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Does the Ratio of Omega-6 Fats Really Matter?

Some prominent experts say there’s no reason to worry about getting too much omega-6 in your diet. But Nutrition Diva finds far too much evidence to ignore.

By
Monica Reinagel, MS, LD/N, CNS,
April 18, 2012
Episode #185

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For the last 40 years or so, we’ve been hearing that saturated fats (which are found in meat, butter, full-fat dairy, and certain tropical oils) are “artery-clogging” and that we should limit our intake of these fats to reduce our risk of heart disease. Over the last decade, however, there’s been a steady drumbeat of dissent from researchers and renegades challenging this conventional wisdom.

Last year, the Academy of Food and Nutrition (previously known as the American Dietetic Association) invited several heavy hitters in the field of nutrition to debate the issue. The group, which included Walter Willett and Dariush Mozaffarian from Harvard, and Alice Lichtenstein from Tufts, was only able to muster a fragile consensus: Maybe saturated fats aren’t quite as bad as we’ve been led to believe. They also mostly agreed that telling people to cut back on saturated fats may do more harm than good if you’re not very specific about what they should replace them with.  

For example, we now know that the partially hydrogenated vegetable oils in margarine are even worse for your heart than the saturated fats in butter. And low-fat diets that are high in refined carbohydrates not only contribute to heart disease risk but make us fat as well.

Is the Omega Ratio a Myth?

There was one thing, however, about which these experts were in complete and utter agreement—that the ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fats in the diet is totally unimportant. Omega-6 and omega-3, of course, are the two main families of polyunsaturated fats, or PUFAs. Omega-6 are found primarily in vegetable oils like corn and soybean oil; omega-3 are found in fish and flax seed. The modern, industrialized Western diet tends to be quite high in omega-6 and rather low in omega-3, and many nutrition experts have suggested that this is a problem. According to Dr. Willett, however, the idea that this ratio matters is a “myth…without any data to support it.”

As many of you know, I have talked about this ratio in previous podcasts and suggested that there is value in keeping the ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 from getting too high.

See Also: Fish Oil and Omega-3

Foods that Reduce Inflammation

A few of you may even have read my book on diet and inflammation, in which I talk about this as well. And I have to tell you that it was more than a little disconcerting to see this concept totally dismissed by some of the most respected and illustrious names in my field.

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