The Bulletproof Guide to Omega 3 Vs. Omega 6 Fats

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BIG news: the FDA recently ordered food manufacturers to stop using trans fat in their products within three years. The agency has even gone a step further, proposing that foods get rid of partially hydrogenated oils (PHOs), chemically altered fats that the FDA argues are no longer “generally recognized as safe.”

If the decision gets finalized, trans fats and PHOs may be a thing of the past, unless the manufacturer gets FDA approval.

Here’s why the FDA’s decision rocks: trans fats have been linked to cancer, obesity, metabolism issues, heart disease, Alzheimer’s, and more [1,2,3]. More studies show that trans fat promotes overall inflammation in the body, but worst of all – your brain pays the highest price with memory loss, depression and reduced cognition [4,5,6]. Eliminating trans fats from all food is a win for anti-kryptonite food fighters everywhere. It also may force food companies to start using higher-quality fats in their products.

With change on the horizon, what better way to celebrate than by adding to your knowledge about fats?  The type of fat you eat is key to your performance — that’s why the Bulletproof Diet suggests eating 50-70% of your calories from fat every day. With that in mind, here’s a quick primer on different types of fat, with a particular focus on Omega 3s, Omega 6s, and how you can balance the two to your body’s advantage, setting the foundation for a Bulletproof life.

Understanding Fat

 I specifically designed the Bulletproof Diet to introduce the correct types, amounts, and ratios of fat into your system for optimal hormone balance, weight loss, and wellbeing. Different types of fat behave differently in your body. Most of those differences come down to the shape of the fat’s tail and the stability of the fat.

Check out the tail

 Fat molecules look kind of like mice: they have wide bodies with thin tails coming off them. Tail length in fats is important because it changes how your body processes them. As a general rule, the shorter the tail, the more rare and anti-inflammatory the fat itself. That’s why the Bulletproof Diet recommends eating fats with short and medium tails, like those found in grass-fed butter and Brain Octane oil.

Know the fat’s stability

Stability is also important when you’re choosing which fats to eat. The stability of a fat largely depends on how many binding sites it has open. Fats with fewer open binding sites are more stable – they’re less likely to let a free radical oxidize them by stealing an electron. Oxidized fats speed up aging and create inflammation. Here are the three types of fat, from most stable to least:

Saturated Fats

In saturated fats, all the binding sites are filled (“saturated”). Take a look at the diagram of a saturated fat below. It’s like a big dinner table, and each “H” is like a person in a chair. Every seat at the table is taken; a free radical can’t get in anywhere to grab an electron and oxidize the fat.

Saturated Fat

Monounsaturated Fats

Monounsaturated fats are relatively stable, but they’re not quite as stable as saturated fats. “Mono,” meaning one, indicates that there is one place for a free radical to enter. The table is full except for one seat, as you can see below.

MUS Fat

Polyunsaturated Fats

Polyunsaturated fats are the least stable fats. Poly is Greek for “many,” and as the name suggests, polyunsaturated fats have multiple binding sites exposed, making them particularly open to oxidation. Seats at the table are open left and right, and it’s easy for the free radical to get in and mess with the fat.

PUS Fat

It’s important to note that just because a fat is unstable doesn’t mean it’s bad for you. You should just handle less stable fats more carefully to make sure they don’t oxidize or spoil. That means avoiding ones that are heavily processed or exposed to high heat.

In fact, two types of the most important kinds of fat are unstable. Omega 6 and omega 3 fats are both polyunsaturated, and they’re key to survival. Your body can’t produce omega 3s and omega 6s on its own; you get them from food. That’s why low-fat diets are bad for you — they systematically deprive you of the fats your body needs to function at its best.

Omega 3s and omega 6s exist in a ratio to one another. There’s a cap on the total amount of the two that the body can use, so they end up competing for space. Omega 6s are inflammatory, while omega 3s are not. You need both, but because of the inflammation factor, it’s optimal to maximize omega 3s and minimize omega 6s.

