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The omega-3 vs. omega-6 controversy

Eat more of the right fats

This seems like a good case to bring against a judge and jury -- it's one of the most contested battles raging in the medical communities (both conventional and complementary) and in the populace at large. The reason is easy to spot if you just follow the money trail. Read on for the truth on omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids.
Flax Seed

The truth about omega-6's

Omega-6 fatty acids are inexpensive with high profit margins. Therefore, manufacturers benefit from convincing us to eat these types of fats. Also, we usually consume these fats in the form of oils made from vegetables grown in the United States. In fact, the USDA food pyramid encourages us to consume fats made from soybeans, rape seeds (canola oil) and other cheap and unhealthful oils, simply because those products are grown in this country. It is shocking that so many people still buy and consume corn oil -- one of the most unhealthful cooking oils riddled with omega-6 fatty acids.

Essential Fatty Acids

Omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids are termed essential fatty acids, since we must consume these from the diet. Long, long ago, when we were still true cavemen and not just people who sometimes act that way, our diets consisted of a balance between omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. Some researchers opine that the ratio was more like 4:1 of omega-6 to omega-3 rather than a true balance of 1:1, but I think we should strive toward the true balance. It's impossible to achieve, so I feel if we set our goals high, we may make it to the 4:1 that we at least know is healthy.

The only Westernized society that reaches that goal of 4:1 is the Japanese; they are considered one of the healthiest populations on the planet despite their incredibly high rate of cigarette smoking. The population of the United States consumes 19 times more omega-6 fatty acids than omega-3. This is the most likely reason we rank in the mid-30s in every measured health barometer. So what's so good about omega-3 and so bad about omega-6?

You see, omega-3 fatty acids are anti-inflammatory. Omega 6 fatty acids are pro-inflammatory -- they promote inflammation. An estimated 175 million Americans (more than half of us) suffer from one form of chronic illness or another, and I contend it's because we consume so much of our fat in the form of omega 6 fatty acids. So, striving toward health is not about decreasing our fat intake, but rather increasing the healthy fat intake.

What about omega-9's?

According to the American Heart Association and the National Cholesterol Education Program, 80 percent of the fat we consume should be in the form of omega-9 fatty acids. I know you might be thinking, "Whoa, I thought we were talking about omega-3 and omega-6." We are, but a true conversation about fats cannot exclude the omega- 9s. This is especially important because many nutritional oil supplements promote a 3/6/9 pill -- and many unsuspecting customers are buying them, thinking they're doing the healthy thing in balancing their fatty acids. That is wrong -- and a deceptive marketing practice.

Bottom line, we need more omega-3s and omega-9s in our diets and almost no additional omega-6 fatty acids. The only one we may need is GLA, which we can get in the form of borage oil and then only for women with menstrual issues, in my opinion. We can't help but consume omega-6 fats when we eat in restaurants of any ilk because restaurants all use inexpensive oils mostly omega-6 fatty acids. Therefore, since most of us eat out several times per week, we are getting more than enough omega-6.

Another reason to go organic

When we choose not to eat organic animal products or animal products fed with grain, we are consuming meats or eggs that contain more omega-6 than omega-3 fats. When the diet of the animal is changed, the fatty acid ratio of the food it produces is changed, too. To provide optimum nutrition, cows should be fed grass; chickens and other poultry, earthworms; and fish should swim in the sea, not be on farms and force-fed antibiotics.

Clearly, it is not always possible to eat this way due to sheer economics. Food produced in this manner is expensive, so we as consumers have to start demanding subsidies for farmers who produce organic foods. We also should begin to routinely search out local farms and support those who produce food in this manner. I live in one of the most congested cities in the world; yet, within two hours of my door, countless farms grow food in this way and I support them. That is what the Hamptons Diet is all about -- eating food that is local, organic when possible, minimally processed and in season. Now that The Hamptons Diet Cookbook, now reaching store shelves, can teach you how to eat deliciously in this manner.

Fatty acid recommendations

My first recommendation is to consume more fish oils through supplements. But be careful to look at the nutrition facts and try to consume 1.5 to 3g EPA/DHA per day. You must look at the nutrition facts as the label will mislead you, and you may not be getting enough of the components of the fish oil that the body uses. Countless studies and many more in trial are proving the effectiveness of taking fish oils.

Here's a quick rundown of components you might find in supplements:

EPA protects us from heart attacks, sudden cardiac death, strokes, diabetes and even cancer.

DHA protects brain and nervous system function. It's especially important for children, as it helps their brains grow and their immune systems develop. In fact, this substance is added to baby formulas all around the world -- but not so much in the United States yet. In fact, the U.S. banned it from baby formulas until a few years ago. DHA in adults helps with antisocial behavior, attention deficit and Alzheimer's.

ALA, the vegetarian form of omega-3 fats, can be found in flax seeds and flax seed oil. However, the problem with taking flax as an adult is that the older we get, the more we lose the enzyme that converts ALA to EPA and DHA -- which are the active forms of omega-3 fatty acid in the body.

As far as food sources are concerned, cold-water fish such as mackerel and sardines (to name just a few) are rich in omega-3 fatty acids. Vegetarian sources include sea vegetables such as hijiki and arame, as well as walnuts.

Omega-9 fatty acids are best gotten from macadamia nut oil, avocado and olives. They are the richest sources. Olive oil can be used cold, but once it is heated above 300F, it begins to oxidize -- so I recommend that you use olive oil only cold in salads and macadamia nut oil for all your cooking needs, as it can be heated to 425F without oxidizing. (Plus, it's rich in antioxidants.) Eating an avocado per day also will increase your intake of these important fatty acids.

So, it is really quite simple to improve your fat intake by following the simple guidelines I have just outlined. If it is not in this article, don't consume the fat.

As in most things, balance is key. If we don't learn to properly balance our omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acid ratio, we will never get the major killers, such as heart disease, cancer and diabetes, under control.

Five steps to improve your omega ratio:

1. Eat more fish.
2. Use more EPA/DHA nutritional supplements.
3. Don't heat olive oil.
4. Use macadamia nut oil for heated uses.
5. Don't eat any omega 6 fats unless you're having difficulty with your menstrual cycle; that means no canola, grapeseed or other vegetable oils.

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