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By: Emily Izer, University of Maryland Dietetic Intern   Date: 12/7/11

As a dietetic intern, I recently had the opportunity to participate in a webcast hosted by IFIC entitled “Getting to the Bottom of the Omega-6:Omega-3 Confusion.”  The lecture was given by Dr. William Harris, a foremost fatty acid expert, to over 700 participants all wanting the scoop on the latest recommendations for omega-6 and omega-3.  I was also looking to update my knowledge on this complex topic, and by the end of the presentation I was pleasantly surprised at the simplicity of Dr. Harris’ recommendations. 


The first bit of clarity he presented was that both omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids protect the body from developing cardiovascular disease.  This was a breakthrough moment for me because I’ve often heard omega-6 fatty acids portrayed in a negative way.  However, it turns out that omega-6’s can actually help protect the body from disease.  Dr. Harris pointed out that not all products of omega-6 metabolism contribute to inflammation.  In fact, some by-products are actually anti-inflammatory.  So the next time I eat a handful of nuts or cook with corn oil (both excellent sources of omega-6) I’ll enjoy it even more knowing I’m benefiting my health.   


Dr. Harris also highlighted that most Americans aren’t getting enough omega-3’s in their diet, and therefore aren’t reaping the benefits of their anti-inflammatory, disease protecting properties.  To refresh your memory, the three most common omega-3 fatty acids that we consume are Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).  ALA comes from plant sources and can be found in canola and soybean oils, walnuts, flaxseed, and soybeans.  EPA & DHA are found in oily fish like albacore tuna, salmon, and sardines.  Studies show that EPA and DHA are the most protective against inflammation, cardiovascular disease, and poor mental health.  It’s important to remember that not all fat is “bad” and that we should strive to include more of the healthful varieties in our diet, especially omega-3. 


The final idea from the lecture was the recommendation for consumers and nutrition professionals to do away with using the omega-6:omega-3 ratio.  This is a topic I distinctly remember learning about in college and feeling confused afterwards.  But Dr. Harris makes it quite easy to understand: forget about it.  Why?  As he originally pointed out, both omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids are important for disease protection.  If both are good for you, then there is no need for a ratio – sounds simple!  Just eat more of both as part of an overall healthful diet.

For me, this webcast definitely lived up to its name and got to the bottom of my confusion on omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids.  What did you learn?

**Coming Soon!  Food Insight interviews Dr. William Harris.  Look for it in the December issue.

For more information on dietary fats, check out these IFIC Foundation resources:
The Dietary Fats Makeover: Guiding Consumers toward Healthful Dietary Fat Intakes CPE Module
Omega-6 Fatty Acids and Health Fact Sheet
Omega-3 Fatty Acids Fact Sheet
Fat Matters: Understanding Dietary Guidance on Dietary Fats
The Truth about Fats and Oils and Health
Healthy Eating During Pregnancy





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