What makes Omega 3 fats so special?

Omega 3s are great for your cells. They are an integral part of cells membranes throughout the entire body and affect the cell receptors in these membranes.

Omega 3s also provide a launchpad for making hormones that regulate blood, heart, and genetic function.

Studies show that omega 3s help prevent heart disease and stroke, may help control lupus, eczema, and rheumatoid arthritis, and may protect against cancer [7].

Types of Omega 3s

Amazing sources of omega 3s include wild salmon, grass-fed beef, algae oils, sardines, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, walnuts and flaxseeds. You can also optimize omega 3s through superior supplements like Krill oil.

There are three common types of omega 3 fatty acids:

  • EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) – both are long chain omega 3 fatty acids, and both come from animal sources. DHA is the really good one: it keeps your nervous system functioning and provides anti-inflammatory benefits. Higher consumption correlates with improved mood, greater insulin sensitivity, increased muscle growth, and better sleep.

Science has shown that EPA and DHA are especially important for pregnant women. Many prenatal vitamins contain them, but you’re better off getting them from food [8].

  • ALA (alpha-linolenic acid) – this is a short chain omega 3 fatty acid. ALA comes mostly from plant sources, and most animals can’t really use it, so they convert it to the super-powerful DHA we just talked about.

Herbivores and opportunistic omnivores like mice and rats are great at converting ALA to DHA. Humans, on the other hand, can only convert about 8% of ALA to DHA [18]. That’s one reason why chia seeds and flaxseed oil don’t rank particularly high on the Bulletproof Diet Roadmap. The people selling chia seeds are quick to tell you that their product is high in omega 3s; what they fail to mention is that the omega 3 isn’t the right kind. You still convert some of it to DHA, but getting your DHA directly from animal sources is much more efficient.

Drop those fries and move away from the basket!

So how many omega 3s should you eat to get optimal benefits? It largely depends on your omega 6 consumption.

Omega 6 fats are also necessary for survival, but they’re not nearly as beneficial as omega 3s. Omega 6 fats help with brain function, muscle growth, and hormone production, but they also cause inflammation, and they compete with omega 3s in the body. The ideal is to eat just enough omega 6s to function, but no more, and to balance them with lots of omega 3s.

  • For most people, an omega 6 to omega 3 ratio of 4:1 is ideal– that’s 4 omega 6s for every 1 omega 3 [17].
  • Anti-aging experts suggest going even further, maintaining a 1:1 ratio or higher in favor of omega 3s.
  • The average American eats a ratio of anywhere from 12:1 to 25:1 omega 6 to omega 3 [15, 16]. Not good.

A big reason for the skewed ratio in the U.S. and other countries that eat Western diets is the types of oil in our foods. The most common source of omega 6s is linoleic acid, found in corn oil, soybean oil, safflower oil, cottonseed oil, sunflower oil, poultry, and some nuts and seeds.

These oils are cheap to produce, so many companies use them in processed foods like candy, cookies, crackers, popcorn, granola, dairy creamer, margarine, frozen pizza, and other snacks. Soybean oil is so overused that it constitutes 20% of the calories in the average American diet [9]. Many of the oils are also genetically modified and produced with toxic solvents.

Omega 6 oils are unstable because they’re made of polyunsaturated fats (lots of seats open at the table). Cooking at high heats, microwaving, or frying will oxidize the fats. Oxidized omega 6 does damage to your DNA, inflames your heart, and raises your risk for several types of cancer, including breast cancer. It also interferes with brain metabolism [10, 11, 12, 13, 14].

When companies use these oils in packaged foods, they stabilize them to increase shelf life through a process called hydrogenation. Hydrogenation takes already harmful fats and converts them into synthetic trans fat. Trans fat is even worse for you.

