Omega-3 vs Omega-6: Finding the Right Balance

It always seems difficult to find the proper balance, right? We have to balance work and home, spending and saving, relationships, our checkbooks…

Well, we’re about to throw two more elements into the mix, but they are essential for our health: Omega-3 and Omega-6. So what on earth are they and what role do they play in our health?

Omega-3 and omega-6 are essential fatty acids (EFA) that the body cannot produce. Because of this, there is only one way to obtain them – through foods and supplements. While omega-3s are anti-inflammatory EFAs and omega-6s are pro-inflammatory EFAs, it is still necessary to consume both. Not all inflammation is bad. Our body’s natural response to injury and infection is acute inflammation – a protective reaction that begins the process of repair.

So when does inflammation become bad for us? When it becomes chronic, or long-lasting. Chronic inflammation can be caused by persistent pathogens/foreign bodies that acute inflammation wasn’t able to fight off or as an overactive immune system response. By doing this, the body destroys healthy tissue mistaking it for harmful pathogens.

Omega-3 and omega-6 EFAs are vital to our health as they boost our immune system function and decrease inflammation. The following are some additional benefits:  

Omega-3s have shown to:

  • Fight autoimmune diseases
  • Combat anxiety
  • Improve risk factors of heart disease
  • Improve skin

Omega-6s have shown to:

  • Reduce nerve pain
  • Reduce high blood pressure
  • Support bone health
  • Support brain health

While you need to have both omega-6 and omega-3, you should be consuming them in relatively equal quantities. You should shoot for a ratio of about 1-2:1 (one to two times the amount of omega-6 to omega-3).

Admittedly, this is a lot easier said than done. If you eat out often or eat a lot of food that comes pre-packaged, chances are you are consuming upwards of 10 times the amount of omega-6 than is recommended! This is because processed foods and meals from many restaurants are made with vegetable oils – extremely high in omega-6.

The table below shows the percentage of omega-6 and omega-3 present in some common oils:


































While some omega-6 is necessary, having too much and/or having much more than omega-3 causes an unbalance and this consequently causes inflammation. Many studies have shown that inflammation is connected to diseases such as cancer, Type 2 diabetes, Alzheimer’s, depression, asthma, and skin conditions such as psoriasis.

To further tip the scale, most people are not getting enough Omega-3. This EFA is found in oily fish and certain types of seeds such as flax, hemp, and chia.  

So what can you do to knock down your Omega-6 intake and increase your Omega-3 consumption? Follow these quick guidelines to get you started:

  1. Do not eat any processed foods. This means anything that generally exists in the center of a grocery store. Food that comes pre-packaged is usually sure to contain high levels of unhealthy Omega-6.

  2. Eat out less often. Most restaurants cook food in safflower and soybean oils because they are cheap. Refer to the chart above. These oils have high concentrations of Omega-6 fatty acids and little to no Omega-3. Plus, when you cook at home you know exactly what you are putting into your meals and you can control the ingredients!

  3. Try to eat wild-caught fish at least twice a week. Salmon or mackerel are best, but tuna and various white fish are also high in Omega-3s.

  4. Add chia or flaxseeds to your meals whenever possible. Adding these to a morning smoothie or oatmeal go unnoticed, but they will have a positive impact on your Omega-3 intake.

  5. Eat your vegetables. Replace romaine with kale and spinach in your salads. These are easy additions to your meals and will give you an extra boost of Omega-3.

  6. Read nutrition labels. This is an important one as vegetable oils are hidden in many of our most-purchased products. If one of the first ingredients is safflower or sunflower oil, look for a better option. Many items that are originally thought of as healthy, like hummus, actually contain a lot of Omega-6 because of the added vegetable oils. Try to look for products that are made with extra virgin olive oil, which has a very low Omega-6 percentage (around 9%) and comes packed with vitamins and antioxidants. 

The steps above will get you started on balancing out these two essential fatty acids. Just like everything else, once you’re balanced, you will begin feeling a lot better!