Contributed by Marie Limoges
2014 UVM MSD graduate
Advanced technology has shifted our food culture towards consuming highly processed foods that consist of simple carbohydrates and fats, creating the Western diet that we see today. The nutrients that are available in the foods we eat, often dictate what nutrients are available in our bodies. Humans evolved on a diet that provided an omega-6: 3 fatty acid (FA) ratio of 1:1, while the current Western diet provides an omega-6: 3 FA ratio to 15:1/16:1. Many studies have researched whether or not higher omega-6: 3 FA ratios causes an increased risk for chronic diseases, such as heart disease and diabetes.
Grain based dishes and meats, such as sausage, bacon, and ribs, are high in omega-6 FA and low in omega-3 FA. Our current Western food culture includes more of these foods, with little room for plant based foods and lean meats that are high in omega-3 FA. Such foods include flaxseeds, almonds, walnuts, soybeans, eggs, salmon, tuna, mackerel, chicken, and certain dairy products, such as cheese and whole milk.
Two studies found that a higher omega-6: 3 FA ratio was associated with an increased risk for heart disease. These studies also showed that low omega-6: 3 FA ratios reduce the risk of breast cancer and rheumatoid arthritis. Another study suggested that only low levels of omega-3 FA in the diet increased the risk of developing chronic diseases and was seen as a more sensitive marker than the omega 6: 3 FA ratio.
While many studies have been completed, further research is needed. It is always important to be mindful and include a variety of foods in our diets to ensure that we are getting the proper amounts of nutrients needed to lead a healthy and wholesome lifestyle.