The Omega 3 vs Omega 6 ratio has been abused. The prevalence of vegetable oil and processed grains in Western diets has thrown the ratio way off, contributing to chronic inflammation, cancer, neurodegenerative diseases, heart attack, and many of the other common health problems in the U.S. A core aim of the Bulletproof Diet is to restore that skewed ratio.

Find your optimal fat balance

The fewer inflammatory omega 6s you eat, the more the omega 3s you eat will be able to build and strengthen your body.

Check out these charts to give you added insight into Omega 3/Omega 6 ratios in foods themselves:

 

n3n6 graph 1

n3n6 graph 2

n3n6 graph 3

To up your ratio, eat plenty low-mercury fatty fish like sockeye salmon, go for grass-fed butter and meat, swap omega 6 oils for those higher in omega 3s, and always check the ingredients when you buy packaged food.

Have you balanced your fat ratio and noticed a difference in how you feel? Any of your own hacks to share with the rest of us? Post it all in the comments, and stay Bulletproof!

 

Click to read the complete list of references.

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By Bulletproof Staff

  • Robert Schildgen

    Just had my total cholesterol come back at 276 after 2 months on bullet proof plan… Checking into it, but never been anywhere near that high before…

    • We’ve been brainwashed into believing cholesterol causes heart disease but this is way too simplistic. Of all the people who are hospitalized for a heart attack, only 25% of them have high cholesterol. The rest have 75% have normal cholesterol. High cholesterol is associated with REDUCED risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s. The 2 more important markers are your small particle LDL and your ratio of triglycerides to HDL. You’ll find links to support these statements here: http://bebrainfit.com/statins-memory-loss/

      • Emanuel Stamathis

        Not a truer statement than this Deane!

    • What are the specifics?

      Triglycerides, HDL, LDL, oxLDL?

      Have you looked into mycotoxins in your foods?

      Are you consuming a lot of coconut oil?

      Could be a factor.

      The most effective mycotoxin binder used in mold/mycotoxin-exposure illness to remove them from the body, a prescription drug called Cholestyramine, was originally used as an effective cholesterol lowering drug.

      Lots of Paleo folks encourage consumption of large amounts of coconut oil as one of the ‘safe’ holy grails of Paleo. 🙂

      Unless you’re mycotoxin-sensitive and can detect mycotoxins easily (and perhaps even if you are), your choice of coconut oil should be made very, very carefully, if you choose to consume it regularly or at all.

      Most coconut oil is mycotoxin-laden, and you might not be able to perceive the effects immediately.

      In addition, if you store it improperly (particularly in humid climes), contaminate it regularly with food/microbes from whatever you use to get it out of the jar, or it simply sits around opened in unideal conditions for too long … you can get mold growth/mycotoxins pretty easily.

      Same goes for XCT Oil or Brain Octane oil, although to a lesser degree.

      I find it interesting that, on Amazon, the “Bricks 100% Grass Fed Beef and Bacon Bar” is the one grass-fed meat bar I looked at our of about 5 brands that had significant complaints about mold growth. And they were using a lot of coconut oil in the bars, whereas the other 4 used none.

      Could be incorrect correlation, and some other issues with the bars, but I thought it was at least interesting to poke at.

      I’m mycotoxin sensitive. I stopped consuming coconut oil, because I kept getting nasty mycotoxin hits (brain fog, joint pain, stomach pain, tiredness for a few days afterwards, compared to not consuming it) from every brand I was trying.

      At some point, I might try the centrifuge-extracted stuff, or the refined stuff, both of which Dave recommends in an old Bulletproof Shopping Guide, since I know he’s mycotoxin sensitive to some degree, too.

      Here’s the link to that Bulletproof Shopping Guide.

      Has some interesting things about mycotoxins in there, too (for example, regarding spices, old spice racks, cayenne, black pepper):

      http://www.bulletproofexec.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/11/Bulletproof-Diet-Shopping-List-Final-PDF2.pdf

      Cholesterol is a complex topic, and it can be affected by many things, including being mobilized in response to damage or impairment.

