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Ask Tufts Experts June 2015 Issue

Q. Is there a recommended ratio of omega-3 fatty acids to omega-6, which I read can cause inflammation?

Paige Cross, a dietetic intern at Tufts’ Frances Stern Nutrition Center, answers: “The idea of an ‘ideal’ ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids is grounded in the theory that omega-6 fatty acids cause inflammation due to their role in the production of pro-inflammatory molecules inside the body. However, omega-6 fatty acids, an essential part of our diets, are also involved in the production of many anti-inflammatory molecules, and can help lower cholesterol. Research has shown that consumption of omega-6 fatty acids, found in foods such as vegetable oils, nuts, whole-wheat bread and chicken, reduces the risk for coronary heart disease (CHD). The American Heart Association recommends consuming between 5% and 10% of calories from omega-6 fatty acids, and has found that there is no negative association with higher intakes.

“Omega-3 fatty acids, found in fatty fish, canola and soybean oil, walnuts and flax, have many health benefits, including anti-inflammatory properties, and play an important role in preventing CHD as well. These foods should be included as part of a healthy diet, with the American Heart Association suggesting two servings of fatty fish per week to help meet omega-3 needs.

“Thus, there is no ‘ideal’ ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids we should be aiming for in our diets. We should focus, instead, on consuming adequate amounts of both omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids in the context of an overall healthy eating pattern that is rich in fruits, vegetables and whole grains, and low in red and processed meats, refined carbohydrates and added sugars.”

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