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Omega-6 or 3? The Skinny on Fats – What's Healthy, What's Not

04-26-2016
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When it comes to what we eat, many people think vegetable oils get a green light. But CBN News' medical reporter Lorie Johnson says a yellow light or maybe even a red one is more in line with good health.

Most Americans need to cut way back on a type of food that contains a natural ingredient they've probably never even heard of but eat every day: omega-6 fats. These foods fill grocery stores, vending machines and restaurants.

Omega-6 fats in vegetable oils are often touted as healthy alternatives to trans fats or saturated fats. But that can be misleading.

The problem isn't that omega-6 fats are bad for you. The problem is that eating too many of them can cause serious problems.

Dr. Michael Roizen, chairman of the Cleveland Clinic's Wellness Institute, describes the deadly inflammation that can come from loading up on too many foods with omega-6 fats.

"[It] causes your arteries to get inflamed, causes your immune system to get inflamed, and decreases your ability to fight infections, decreases your ability to find cancer cells and get rid of them before they cause cancer, and increases inflammation and atherosclerosis in your arteries, so that's the omega-6s," Roizen said.

Some examples of foods containing omega-6 fats are peanut oil and canola oil, used in home and fast-food cooking. Soybean, corn, safflower and sunflower oils in thousands of processed foods ranging from mayonnaise and salad dressing to microwave popcorn and baked goods.

So how much omega-6 fats should we be eating? About the same amount as the omega-3 fat we eat in fish and fish oil supplements.

Our body needs both omega-6 and omega-3 in nearly equal amounts. Striking that balance can be tricky. Some populations, like the Japanese, do a good job at that. The U.S.? Not so much. Most Americans eat 20 times more omega-6 than omega-3 fats.

"The ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 is important. The higher the ratio, the more omega-6 or the less omega-3, the more inflammation," Roizen explained.

So we'd do well to push away from foods containing omega-6 fats while bumping up our omega-3 intake. To learn your exact omega-6/omega-3 ratio, ask your doctor for a fatty acid blood test.

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