9 Foods High in Omega 6 And Why Balanced Intake Is Important

Foods High in Omega 6

Omega 6 fatty acids are present in refined vegetable oils, convenience foods, and packaged products like cured meats, mayonnaise, packaged potato chips or crackers. Swap them for omega 3-rich foods like chia and flax seeds or walnuts and ensure your daily intake of omega 6/omega 3 is between 2:1 and 1:1.

Omega 6 fatty acids are a type of polyunsaturated fatty acids that have health implications for you, both good and bad. Taken in the right amounts they can be a source of energy, make up the structural components of your cell membranes, and more. Have too much and you might even increase your risk of certain health problems. Here’s a look at foods that are high in omega 6 fatty acid content so that you know what you’re consuming and can moderate intake accordingly.

Excessive Omega 6 Fatty Acids Intake Might Raise Risk of Health Problems

But first, the lowdown on why you need to get your intake right. Omega 6 fatty acids, like omega 3 fatty acids, make up a part of the basic cellular structure of your body and help modulate physiological processes and gene expression. Your body needs both omega 6 and omega 3 fatty acids, which have opposing functions while modulating these processes. Unfortunately, having omega 6 fatty acids in excessive amounts could cause problems since products of this essential fatty acid have inflammatory, atherogenic (causing fatty deposits in the arteries), and prothrombotic (raising the risk of blood clots) effects.1 They might even raise your risk of developing cardiovascular disease, inflammatory or autoimmune diseases, and cancer.2

So how much should you be gunning for? According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, you should get 5–10% of your dietary energy or calories from food through omega 6 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs).3

The two main types of omega-6 fatty acid are linoleic acid (C18:2n-6) and arachidonic acid (C20:4n-6). Of these, linoleic acid is an essential fatty acid that you get via your diet.4 While there are no recommended dietary allowances for omega 6 fatty acid intake, the upper limit for linoleic acid intake for adults has been set at 667 g/day assuming a 2000 kcal diet.5 The actual average intake levels in the United States, as per the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey from 2001 to 2002, was much higher at 14.8 g/day.6

Omega-6 Intake Must Be Balanced With Adequate Omega-3 Intake

When it comes to omega 6 fatty acids, there’s also more than meets the eye. You can’t, for instance, look at intake in isolation. One reason for this is that omega 6 fatty acids and omega 3 fatty acids both require the same enzyme to be metabolized. When you have too much omega 6 in your diet, it crowds out omega 3 from being metabolized, by using up much of the enzyme available. When that happens, with inadequate anti-inflammatory omega 3 fatty acids, you become more prone to things like heart disease against which omega 3 offers some protection. That’s why you need to ensure you consume omega 6 fatty acids in moderation and be mindful of the intake of the nutrient relative to that of omega 3 fatty acid.7

Average Modern Diet Doesn’t Get The Omega 6/Omega 3 Ratio Right

As human beings evolved, the average (and optimal) omega 6 to omega 3 fatty acid ratio was 1:1, with equal amounts of both kinds of fatty acids being consumed. Unfortunately, today this ratio is in the range of 15:1 to 16.7:1 on average, which means you’re probably consuming as much as 15 to 17 times more omega 6 fatty acids than inflammation-fighting omega 3 fatty acids.8

So what is the optimal ratio? As researchers found, the answer depends on what kind of illness you’re trying to combat or ward off. Here are the omega 6/omega 3 ratios that have been linked to better outcomes in some diseases.9

  • Cardiovascular disease: Ratio of 4:1 linked to 70% reduction in total mortality
  • Colorectal cancer: Ratio of 2.5:1 linked to the slowing of cell proliferation
  • Rheumatoid arthritis: Ratio of between 2:1–3:1 linked to suppressed inflammation
  • Asthma: Ratio of 5:1 eases symptoms

In general, though, if you can get to anywhere from 2:1–4:1 it should be beneficial, though the most ideal scenario is one where you consume them in the ratio 1:1. You can get the ratio right by eating foods that individually have favorable ratios, like walnuts, flax seeds, and chia seeds which clock in at 4:1, 1:4, and 1:3 respectively. Or you could simplify it by ensuring you balance omega 6 intake with that of healthy omega 3 fatty acid rich foods. That said, here are the foods high in omega 6 that you need to keep an eye on. The ratios will give you an idea of how they fare in terms of omega 6/omega 3 balance.

