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February 2024
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Omega-6: Not Bad After All?

Why Omega-6s Should Be Commended, Not Contemned

Pistachios are a healthy source of Omega-6 fatty acids.

Pistachios are a healthy source of Omega-6 fatty acids.

There are goods and bads when it comes to reporting on health news – and oftentimes, they’re one and the same.

For example, it’s great that health news is constantly flowing and improving on itself. What was true today may not be true tomorrow. In other words, science discovers something and makes adjustments to previous research, in the hopes that this new found knowledge improves on what was previously believed to be accurate.

At the same time, though, this constant flow of information can be extremely confusing – if not irritating – because what was true today may be contradicted several years from now through advancements in technology and learning (just how dangerous smoking is to health today compared to 50 years ago is perhaps the best example).

A great example of this dilemma is omega-6 fatty acids. Last November, I wrote about omega-6 fatty acids and how they shouldn’t be confused with omega-3s, essentially saying that omega-3s are far healthier than omega-6s.

I don’t change my tune on that point, for omega-6 fatty acids are found in lots of processed foods, and its believed that the average person gets far more omega-6 fatty acids than they should be getting – 10 times more, in fact.

Further, unlike omega-3s, high levels of omega-6 fatty acids in the body have been linked to a bevy of health concerns, like suppressing the immune system, cause prostate tumor cell growth, and increasing blood clotting above and beyond the normal rate (thus blocking blood flow to and from the heart).

But unlike trans fats and saturated fats, which have no nutritional value whatsoever, the same can’t be said for omega-6 fats. In other words, they’re not ALL bad, as my previously article may have implied.

As I said previously, omega-6s are found in lots of unhealthy food sources, which is why experts believe we’re consuming too much of them. On the other hand, they’re also found in plenty of healthy sources, like nuts, seeds and various healthy cooking oils.

One such healthy oil is safflower oil. Now, I know what you’re thinking: “Since when was safflower oil considered a ‘healthy’ oil?” While I grant you it’s not as healthy as, say, extra virgin olive oil, it does have its redeeming qualities.

For instance, researchers at the Ohio State University had two groups of women – 35 in all – take one of two oils for 16 weeks: safflower oil or conjugated linoleic acid. Both oils are chock full of omega-6 fatty acids.

After 16 weeks of supplementing with approximately one and two-thirds tablespoons of either oil – and making sure that each woman did not change anything else about their diet or exercise habits (all of the women were considered obese) – all of the women saw improvements in weight levels.

Those women who supplemented with the safflower oil increased lean muscle tissue by an average of two pounds and decreased their girth around the middle by an average of four pounds. Due to the increased muscle mass, however, they did not decrease their BMI levels.

On the other hand, those women who consumed the CLA did see a decrease in BMI levels, dropping overall weight by about four pounds and their BMI levels by half a point on average.

Remember, these improvements were without any changes in their caloric intake or activity levels. So while the weight loss levels may be marginal at best, the fact that weight levels dropped at all without changes to their diet plan is pretty impressive.

But the benefits of omega-6s didn’t stop at the scale. Blood sugar levels dropped by as much as 19 points for some women (the women’s blood sugar levels were between 129 to 148; anything above 110 milliliters per deciliter is risky territory).

This confirms why omega-6 fatty acids are highly recommended to people with diabetes, not to mention those who want to improve their overall heart health (the American Heart Association is a staunch advocate of omega-6 fatty acids).

As we stand today, most people are getting far more omega-6 fatty acids than needed. So deficiency isn’t the problem (like it is with omega-3s). The problem stems from the sources of foods we eat.

So instead of eating foods that are unhealthy and rich with omega-6 – like creamy salad dressings and thick mayonnaise – opt for healthy omega-6 sources instead, like fish, pistachios, olives and the aforementioned safflower oil (used sparingly).

If you take anything away from this article, take this: Don’t paint omega-6 with a broad “bad” stroke. They are just as crucial to a healthy diet as omega-3s are, so long as they are consumed from healthy sources and in proper proportion to omega-3s. Per the American Heart Association’s recommendation, shoot for between 12 and 22 grams per day, depending on your activity level, age and gender.


Related Posts

  1. Omega-3 Fatty Acids Cut Colorectal Cancer Risk in Men, Study Finds
  2. Lower Risk of Eye Disease with Omega-3
  3. Study Shows Omega-3 Fats Reduce Cancer Tumor Growth Rates
  4. Omega-3 Fish Oils Greatly Reduce the Risk of Three Major Diseases, Study Finds
  5. Higher Intake of Omega 3 Fatty Acids Linked to Positive Mood and Outlook, Study Concludes

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