6 Omega 6-Rich Foods You Should Be Eating
Omega-6s—a type of polyunsaturated fat—are good for your body. But they do come with controversy. Here are the pros and cons.
They seem like the outcast of the family of fats, but omega-6 fatty acids deserve to share the spotlight. After all, you’ll find notable amounts of these fats in nutritious foods, like nuts, seeds, and vegetable oils. Despite all of the attention given to omega-3s, omega-6s—another type of polyunsaturated fat—are also good for your body, including your heart. However, they do come with a side of controversy.
What do omega-6s do?
Just like all other types of fats, there are several different omega-6 fatty acids. Two of the most common omega-6s are linoleic acid (LA) and gamma-linolenic acid (GLA). In fact, LA is an essential nutrient. That means that your body can’t make it, yet your cells need it to live. That’s where your diet comes in. Also important is knowing what these fats do. And what they do has been rather misunderstood.
Research suggests that a high intake of omega-6s may be associated with inflammation and arthritis. This may happen as your body derives compounds called eicosanoids from these fats, which seem to increase inflammation, per the Journal of Nutrition and Metabolism.
However, a growing body of research supports a variety of benefits of omega-6s.
The possible link between omega-6 fatty acids and inflammation may not be what it’s cracked up to be. A research review published in Prostaglandins, Leukotrienes & Essential Fatty Acids finds that an increased intake of certain omega-6s—arachidonic acid or linoleic acid—won’t increase inflammation and, in fact, may play a role in reducing it. To make sure this occurs, people need to pair omega-6s with a nutrient-rich diet. Since omega-6s are unsaturated fats, they’re considered good for your heart and may lower LDL (“bad”) cholesterol levels.
A meta-analysis published in Vasa, the European journal of vascular medicine, finds that a greater intake of nuts (which are high in omega-6s) is associated with lower risk for cardiovascular disease. What’s more, a meta-analysis in Nutrients finds that there’s no connection between omega-6 consumption and risk of cancer—and a potential for the fats to lower the risk of cancer.
Still, it’s possible that overdoing omega-6s may hinder the anti-inflammatory abilities of omega-3s.
Is the Western diet too heavy on omega-6s?
Your overall diet naturally contains a mixture of various fats. Individual foods that contain fats, like nuts, will offer a mixture, too. For heart health, it’s advisable to eat more unsaturated than saturated fats.
Omega-3 to omega-6 ratio
Getting into specifics, many nutrition experts recommend aiming for a certain omega-6:omega-3 ratio for the healthiest approach to heart health. Research in the journal Oilseeds and Fats, Crops and Lipids suggests a 2:1 ratio. Meanwhile, research in the journal Open Heart recommends a 1:1 ratio. (In comparison, a typical Western diet can have an unbalanced ratio that’s 15:1 omega-6 to omega-3.)
This ratio approach is based on sound science. However, some claim it’s rather outdated. There may be an approach that’s easier to follow while yielding beneficial results. It’s simply about what we’re not getting.
A lack of omega-3s
The typical Western diet appears to lack sufficient omega-3 fats. A scientific review in Life Sciences finds that these fats provide an anti-inflammatory effect and protect against chronic diseases. In food terms, that means if you’re not already eating a variety of foods high in these heart-friendly fats, such as salmon, sardines, mackerel, and anchovies, consider giving them a boost in your eating plan. (Note that you can also get a form of omega-3s in plant foods, such as flaxseed oil, flax seeds, and chia seeds.)
Fish oil or plant-based omega-3 supplements may be beneficial, too. But do talk to your healthcare provider about the best way to include them.
What ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 is best?
For overall good health, instead of trying to meet a strict omega-6:omega-3 ratio in your diet, think of it as a simple balancing act by letting the ratio happen naturally.
Here’s how: Focus on adding more omega-3s to your eating plan. That’s it. A review in Prostaglandins, Leukotrienes & Essential Fatty Acids classifies one specific approach to this as the Omega-3 Index, which is based on red blood cell EPA plus DHA (two key types of omega-3s). In your diet, one way you can put this kind of approach into action is by including your favorite omega-6-rich foods along with omega-3-rich foods in the same meal, such as adding a nutty pesto (high in omega 6s) to grilled salmon (high in omega 3s).
(Related: 12 High-Fat Foods You Should Be Eating)
Foods high in omega-6
For adults age 19 to 50, the Institute of Medicine’s recommended adequate intake (AI) for omega-6 is 12 grams per day for women and 17 grams per day for men. So, go ahead and enjoy any of these delightful foods that offer omega-6s.