1. Nuts

An ounce of walnuts has 10.8 gm of omega 6 fatty acids.

A 2-tablespoon serving of peanut butter has about 4.41 gm of omega 6 fatty acids and 0.022 gm of omega 3 fatty acids, bringing it to a ratio of 200:1.10

Nuts are a good source of nutrients, including essential fatty acids. While they do contain omega 3 fatty acids that you need to consume, they are also high in omega 6 fatty acids.

Some nuts like walnuts have more favorable ratios of omega 6 to omega 3 than many other commonly consumed foods like cured meats and processed foods, so they are a potentially healthier addition to your diet. However, do be mindful of the omega 6 they contain and watch your overall intake, especially if you’re having nuts where the ratios are high like Brazil nuts.

  • An ounce of walnuts has 10.8 gm of omega 6 fatty acids and 2.57 gm of omega 3 fatty acids, in a ratio of 4:1.11
  • On the other hand, another nutrient-rich nut, the Brazil nut doesn’t get the balance of omega 6 to omega 3 right. An ounce of Brazil nuts has 6.81 gm of omega 6 fatty acids and 0.01 gm of omega 3 fatty acids, a ratio of 690:1.12
  • An ounce of peanuts, containing 4.41 gm of omega 6 fatty acids and 0.001 gm of omega 3 fatty acids, has a ratio of 4410:1.13

2. Seeds

Sesame seeds contain 5.855 gm of omega 6 fatty acids.

Seeds also cover both ends of the spectrum. While they are a healthier option than processed foods, the ratio is sometimes skewed.

  • Sesame seeds contain 5.855 gm of omega 6 fatty acids and 0.103 gm of omega 3 fatty acids per ounce. That’s a ratio of about 57:1.14
  • Sunflower seed kernels have 9.294 gm of omega 6 fatty acids and 0.020 gm of omega 3 fatty acids per ounce, a ratio of 465:1.15

Flax seeds and chia seeds have more omega 3 fatty acid content than omega 6 fatty acids.

  • Flax seeds, on the other hand, tip the scales in favor of omega 3 fatty acids. Flaxseeds contain just 0.608 gm of omega 6 fatty acids, but 2.350 gm of omega 3 fatty acids per tablespoon. That flips the ratio to 1:4.16
  • With chia seeds too, you get more omega 3 fatty acids than omega 6. An ounce of the dried seeds has 1.654 gm of omega 6 but 5.055 of omega 3 fatty acids, a ratio of 1:3.17

3. Tofu And Soybeans

A cup of boiled (mature) soybeans has 7.68 gm of omega 6 fatty acids.

  • A cup of boiled (mature) soybeans has 7.68 gm of omega 6 fatty acids and 1.029 gm of omega 3 fatty acids, giving it a ratio of about 7.5:1.18
  • A cup of raw firm tofu, on the other hand, has just 3.7 gm of omega 6 fatty acids, but contains only 0.42 gm of omega 3 fatty acids, a ratio of 9:119

While they do have a lot of omega 6 fatty acids, since they are a good vegetarian protein source and rich in vitamins and minerals, if you consume them in moderation and balance your overall intake of omega 6 fatty acids to omega 3 fatty acids every day, you should be okay.

4. Refined Vegetable Oils

Safflower oil has 0.149 gm of omega 6 fatty acids.

If you’re looking for healthy oils which have less omega 6 in them, opt for olive oil which has just 1.318 gm of omega 6 fatty acids in 1 tablespoon.20

Refined vegetable oils are another source of omega 6 fatty acids. Oils such as safflower oil, soybean oil, corn oil, and walnut oil are especially high in their omega 6 content. So, when it comes to these fats, you could opt for those that also have omega 3 fatty acids to balance the intake.

