What foods are rich in omega-3 and omega-6?

The human body can synthesize most of the lipids it needs. But there are two fatty acids, the linoleic and the alpha-linolenicwhich cannot be synthesized and must be ingested through food, which is why they are considered essential fatty acids in the diet.

Importance of essential fatty acids

Linoleic acid is a fatty acid from the omega-6 (ω-6) series and alpha-linolenic acid is from the omega-3 (ω-3) series. The deficiency of these fatty acids produces numerous problems in the liver and kidneys, growth problems, reduced immune function, depression and skin peeling.

The adequate intakeon the contrary, results in numerous health benefits. Something logical considering that they are essential nutrients. Some of the best-studied benefits include prevention of atherosclerosis, reduced risk of heart attacks and strokes, and reduced symptoms associated with various ailments, including ulcerative colitis, menstrual pain, and joint pain.

Omega-3 fatty acids have also been linked to a reduced risk of some types of cancer, including breast and prostate cancer.

A adequate intake of omega-3 and omega-6 not only attends to their total amount, but also to their relative quantity. Various studies suggest that the omega-6:omega-3 ratio should be between 1:1 and 4:1 and link an excess of linoleic acid with various diseases, including depression, and a reduction in the positive effects of alpha-linolenic acid.

In the Western diet, rich in processed fatty foods, the omega-6:omega-3 imbalance can easily exceed 10:1. To achieve an adequate and balanced supply of essential fatty acids, a minimum consumption of processed foods is recommended and include foods that naturally contain omega-3 and omega-6 in the diet.

Foods rich in omega-6

Omega-6 fatty acids are a group of polyunsaturated fatty acids derived from linoleic acid. If the body has linoleic acid, it can synthesize all the others in the series (eicosadienoic, arachidonic, etc).

Omega-6 fatty acids can be found in high amounts in leafy vegetables, seeds, nuts, grains, legumes, and most vegetable oils. Among the main sources of linoleic acid we find:

  • sunflower, olive and pumpkin oil
  • seeds like sesame
  • dried fruit, especially walnuts
  • cereals such as corn and wheat
  • beans, soybeans and other legumes
  • fruits like avocado

It can also be found, although in smaller amounts, in eggs and other foods of animal origin.

Most diets provide the necessary amounts of omega-6 and do not usually require special dietary planning.

Foods rich in omega-3

Alpha-linolenic acid (TO) is the most important omega-3 fatty acid because it is essential. From ALA the body can synthesize eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), the other omega-3s used by the human body.

Unlike omega-6 fatty acids, omega-3s may require dietary planning to achieve adequate intake. The DRI for ALA is 1.1 g for women and 1.6 g for men ages 14 and older. There is no defined DRI for EPA and DHA.

ALA can be found in numerous plant foods, highlighting:

  • chia seeds (its oil contains 64% ALA)
  • flax seeds (flaxseed, its oil contains 55% ALA, one tablespoon provides the recommended daily amount)
  • walnuts
  • wheat germ oil
  • fruits such as strawberries, melon, acerola or kiwi have high amounts of ALA in their seeds (kiwi seed oil contains more than 60% ALA)

Fish as a source of omega-3

Fish, especially blue Fishis often used as a reference to obtain omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA. Even the use of fish oils as nutritional supplements to obtain these fatty acids is very popular.

However, fatty fish contain high amounts of other types of fat, such as cholesterol, do not contain fiber, accumulate mercury and other toxins from the environment and also do not contain ALA. Consequently, many health professionals recommend plant sources of omega-3s, rich in ALA and fiber, over fish4.

The conversion capacity of ALA in the other omega-3 fatty acids in a healthy individual it is enough to maintain body function. In fact, there are studies that show that supplementation with fish oils does not result in a significant reduction in the risk of cardiovascular diseases. Also, a study by the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition, found higher blood levels of EPA and DHA in vegan women than in women consuming fish, meat and lacto-ovo vegetarians.

However, supplementation with EPA and DHA in people suffering from some disease, such as triglyceridemia, seems to be more effective than supplementation with ALA, and it is one of the most widely used pharmacological treatments against triglyceridemia (Omacor®).

Pregnancy and lactation

An adequate supply of essential fatty acids is essential during pregnancy and lactation. Omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids are essential for the development of the fetus and its brain. They are also very important during the first years of life for optimal growth and development.

An adequate supply of omega-3 during lactation and the postnatal period has been associated with an improvement in cognitive development.

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