It’s well known that including fish in your diet can improve your health. The reason is that inflammation can result from an imbalance of omega-3 and omega-6 fats. As reported by the American Society for Clinical Nutrition, omega-3s are anti-inflammatory, and omega-6s are inflammatory. A healthy ratio is 2:1 omega-6 to omega-3 fats; Americans average a whopping 20:1. A study published in May 2016 found that omega 3 fats found in fish may prevent the development of autoantibodies in rheumatoid arthritis and other related autoimmunity conditions. In fact, the benefit was strongest among people who have a genetic susceptibility to RA.
Omega-6 fats come primarily from polyunsaturated vegetable oils such as safflower, corn, sunflower, cottonseed, and soybean, which are heavily used in processed and packaged foods. It’s easy to see how quickly we can overload on omega-6 fats. Quality omega-6 fats are found in unprocessed nuts and seeds and grass-fed meat.
The long-chain fatty acids eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) are responsible for the anti-inflammatory benefits omega-3 fats provide. They are substantially available in seafood. The suggested intake of EPA and DHA is a minimum of 250 to 500 mg per day. The American Heart Association recommends 1,000 mg of EPA and DHA per day for patients with coronary heart disease — the amount provided in a three-ounce cooked portion of wild salmon or tuna.
In addition to whole fish, fish-oil supplements are quite popular, and they do make it easy to take the required EPA and DHA every day. Researchers at the University of Milan, however, found that after six weeks, volunteers who consumed salmon had EPA levels twice those of volunteers who took the equivalent in fish-oil supplementation. Furthermore, DHA levels were nine times higher from salmon consumption than from fish-oil supplements.
To start shifting the scale toward the optimal ratio, enjoy wild-caught fish two or three times per week, eat more fresh fruit and vegetables in place of processed snack foods, and use extra virgin olive oil and unrefined coconut oil instead of polyunsaturated vegetable oils. Perhaps consider a daily spoonful of cod-liver oil.
Susan Ojanen is an integrative nutrition coach in Bristol, Tennessee, and owner of www.smallstepswellness.com. She is passionate about helping clients worldwide achieve their health goals by making sensible and maintainable lifestyle changes.