      There are some who have done a lot of research into the topic recently, and theorize that LDL itself is even too blunt of an instrument to measure with.

      What they theorize is that oxidized LDL is what causes harm.

      (Similar to what happens to egg yolks when they harden into that waxy quality – and is why eating hard-boiled eggs is a bad idea, vs. eating un-oxidized cholesterol in things like eggs sunny side up, or raw egg yolks.)

      LDL itself is used in a number of functions, including healing various parts of the body’s systems.

      That’s why, for instance, some say that an increase in LDL could also be an indication of some other problem in the body that LDL is trying to fix.

      So, there are tests to distinguish between oxidized LDL particles and healthy, functioning LDL particles.

      There’s also some thought along the lines of HDL and LDL being less indicative of future heart-disease issues than triglycerides.

      I’m sure that’s an oversimplification. All of these substances have a function in the body.

      It’s not as if we can sort of ignore a particular group of molecules as “purely irrelevant,” but the functions and impacts probably aren’t super straightforward.

      I can’t claim to have looked into the topic comprehensively yet — there’s so much to learn about health, and blood lipids/blood cholesterol hasn’t been as high on the list of pressing issues for me.

      But it might be worth your digging deeper into the literature out there if you’re concerned.

      Maybe some others, or searching other Bulletproof or Paleo forums, will have some answers to suggest as to the causes.

    • Just found this potentially relevant quote about LDL and HDL both going up, while browsing the Bulletproof site, from the rapid fat loss protocol:

      (***emphasis mine)

      “Step 5: Retest

      Take the same tests as you did before the protocol. Your HDL will probably be higher.

      ***Your LDL will probably be higher – sometimes sky high – which is normal as you’re metabolizing years of toxins stored in your body. They drop over time but will not be excessively low. That’s not good for your brain or your hormones.***

      How long do you continue this process?

      Until you’ve lost your desired amount of fat mass. Most people can reach 10-14% body fat on this protocol without a problem.”

      Link: http://blog.bulletproof.com/rapid-fat-loss-protocol/

  • Hrm, so, I’ve been puzzling this out for awhile.

    I have many food and environmental sensitivities.

    Violent allergies to fish, violent allergies to krill oil. Ditto for cow’s milk dairy.

    That rules out the super common sources of omega-3: fish, cod liver oil, krill oil, grass-fed butter/ghee, high vitamin butter oil (grass-fed, ofc).

    I eat strictly Bulletproof green-area foods.

    More heavy on the grass-fed meats, less on the veggies (lots of sensitivities there, also.)

    I do consume about 1-2 avocados a day, on average, but worry that’s skewing my omega 3 : omega 6 ratio too far towards high omega 6.

    Obviously, the small-ish amount of polyunsaturated fats in the preponderance of grass-fed meat in my diet should have a 4:1 – 1:1 ratio of o6:o3, depending on the source/quality.

    But, that’s not much omega-3 or omega-6 by itself.

    I tried organic, cold-pressed flax seed oil for awhile and noticed a significant increase in mental function.

    (lots of neurologically-related health issues = more anti-inflammatory & mood-stabilizing effect of omega-3)

    But started developing sensitivities to that as well. Oh, dear!

    So, other than flax, fish, krill, and anything cow dairy-related….

    What else might I do to increase my omega-3 intake?

    What about shorter-chain fatty acids (like the butyrate, etc. in butter) in general, also?

    • Julia Lerner

      You can get algae oil that is an excellent source of EPA/DHA as a supplement

      • pscheck2

        does algae oil give the right balance to omega6 /omega3? Also, how can one tell if the butter one buys is from grass-fed cows? (I buy my butter from Aldi’s)

        • Peter8Piper

          Aldi’s carries KerryGold and it is supposed to be from grass-fed cows. However, it does have a coloring agent in it. How do I know? I was raised on farms and churned the butter. Butter is off-white, not yellow.

