An Essential Nutrient
The standard American Diet contains an abundance of foods high in omega 6 fatty acids. These are essential fatty acids necessary for brain function and overall health.
While necessary, omega 6 fatty acids need to be in balance with omega 3 fatty acids. The average American diet contains 14 to 25 times as much omega 6 as omega 3 fatty acids.
By contrast, the Mediterranean diet, based on fish, vegetables, healthy oils and whole grains, typically contains a balance of fatty acids closer to the optimal ratio.
In general, it is healthiest to balance omega 6 and omega 3 fatty acids in a ration of 2:1 or 4:1.
Most foods high in omega 6 fatty acids contain the nutrient in the form of linoleic acid. Safflower oil is the richest natural source of omega 6 fatty acids. Other oils high in omega 6 include sunflower, corn and soybean oils.
Hemp seed oil is noteworthy for both its high essential fatty acid content and its healthy balance between omega 6 and omega 3 fatty acids.
Whole grains that contain the bran and the germ of the grain are a good source of omega 6 fatty acids, as well as fiber and B-complex vitamins.
Avocado is an especially rich source of omega 6, with over ten times as much omega 6 as omega 3 fatty acids. Although avocado contains a lot of good monosaturated fat, this abundance of omega 6 means it is best consumed in moderation.
Nuts contain both kinds of essential fatty acids in a healthy proportion.
Gamma Linoleic Acid
When you eat omega 6 fatty acids, your body converts the nutrient first to gamma linoleic acid (GLA) and then to arachidonic acid (AA.)
GLA is thought to have anti-inflammatory properties, and has been used to treat conditions such as menstrual cramps, acne and eczema. Food sources of GLA include the marine algae spirulina, shown here, as well as evening primrose oil and hemp seed oil.
Arachidonic acid, the final product of omega 6 metabolism, is gaining attention as an important nutritional product and as a body building supplement. This fatty acid is essential for muscle growth and repair as well as brain function.
Animals can convert linoleic acid to arachidonic acid, but plants cannot. As a result, this nutrient is only found in animal products such as dairy, eggs, and meat.
Long maligned for high fat and cholesterol content, eggs are an excellent source of arachidonic acid. Be sure to include the yolks, however, as the whites alone do not contain any arachidonic acid.
Poultry is another good source of arachidonic acid, and may be a better option if you are trying to watch your cholesterol.
Choosing Foods High in Omega 6
Organ meat, such as this beef kidney, is the richest dietary source of arachidonic acid.
Meat contains not only essential fatty acids, but also a number of vitamins as well.
Although it is important to get enough essential fatty acids, for optimum health it is best to look for plant sources whenever possible and supplement with meat a few times a week.