Essential Fatty Acids: Omega 3 and Omega 6

Ketogenic Diet > Keto Diet Information

Essential Fatty Acids cannot be made naturally by the body (hence why they are “essential”), so they must be supplemented into our diet through our food intake. Among a long list of health benefits, they are necessary for repairing and building cells. There are 2 main types of essential fatty acids:

  • Omega-3 – These are most known for their anti-inflammatory benefits, helping prevent heart disease, and lowering blood pressure.
  • Omega-6 – These are most known for lowering blood cholesterol and supporting healthy skin.

What Do Essential Fatty Acids Do?

There are plenty of processes in the body that EFAs (Essential Fatty Acids) are responsible for, including:

  • Transporting oxygen in our bloodstream
  • Promoting cardiovascular health
  • Promoting development in the brain
  • Keeping saturated fats mobile
  • Anti-inflammatory (Be careful, as too many Omega-6’s can cause inflammation)
  • Reducing blood pressure
  • Maintaining fluidity in cell membranes
  • Maintaining proper kidney functions
  • Preventing blood cells from clotting

The typical diet that we have is overpopulated by Omega-6’s, which come from certain oils, nuts, and seeds, so we don’t really need to worry about getting these as much.

What we need to do is worry about getting our Omaga-3 fatty acids, while limiting (or balancing) our Omega-6’s. Since we’re on a ketogenic diet, I will assume you eat plenty of oil and fats, so I will also assume your Omega-6’s are in check.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Let’s take a closer look at Omega-3’s. These are made up of Alpha Linoleic Acid (ALA) which is naturally found in many oils and foods. They are biochemically broken down to form:

  • Eicosapentaenoic Acid (EPA) – 20:5, 20 carbon atoms with 5 double bonds. This is then broken down into DHA.
  • Docosahexaenoic Acid (DHA) – 22:6, 22 carbon atoms with 6 double bonds. This is where the great health benefits come from.

ALA’s are easy to find through food or through supplementation, but they must be converted into EPA and DHA by the body. This conversion is extremely inefficient, where ALA will get converted into only 8-21% EPA and 4-9% DHA.

That means that ALA Omega-3 rich oils such as flaxseed oil and canola oil are not really a great choice. The best way to get your Omega-3’s is through fatty fish like salmon, trout and sardines, or by eating free-range eggs. These are high in both DHA and EPA, cutting out the inefficient conversions that our bodies need to do.

The typically recommended balance to have is a 2 to 1 ratio of Omega-6’s to Omega-3’s, but anywhere between 1:1 and 4:1 is good.

The typical Western diet will be between 20:1 and 40:1, to give you an idea of how many Omega-6’s we actually consume. This contributes to inflammation and oxidation in our bodies, which also leads to a number of diseases.

Salmon Filet

Try to avoid things like margarine, canola oil, and other vegetable oils; focus on eating animal fats, eggs, fish (and other seafood), butter, avocados, coconut oil and olive oil.

The Bad Side

The higher the polyunsaturated fat content is, the easier they oxidize.

That means cooking with them will render them relatively useless when it comes to getting your essential fatty acids. With cooking, go for oils that can stand up to temperatures and have a high smoke point:

  • Tallow
  • Lard
  • Avacado Oil
  • Coconut Oil
  • Palm Oil
  • Olive Oil
  • Ghee
With topping your food with oils, go with things that are rich in polyunsaturated fats and have a low smoke point, where you will get all of the fatty acids, without oxidizing them:

  • Hemp Seed Oil
  • Flax Oil
  • Walnut Oil
  • Grape Seed Oil
Walnut Oil

How to Reduce Omega-6 Intake

There’s many ways you can reduce the amount of Omega-6’s you intake, but it mostly has to do with the oils we use. If you find yourself using oils that are extremely high in Omega-6’s while offering no Omega-3’s, try switching. Here are a few techniques to reduce your Omega-6 intake while increasing your Omega-3 intake.

  • Switch Cooking Oils
  • Eat more fatty fish
  • Eat grass-fed meats
  • Run away from processed fats

Ranking of Different Fat Sources

Here are some rankings of oils to look for. Remember, you want to cook with things that are lower in polyunsaturated fats, and top your food with things high in polyunsaturated fats. The higher the content of polyunsaturated fat, the easier it will oxidize with heat. Oxidization is bad. You want to stay away from oils that have a very high ratio of Omega-6’s to Omega-3’s like safflower oil, sunflower oil, corn oil, and sesame oil.

Type of FatSaturated FatsMonounsaturated FatPolyunsaturated FatOmega-3 %Omega-6:Omega-3
Coconut Oil926200
Macadamia Oil1384421:1
Palm Oil5039919:1
Hazelnut Oil7781000
EV Olive Oil14731100
Avocado Oil127013112:1
Cod Liver Oil234723190.2:1
Peanut Oil184729034:1
Canola Oil75437102.6:1
Sesame Oil174245045:1
Walnut Oil92363105.3:1
Flax Oil92066530.2:1
Grapeseed Oil1217710.875:1
Safflower Oil1213750.678:1

Appel, L.J., et al. Does supplementation of diet with ‘fish oil’ reduce blood pressure? A meta-analysis of controlled clinical trials. Arch Intern Med, 1993; 153: 1429-1438.
de Deckere, E.A., et al. Health aspects of fish and n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids from plant and marine origin. Eur J Clin Nutr, 1998; 52(10):749-53.
de Lorgeril, M., et al. Mediterranean alpha-linolenic acid-rich diet in secondary prevention of coronary heart disease. Lancet. 1994;343:1454-1459.
Edwards, R., et al. Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid levels in the diet and in red blood cell membranes of depressed patients. J Affect Disord, 1998; 48: 149-155.

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