By EatingWell Editors, May/June 2010
Though our ancestors evolved on about equal amounts of omega-3 and omega-6 fats, Americans today get 10 to 25 times more omega-6s than omega-3s. This matters for mental health, says Joe Hibbeln, M.D., Acting Chief, Section on Nutritional Neurosciences at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, because omega-3s alter brain chemicals linked with mood; they also regulate more than 100 genes involved in transmitting messages between brain cells.
Finally, omega-3s soothe the inflammation known to play a role in conditions ranging from heart disease to dementia, while omega-6 fats transform into molecules that increase inflammation. Bring yourself back into “omega balance.” Here are tips to help you do just that.
Fatty fish, such as salmon, sardines and some types of tuna, are the richest sources of DHA and EPA, the omega-3 fats linked with mental health. Know exactly what you’re buying. For example, wild Alaskan salmon is a better choice since it generally has fewer omega-6 fats than Atlantic salmon, which is typically farmed and not sustainably produced.
Eat more fish with these healthy recipes:
To limit omega-6 fats, use olive oil whenever possible; it’s naturally low in omega-6s (about 1.3 grams per tablespoon). Canola, peanut and sesame oils provide moderate amounts of omega-6s (2.7, 4.3 and 5.6 grams per tablespoon, respectively). Avoid soy, corn, cottonseed, safflower and sunflower oils, which are packed with omega-6 fats (7-plus grams per tablespoon).
More on healthy oils:
Most commercial salad dressings and mayos contain the omega-6-rich oils listed in #2, above. So do many crackers, breads, pasta sauces and granola bars.
Healthy choices at the grocery store:
Cows and chickens raised on industrial farms are often fed corn and soy, which are high in omega-6s and low in omega-3s. In one study, beef from grass-fed cattle had a 79 percent lower omega-6 to omega-3 ratio than that from grain-fed.
Healthy meat choices:
Flaxseed delivers alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), a type of omega-3 fat that the body can convert—although not very effectively—into DHA and EPA. Grind the seeds to release the fat (a coffee grinder works great) and sprinkle onto yogurt, cereal or salads.
Eat more flax with these healthy recipes: