Polyunsturated Fatty Acids (or PUFAs) are essential for good health. There are a whole host of varieties but the key ones to be aware of are Omega-3 fatty acids and Omega-6 fatty acids.
The ratio in which we consume Omega-3 and Omega-6 is thought to have an important effect on human health. The reason for this is that some of the byproducts of Omega-3 metabolism are anti-inflammatory in nature whereas some of the byproducts of Omega-6 metabolism are inflammatory. In other words, while it is important to get some Omega-6 in your diet, too much of it without enough Omega-3 can increase inflammation in the body with implications for cardiovascular disease, inflammatory conditions, cancer and autoimmune diseases.
It is thought that our ancestors consumed Omega-3 and Omega-6 in a ratio of 1:1 or 1:2 and this is believed to be optimal. However, in our Western diet we are consuming these PUFAs in a ratio of up to 1:20! We are getting way more Omega-6 than we should do and not enough Omega-3 with a profound effect on human health. Much of this comes down to an increasing consumption of vegetable oils such as sunflower oil since the start of the 20th century.
Omega-3 and Omega-6 compete in the body as they both use the same enzymes in their metabolic pathways so a diet high in Omega-3 and low in Omega-6 is anti-infammatory while a diet high in Omega-6 and low in Omega-3 is inflammatory.
What can you do to help yourself?
- Consume foodstuffs which are higher in Omega-3 or have a better Omega-3:Omega-6 ratio (Oily fish, flaxseeds, chia seeds, hemp seeds, walnuts)
- Reduce consumption of foodstuffs which are higher in Omega-6 (particularly vegetable oils such as sunflower oil)
- Take Omega-3 supplements (Fish oil or oils derived from algae)
- Be selective in what oils you use to cook with – choose olive oil, rapeseed oil and avocado oil over sunflower oil as these have much better ratios of Omega-3 : Omega-6