Omega 6 Content of Common FoodsPosted in: Paleo Diet on Thursday, March 1, 2012
I’ve created quite a fuss lately about reducing the amount of omega 6 fatty acid in our diets.
When I first came across information about increased tissue concentration of omega 6 fatty acids I had my doubts that it was really “so simple.” As I’ve learned with other systems of the body, it’s rarely a simple matter of “put x into the tank” and “y happens.” There are many variables involved in how two people process what they ingest, and the final outcome is unpredictable.
But then David Brown nudged me about omega 6, mentioned that many of his own personal health problems have vanished since he made the minor adjustment of deleting peanut butter from his diet, and I listened to Dr. William Lands present on the predictability of omega 6 tissue concentration with various intakes. It is so predictable that Lands has created a mathematical model that predicts changes in tissue concentration based on the amount of omega 6 and omega 3 (which helps to displace and deactivate some of the omega 6, but ain’t no cure all) in the diet.
It is now fairly well-known, if not widely reported, that Westerners, particularly Americans, have a very high tissue concentration of omega 6 fatty acids – estimated as being 8 to 12 times what some consider “optimal.” This is due to the big switch from animal fats to margarines and solvent-extracted corn and soy oils that have progressed to make up a considerably larger portion of the American fat intake. Consumption of omega 6 nuts and seeds has risen dramatically as well, and the intake of poultry, the richest source of omega 6 of any animal food, has risen nearly 300% over the last 100 years.How significant is this? I do not know, but the circumstantial evidence stacked up against omega 6 doesn’t look good.
My point is that we simply need to ignore the banter about what is and is not a healthy food, and instead focus on what we need to do to actually make some progress in overturning this high omega 6 imbalance. It takes more than just cutting out vegetable oil. It takes a concentrated effort to keep omega 6 at levels low enough that omega 6 tissue concentration falls substantially.
Will lowering omega 6 save you? Will it save humanity? I don’t know. What I do know is that the vast majority of disease inflicting modern man is inflammatory at the core, and the inflammatory molecules that inflict the most collateral damage during any kind of inflammatory reaction are the cytokines. Cytokines are manufactured from omega 6 fatty acids. So the circumstantial evidence is huge, especially when we’re seeing a widespread increase in illnesses that are characterized by an inappropriately aggressive immune response (autoimmunity, autism, allergies, food allergies, asthma, arthritis, etc.).
And what matters most in taking simple steps in pursuing a low omega 6 diet, is the overall percentage of calories as omega 6 in the foods you are eating in greatest abundance. The most relevant and substantial contributors are fats, meats, nuts, and starches. I’ve left vegetables and fruits off the list because neither contributes a significant amount to the total omega 6 we ingest.
As you will quickly realize, the higher your diet is in total fat content, the more important it is that you are diligent about keeping omega 6 intake under control. It is certainly of interest that the highest fat intakes of any diets on record are those by the Eskimo and Masai. The Eskimo consumed much of their fat from seal oil, whale oil, and fish. Seal oil in particular just about has the lowest omega 6 concentration of any fat source on earth (1.1% omega 6). Following it closely is half and half, a close approximation to the uber-fatty milk consumed by the Masai in Kenya 1.8%) – which in their case is grassfed and perhaps even lower in omega 6 than the baseline used for http://www.nutritiondata.com/, which is the source of info. I used to make the following calculations.
This chart is by no means exhaustive, but it does include most of the major calorie contributors to modern diets:
Omega 666 – the most Evil omega 6 powerhouses (over 50%)
Grapeseed oil 70.6%!!!
Corn Oil 54.5%
Walnuts 52.5% (oil is 53.9%)
Cottonseed oil 52.4%
Soybean oil 51.4%
Very High Omega 6 sources (20-50%)
Sesame oil 42.0%
Peanut Butter 22.5%
High Omega 6 Sources (10-20%)
Chicken Fat 19.5%
Canola oil 19.0%
Flaxseed oil 12.9%
Duck Fat 12.2%
Bacon Grease 10.2%
Moderate Omega 6 Sources (5-10%)
Olive oil 9.9%
Goose Fat 9.8%
Chicken with skin 9.0%
Pork chops 6.2%
Popcorn (Air Popped) 5.8%
Low Omega 6 Sources (2-5%)
Chicken Liver 3.7%
Sunflower Oil 3.7% (High oleic variety - others are very high in omega 6)
Beef Tallow 3.1%
Cocoa Butter 2.8%
Macadamia Nut oil ~2.5%
Beef liver 2.1%
Grassfed Beef 2.0%
Whole wheat flour 2.0%
Extremely low Omega 6 Sources (Less than 2%)
Coconut oil 1.9%
Prime rib 1.8%
Whole milk 1.8%
Half and Half 1.8%
Ground Beef 1.6%
Macadamia Nuts 1.6%
Chicken without skin 1.4%
Coconut Milk 1.1%
Seal Oil 1.1%
Foie gras 1.1%
Palm Kernel Oil 0.8%
Sockeye Salmon 0.5%
Canned tuna 0.1%
Blue crab 0.1%
When you look at how much tastier the bottom of the omega 6 chart looks than the top, is it really a problem to redefine the term “healthy fats” and load up on great seafood, macadamia nuts, lamb, brie, half and half, prime rib, and potatoes fried in coconut oil?
I assure you I have no problem (non-fiscally-related) trading those foods for peanut butter and grapeseed oil.
I hope this serves as a great reference for years to come for those interested in lowering their cellular levels of omega 6 polyunsaturated fat.
And keep in mind that this says nothing of the free radical damage done to our bodies by omega 6 fats, which is a whole other problem with rich omega 6 sources like solvent-extracted vegetable oil that this doesn’t even address.
For further indication of how significant this dramatic rise in omega 6 consumption has been over the past century to our collective health, also be sure to read…
Dr. Stephan Guyenet (pr: Ghee-ya-Nay) of http://www.wholehealthsource.blogspot.com/ informs me that cytokines aren’t exactly manufactured from omega 6 as described by Barry Sears and myself in recent posts and podcasts on the topic. Instead, “Cytokines are one of the factors that promotes the release of eicosanoids [which ARE derived from omega 6, and are associated with various inflammatory illnesses].” Either way, omega 6 fatty acid overload is intimately tied to inflammatory reactions and subsequent tissue damage. Thanks Stephan.