  • Safflower oil: 10.149 gm of omega 6 fatty acids, no omega 3 fatty acids in 1 tablespoon21
  • Walnut oil: 7.194 gm of omega 6 fatty acids, 1.414 gm omega 3 fatty acids in 1 tablespoon. Ratio of 5:122
  • Corn oil: 7.239 gm of omega 6 fatty acids, 0.158 gm omega 3 fatty acids in 1 tablespoon. Ratio of 46:123
  • Soybean oil: 6.857 gm of omega 6 fatty acids, 0.923 gm omega 3 fatty acids in 1 tablespoon. Ratio of 7.4:124

5. Mayonnaise

A tablespoon of mayo has 5.4 gm of omega 6 fatty acids.

Mayonnaise and salad dressings can be chock-full of omega 6 fatty acids. A tablespoon of mayo, for instance, has 5.4 gm of omega 6 fatty acids and 0.737 gm of omega 3 fatty acids. That’s a ratio of 7:1.25 So trade in that mayonnaise for some light lemony vinaigrettes instead.

6. Processed Foods

An ounce of potato chips has 4.916 gm of omega 6 fatty acids.

Considering that they have hefty levels of omega 6 and not as much by way of nutrition compared to fish, poultry, and fresh produce, it is well worth cutting down on processed foods – especially since they also often contain saturated fats and even trans fats, which is not great for health.

Processed foods are typically high in omega 6 fatty acids, containing 3–5 gm or more of these fatty acids. Cook these foods from scratch at home – it is well worth it for your health!

  • An ounce of potato chips has a whopping 4.916 gm of omega 6 fatty acids but just 0.023 gm of omega 3 fatty acids, a ratio of 214:1.26
  • A serving of hash browns clocks in 3.98 gm of omega 6 fatty acids and 0.340 gm of omega 3 fatty acids, a ratio of 12:1.27 This ratio itself may not seem as bad as some others, but consider the number of grams of omega 6 you’re consuming and you’ll see why it’s best avoided.
  • A serving of cheese crackers contains 2.59 gm of omega 6 fatty acids and 0.2 gm of omega 3 fatty acids, a ratio of 13:1.28Again, the grams of omega 6 fatty acids are quite high.

7. Cured Meats

3oz of ham has 5.378 gm of omega 6 fatty acids.

Cured meats are another source of omega 6 fatty acids. You could trade these meats in for meats cooked from scratch or healthy fatty fish rich in omega 3 fatty acids like sardines, tuna, or salmon.

  • Ham (pork): 3oz has 5.378 gm of omega 6 fatty acids and 0.246 gm of omega 3 fatty acids, a ratio of 22:1.29
  • Sausage (pork): 1 serving(48 gm) has 3.532 gm of omega 6 fatty acids and 0.157 gm of omega 3 fatty acids, a ratio of 22.5:1.30

8. Pork

A 3-ounce portion of pork has 9.129 gm of omega 6 fatty acids.

If you like your pork, you may want to keep an eye on the omega 6 intake in your diet.

  • A 3-ounce portion of pork could give you around 9.129 gm of omega 6 fatty acids and 0.402 gm of omega 3 fatty acids, a ratio of 23:1.31
  • A 3 ounce serving of pork bacon will have about 8.388 gm of omega 6 fatty acids and 0.405 gm of omega 3 fatty acids, a ratio of 21:1.32

9. Poultry

A 3 ounce serving of both light and dark turkey meat contains 9.144 gm of omega 6 fatty acids.

Balance your daily omega 6/omega 3 ratio by increasing intake of omega 3 fatty acid rich foods like fatty fish like salmon, sardines, and tuna, flax and chia seeds, English walnuts, omega 3 rich eggs, and edamame.33

Even poultry could be adding omega 6 to your diet.

