

Wherever you look, the advice is the same: if you want to reduce your risk of heart disease, obesity, cancer and all manner of other health problems, you should cut down on “bad” saturated fats, such as those found in butter and red and processed meats. Instead, you should be gobbling “good” polyunsaturated fats. That means cooking with vegetable oils and mainlining leafy greens, oily fish, nuts and seeds. Simple.

Except when it comes to nutrition science, nothing is ever simple. In this case, the complications arise from the growing realisation that “good” fats aren’t all created equal — more specifically, that while omega-3 fatty acids are indeed good for us, omega-6s might actually be damaging your health.

The idea that the balance of omegas in the food we eat can have an impact on our health is well established. It is also clear that the typical Western diet has become skewed in favour of more omega-6s and fewer omega-3s over the past 50 years, while at the same time we have seen a surge in the incidence of diseases associated with excessive inflammation, including heart disease and type 2 diabetes.

All of which has led to claims that we should not only seek to boost the amount of omega-3s in our diets, but also to cut down on omega-6s. Yet correlation isn’t causation. So can it really be that consuming too many omega-6s, long thought beneficial, is bad for us? And if so, what foods should we all be eating more or less of to optimise…

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