        • Farleyagain

          Peter8Piper: you are one lucky dude!

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  • Nate Carlson

    Are there actually Omega-3 and Omega-6 fats in grass fed butter and fat from grass fed cows or fat from pastured pigs? If so, why isn’t there an orange chart for grass fed / pastured ungulates (hoofed animals) like there are for fish, nuts and greens?

    • great question about grass fed meats/animals, dairy. I have been looking to find information on this and their O3-O6 everywhere online and cannot. I am getting a little weary and suspicious about there being a lack of information on this. If anyone has it, please share here. Thanks.

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  • Omega 3 fatty acids differ. The most valuable are from wild (not farmed!!) fish. Omega 3 from plants is mainly ?-Linolenic acid (ALA). Brain, liver, etc. uses EPA and DHA, that is in fish. BTW, farmed fish is fed with compound feed, that mainly consists Omega 6. There is no place for that fish to get Omega 3 components.

  • Marcel

    I see a slough of statements without references cited in support. Omega 6 are inflammatory? With a blanket claim like that, you had better be certain that is in fact the case, with conclusive evidence from human trials. It would also be useful to know the date of your articles.

    • PureAbsolute

      Hi Marcel — these statements come from science — Omega-6’s lead to the chemical messengers that have to do with healing an injury — which is why they are both necessary and cause inflammation and blood clots, etc. The inflammation helps bring more resources to the injury. Omega-3’s lead to the messengers that thin blood and reduce inflammation — a good thing if you are healthy. Both of course do a lot more than those few functions, but by upping the Omega-3 / Omega=6 ratio, you’ll have less inflammation — whether during an injury or not.

      Human trials have been done — but I want the science first. Studies are great for seeing where a problem is, but science needs to explain it. I don’t want any more studies that tell me that diet coke makes you fat.

    • Duncan Green

      Hi Marcel, the body is complex and the idea that omega 6 PUFAs are inflammatory and omega 3 are anti-inflammatory is hopelessly naive. The reality is that there exists a vast and delicate balance between these two unsaturated fat systems. For example certain omega 6 products, prostaglandins, are known to moderate the inflammatory effect of other omega 6 products, leukotrienes. So, in certain situations, the body uses omega 6 fats for anti-inflammatory purposes.

      If you want to generalise (a risky business where body chemistry is concerned) then it is more useful to think about the *imbalance* between omega 6 and omega 3 (and omega 9) fats in the body. It is this imbalance that leads to faults in eicosanoid signalling that could be at the root of excess inflammation.

      Above all remember that your body needs inflammation as part of its natural healing and development. However this inflammatory process is supposed to be acute and not chronic. Much of the diseases that have sprung up over the last century seems to be related to chronic inflammation. One possibility is that modern dietary trends and industrialisation methods have lead to an imbalance in PUFAs.

      Here are my simple rules:

      1) Don’t ban any foods (with the possible exception of transfats)
      Eat liberally, from a wide variety and without fear. Mother Nature has you – even now. 🙂

      2) Prefer natural whole foods over refined processed foods
      Basically, if it didn’t grow from good earth, run around or swim in the sea then limit consumption. Whole foods are complex nutritional delivery systems where the constituent nutrients work in harmony with each other and with our genome; coevolved over millions of years. If you can’t imagine someone eating a particular food 500 years ago, then don’t eat it.

      3) Prefer saturated fat over poly unsaturated fat
      Disenthrall yourself from the view that saturated fats are bad. Your body can and does convert unsaturated fats to saturated fats when it needs them. The evidence over the link between saturated fat in the diet and heart disease was tenuous to begin with and is beginning to unravel. There has been a 50 year misdirection to low fat, high refined carb diets and yet, heart disease and cancer continues to rise. Also you’ll feel so much better when you eat more healthy fat.