  • A 3 ounce serving of both light and dark turkey meat contains about 9.144 gm of omega 6 fatty acids and 0.596 gm of omega 3 fatty acids, a ratio of 15:1.34
  • A 3 ounce serving of roast chicken thighs and drumsticks with the skin on will have about 6.837 gm of omega 6 fatty acids and 0.353 gm of omega 3 fatty acids, a ratio of 19.4:1.35

Opting for the lean meat on the breast and eating it without the skin could significantly cut back on the omega 6 you are consuming. A standard half breast or approximately 3-ounce serving of the roast breast meat sans skin will have just 0.507 gm of omega 6 fatty acids and about 0.061 gm of omega 3 fatty acids. This not only improves the ratio to 8:1 but also significantly cuts down your intake of omega 6 fatty acids.36

References   [ + ]

1. Schmitz, Gerd, and Josef Ecker. “The opposing effects of n− 3 and n− 6 fatty acids.” Progress in lipid research 47, no. 2 (2008): 147-155.
2, 9. Simopoulos, Artemis P. “The importance of the ratio of omega-6/omega-3 essential fatty acids.” Biomedicine & pharmacotherapy 56, no. 8 (2002): 365-379.
3, 6. Harris, William S., Dariush Mozaffarian, Eric Rimm, Penny Kris-Etherton, Lawrence L. Rudel, Lawrence J. Appel, Marguerite M. Engler, Mary B. Engler, and Frank Sacks. “Omega-6 fatty acids and risk for cardiovascular disease: a science advisory from the American Heart Association Nutrition Subcommittee of the Council on Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Metabolism; Council on Cardiovascular Nursing; and Council on Epidemiology and Prevention.” Circulation 119, no. 6 (2009): 902-907.
4, 33. Omega-3 Fatty Acids. Office of Dietary Supplements.
5. Simopoulos, Artemis P., Alexander Leaf, and Norman Salem Jr. “Workshop on the essentiality of and recommended dietary intakes for omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids.” (1999): 487-489.
7. The importance of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. The European Food Information Council.
8. Simopoulos, A. P. “Evolutionary aspects of diet, the omega-6/omega-3 ratio and genetic variation: nutritional implications for chronic diseases.” Biomedicine & pharmacotherapy 60, no. 9 (2006): 502-507.
10. Peanut butter, smooth, vitamin and mineral fortified . United States Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service.
11. Nuts, walnuts, english. United States Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service.
12. Nuts, brazilnuts, dried, unblanched. United States Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service.
13. Basic Report: 16087, Peanuts, all types, raw. United States Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service.
14. Seeds, sesame seed kernels, toasted, without salt added (decorticated). United States Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service.
15. Seeds, sunflower seed kernels, dry roasted, without salt. United States Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service.
16. Seeds, flaxseed. United States Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service.
17. Seeds, chia seeds, dried. United States Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service.
18. Soybeans, mature cooked, boiled, without salt. United States Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service.
19. Tofu, firm, prepared with calcium sulfate and magnesium chloride (nigari). United States Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service.
20. Oil, olive, salad or cooking. United States Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service.
21. Oil, safflower, salad or cooking, linoleic, (over 70%). United States Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service.
22. Oil, walnut. United States Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service.
23. Oil, corn, industrial and retail, all purpose salad or cooking. United States Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service.
24. Oil, soybean, salad or cooking. United States Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service.
25. Salad dressing, mayonnaise, regular. United States Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service.
26. Snacks, potato chips, sour-cream-and-onion-flavor . United States Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service.
27. Fast foods, potatoes, hash browns, round pieces or patty. United States Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service.
28. Crackers, cheese, regular. United States Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service.
29. Pork, cured, ham, separable fat, boneless, unheated. United States Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service.
30. Pork sausage, link/patty, fully cooked, microwaved. United States Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service.
31. Pork, fresh, separable fat, cooked. United States Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service.
32. Pork, bacon, rendered fat, cooked. United States Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service.
34. Turkey, whole, skin (light and dark), roasted. United States Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service.
35. Chicken, skin (drumsticks and thighs), cooked, roasted. United States Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service.
36. Chicken, broilers or fryers, breast, meat only, cooked, roasted. United States Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service.

Disclaimer: The content is purely informative and educational in nature and should not be construed as medical advice. Please use the content only in consultation with an appropriate certified medical or healthcare professional.