11 g omega-6 per 1 ounce
Eating a small handful of nuts a day can boost diet quality, offer satiety, and benefit heart health. And walnuts are an excellent pick since they’re not just rich in omega-6s, they offer a significant amount of omega-3s. According to a study in Circulation Research, people with type 2 diabetes who eat more nuts, particularly tree nuts like walnuts, may have a lower risk for cardiovascular disease. Plus, research in Nutrients suggests that eating walnuts my offer benefits for brain health.
To punch up omega-3s: Finely chop walnuts, mix with breadcrumbs and seasonings, and use a nut crust for a fatty fish, like mackerel.
10 g omega-6 per 1 ounce
Pine nuts are rather pricey, but they do offer a wealth of nutrients, including magnesium and iron. A case-control study published in the Journal of Nutrition found that a greater intake of pine nuts, peanuts, and almonds is associated with a lower risk of colorectal cancer. And there’s more good news. Animal research in Diabetes, Metabolic Syndrome and Obesity: Targets and Therapy suggests that pine nuts may play a therapeutic role for people with diabetes due to their potential ability to manage blood glucose and oxidative stress.
To punch up omega-3s: Toss pasta with garlicky sautéed fennel, canned sardines, pan-toasted pine nuts, and lots of lemon.
9.5 g omega-6 per 1 tablespoon
Grapeseed oil is exactly what it sounds like—the oil extracted from the seeds of grapes. It’s good for our planet as the seeds may otherwise go to waste after the process of winemaking. While grapeseed oil may not be as popular as olive oil, it’s got lots to brag about. First, it has a high smoke point, making it versatile in cooking. It’s also an excellent source of vitamin E, providing 3.9 mg per one tablespoon—that’s 26 percent of the daily recommended amount. That’s especially important since the body needs the vitamin for a strong immune system.
Plus, a research review in the journal Foods suggests that grapeseed oil may be associated with antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, and antitumoral activities—and beyond.
To punch up omega-3s: Enjoy a classic niçoise salad dressed with a grapeseed oil-based vinaigrette.
8 g omega-6s per 1 ounce
Hemp seeds, which come from the Cannabis sativa L. plant, have been gaining popularity. And no, you won’t get “high” from them. Hemp seeds don’t naturally contain THC, the psychoactive compound that’s in marijuana; though, they may pick up a trace of it when harvested or processed. The seeds are so enjoyable on top of salad and soups—and straight by the spoonful.
A review published in Nutrients suggested that these unique seeds offer high antioxidant activity, which is important for protecting polyunsaturated fatty acids from oxidation. They also contain bioactive compounds which offer potential neuroprotective, antihypertensive, antioxidant, and anti-inflammatory activities—and more.
To punch up omega-3s: Pulse hemp seeds, lemony mayo, seasonings, and salmon in a food processor, form into patties, and grill for a superfood salmon burger.
7 g omega-6s per 1 tablespoon
Corn oil is mild with a hint of a buttery taste. If it’s not one of your go-to cooking oils, do give it a second look. A randomized crossover trial published in The Journal of Nutrition suggests that about 54 grams (1.9 ounces) of corn oil per day included in a routine diet may lower total and LDL (“bad”) cholesterol while raising HDL (“good”) cholesterol. It has more favorable results than coconut oil.
What’s more, 2021 research published in the journal BMC Medicine, found that swapping non-hydrogenated vegetable oil, including corn, canola, or olive oil, in place of butter or margarine (solid fats) may be associated with improved cardiometabolic health and greater life expectancy. Note: When choosing corn oil, look for one with a 100 percent USDA certified organic or non-GMO label if you want to ensure it’s not made from genetically modified corn.
To punch up omega-3s: Combine prepared shelled edamame, kidney beans, corn, fresh cilantro, and a corn oil-based lime vinaigrette for a cool side salad.
6.5 g omega-6 per 1 ounce
Grabbing some sunflower seeds is a tasty anytime idea—and a health-protective one. A review of research published in Chemistry Central Journal notes that sunflower seeds offer an abundance of nutrients, including vitamin B6, magnesium, niacin, and iron, as well as phytonutrients, including phenolic acids, flavonoids and tocopherols. Plus, the seeds contain cholesterol-lowering phytosterols and antioxidants, while offering a myriad of potential beneficial properties, including anti-diabetic, antihypertensive, antimicrobial, and anti-inflammatory properties.
To punch up omega-3s: Make egg salad with mayo, Dijon mustard, fresh dill or tarragon, and hard-cooked omega-3 eggs and serve on sunflower seed bread. Or do a DIY trail mix featuring various nuts, including walnuts, and various seeds, including sunflower seeds.