An ongoing debate exists about which is healthier – omega-3 or omega-6 fatty acids. Both are ‘essential’ fats the body needs for a variety of functions. Consider the comparisons between omega 3’s versus omega 6’s and how they pertain to diabetes.
- Our bodies need omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids but cannot produce them. Food is the sole source of these essential fatty acids unless you take a specially formulated supplement. Referred to as ‘good’ fats, these polyunsaturated fats help our bodies build healthy cells and maintain nerve and brain functions. Research reveals they may protect us against diseases such as Alzheimer’s and diabetes type 2 as well as reduce the risk of heart disease.
- Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) are omega-3 fatty acids. EPA is found in plant oils while DHA is commonly found in marine oils. Omega-6 fatty acids can be found in plant oils, such as soybean and corn oils, as well as in foods such as seeds and nuts. According to the American Heart Association, about 5-10 percent of our food calories should come from omega-6s. Omega-3 fatty acids are found in foods such as tuna, salmon, flax-seed and walnuts.
- There is an ongoing debate about omega 3s versus omega 6s. Often Americans incorporate plenty of omega 6 fatty acids in their diets through the frequent use of vegetable oils, such as safflower and corn oil. Many Americans do not get enough omega 3 fatty acids, found in oils such as flaxseed oil and canola oil. It can be beneficial to use these oils more frequently; omega-3 fatty acids have been linked to heart protection, a major concern for people with diabetes. It is also important to exercise for improved heart health when you have diabetes. Since many people with diabetes have hypertension, they should use a blood pressure monitor to check their pressure and report any irregularities to the doctor right away.
- Both 3 and 6 fatty acids have an equal place in your daily diet. Omega-3 fatty acids help reduce inflammation, another concern for people with chronic diseases such as diabetes. Omegas 3s support the growth and development of your body and brain. Omega-6 fatty acids help support bone, skin and hair growth, promote brain function and maintain the reproductive system. Certain omega 6s are believed to promote systemic inflammation. For this reason, some researchers feel it is better to eat more omega-3 fatty acids than omega 6s.
- At this point, most experts agree the majority of people need to consume more omega 3s such as ALA, EPA and DHA. To get omega 3 fatty acids naturally, eat fatty fish at least two times a week. One serving equals 3.5 ounces of cooked fish or 3/4 cup of flaked fish. Children and pregnant women should be cautious about eating fish with high levels of mercury. Talk to your doctor about recommendations for consuming fish. If you do not eat fish, ask whether it is necessary to take supplements. Always discuss any type of supplement with your health care team before taking it.
- Limit saturated fats which come from animal sources. Saturated fats can raise LDL levels, the type of cholesterol that clogs your arteries, which can lead to heart disease and stroke. Omega 3s and omega 6s are unsaturated fats that can help lower your cholesterol levels. Replace saturated fats, such as butter, with unsaturated fats such as olive oil. Add nuts to your diet in moderation, as they can be high in calories. Top off fruit or vegetable salads with a small serving of nuts to incorporate them into your diet.
In the debate between omega 3s and omega 6s, experts have found that the 3s are the best types of fat to include in your diet. Researchers agree omega 3 fatty acids can reduce the risk of heart disease and even help ward off type 2 diabetes. Omega 6s may cause inflammation in large amounts. Talk to your doctor about the best ways to incorporate these fatty acids into your diet for optimum health.