      4) Transfats are bad. Avoid like they are poison (because they basically are)
      Soon to be outlawed trans fats will continue to hide in processed foods (like Twinkies). The evidence of the link between transfats and cardio vascular disease is mounting. Don’t trust labelling on suspect foods (particularly if you live in the US). Cheap processed food will *always* contain transfats because they are the cheapest fats.

      5) Don’t take supplements (even fish oil)
      Your body is not evolved to be flooded with such dense nutrition. Not only that but separating out individual nutritional elements from the natural foods that provide them stresses the body and can cause nutritional imbalances. Pills don’t grow on trees – don’t take them unless your doctor has prescribed them. As someone suffering chronic disease I know how compelling miracle cures are but the miracles will come from scientific discovery not roguish supplement vendors and champions.

      6) Watch out for the man
      Remember that most internet sensations like the Paleo diet and the Bulletproof diet are fundamentally marketing vehicles to sell product (the ads on the various websites). That doesn’t mean you cannot trust the advice given there but be aware that it is based on a marketing agenda.
      Natural food is natural food – go eat it and worry less. 🙂

    • If yo click on the “Click to read the complete list of references.” link at the bottom of the article you will see a lot of support for the claim and other points noted in the article…

      Most BP posts have this link but it is often overlooked…

  • Kaizer

    Alright so too much Omega 6 isn’t good, I get that. But is too much Omega 3 bad for you? Eating a moderate amount of Omega 6 but then more Omega 3, would that be bad? I eat shit like Flax cereal and milk with Omega 3 and 6 and I’m trying to figure out how I can eat things like Chia seeds and Salmon to balance it out. Fish is a better source of Omega 3 so I’m aiming for more fish (salmon, etc), but I don’t wanna end up eating too much Omega 3, you get me? And it seems a bit complicated to eat the same exact amount of Omega 6 and Omega 3.

  • Mark

    Where is the chart for grass fed and humanly raised hoofed animals, compaired to “factory raised” animals?

  • Guyfranke !!

    How about the omega 3’s in pastured organic chicken eggs, pork bacon , MANchego cheese, etc. Dave… where’s the chart for that? Stop with all those bird food charts . 😀 CHeers ! !

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  • lisa

    I eat canned mackeral and canned sardines several times a week. more mackeral than sardines. I eat spinach salads at least 4 times a week. I throw flax seeds and pumpkin seeds on my salads. Good salmon is not easy to get here in Italy and most supermarkets barely know if it is farmed or fresh. I grew up in Seattle, the hotbed of good salmon, and I just wonder if I can move to canned salmon as well. Any comments?

    • Shiva X

      Beware of farmed Salmon and farmed fish in general. They are often fed with chemicals to make them grow larger faster. Defeats the purpose. I have heard that sometimes farmed fish are fed healthy, clean feed, but I would investigate the source of what the fish is being fed.

      • lisa

        Farmed fish never. I am from the Pacific Northwest!
        It is very easy to distinguish a farmed salmon (you could not pay me to eat farmed salmon) from wild salmon. Farmed salmon has white strips across the body, which is totally absent from a wild salmon. Farmed fish shouldl be ilegal.

  • So seeds and nuts are not optimal foods? They increase inflammation? Also, can I cook with butter, or does heating it damage it? Loved Dave’s interview with Dr. Mark Hyman 🙂

    • Yarfy

      That entirely depends on the seed or nut. Mustard seed, flaxseed, hemp seed, and chia seed are all high omega 3. Walnuts and butternuts are balanced enough (4:1 is considered healthy still, you do not need 1:1 scientifically, that is just historical diet).

      Cooking with butter is fine.

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  • Radical Subjectivity

    Aren’t algae based Omega 3 supplements high in ALA, not DHA? People don’t convert ALA very well (but fish do).

  • DavidP

    Can I have an example of a diet with 60% intake from healthy fat? Especially on a day when you’re eating Lean processed meat or no meat.

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