Omega-3 + Omega-6: Are you in balance?

Lisa Nelson, RD, LN Health Pro
  • As a special feature for American Heart Month, we are fortunate to have internationally-renowned registered dietitian, Ashley Koff, answer some questions on Omega-3 and Omega 6.


    Ashley believes better nutrition is simple and is on a mission to help people achieve their personal health goals by providing simple but highly effective tips and strategies. She emphasizes the value of quality nutrition choices in achieving optimal health.


    Let’s jump into the Q&A…


    What are Omega-3 and Omega-6?


    Ashley Koff: Omega-3 and Omega-6s are essential fatty acids (EFAs). Both are essential to the structure and function of our cells, and regulate critical aspects of brain function, metabolism, and immune-system health. We cannot make omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids in our bodies, so we have to get them from foods or supplements.

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    We need omega-3s in our diet to help prevent chronic inappropriate inflammation. Insufficient omega-3s are associated with a lengthy list of health problems including heart attacks and stroke. Unfortunately, most Americans get a high percentage of pro-inflammatory omega-6 fatty acids in their diets but not enough omega-3s. In fact, the average American diet now provides 20 or more parts omega-6s to one part omega-3s. That’s about seven times higher than the three-to-one intake ratio shown to deter major diseases and promote optimal health. We need to bring that back into a healthful balance.


    There’s an easy, at-home way to check your own levels with a Vital Omega-3 and -6 HUFA Test kit. It’s available through, and is discounted to participants of the 100 Days to Better Heart Health Program. It’s a great way to know your omega balance starting point, as you challenge yourself to improve your ratio.


    What are some common food sources of omega-6 that should be limited?


    Ashley Koff: Omega-6 fats are found in the vegetable oils, such as corn and soy, that started replacing butter and lard in the 1960s. They are also found in most margarines, and in most baked goods as well as in fast-food meals and other restaurant dishes.


    What are some top food choices you recommend to boost daily omega-3 intake?

    Ashley Koff: There are two primary types of omega-3. The only type your body needs is long-chain (EPA and DHA) which is found in seafood. You can get short chain omega-3s (ALA) from plant sources such as flax, but the body can only convert less than 10 percent of dietary ALA into EPA, and less than one-half of one percent into DHA. That’s why it is best to try for two servings a week of fatty fish, such as wild salmon, sardines and tuna.


    Do you recommend omega-3 supplements?


    Ashley Koff: Omega-3 supplements vary dramatically in quality and the amount of EPA/DHA they contain. If you don’t eat a sufficient amount of fatty fish, or if the Vital Choice Omega-3 and -6 HUFA test indicates you need to correct an omega-3/omega-6 imbalance, choose a supplement created from whole-food forms such as wild Alaskan salmon oil supplements.


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    Do all forms of omega-3 effectively reduce heart disease risk?


    Ashley Koff: The American Heart Association recognizes that long-chain omega-3s from fish – DHA and EPA – help to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease by moderating blood pressure, promoting healthy artery function, lowering triglycerides, reducing blood stickiness, stabilizing arterial plaque and inhibiting its accumulation, and reducing the risk of arrhythmias that can lead to sudden cardiac death. Omega-3s don’t lower total or LDL cholesterol levels, however they reduce the oxidation of LDL cholesterol and improve the ratio of HDL (good) cholesterol to non-HDL cholesterol. The latter two measures are considered more accurate predictors of cardiovascular health risk, compared with total or LDL cholesterol levels.


    What health benefits are linked to omega-3 other than reduced heart disease risk?


    Ashley Koff: What’s good for the heart is good for the entire body. Optimal omega-3 levels are considered good for brain health, and for reducing the inappropriate inflammation which is a key risk factor of all major diseases. EPA also appears to support and promote healthy mood and good mental health. DHA helps to regulate gene expression, supports men’s reproductive health, and plays a role in children’s eye and brain development.


    About Ashley Koff, R.D.:


    Qualitarian  |   Nutrition Expert  |  Health Advocate


    Ashley Koff is an internationally-renowned registered dietitian. She believes better nutrition is simple and is on a mission to help people achieve their personal health goals by providing simple but highly effective tips and strategies. A self-described “Qualitarian,” Koff emphasizes the value of quality nutrition choices in achieving optimal health. Koff develops tools such as The AKA Nutrition Plan for Optimal Health and The AKA List (Ashley Koff Approved) to help healthcare practitioners and health-interested consumers choose better quality groceries, dietary supplements, and prepared food. This database of over fifty thousand products to date includes selections based on rigorous standards of nutrition, sourcing methods, and marketing integrity, backed by extensive research and globe-spanning travels to get the whole food story. The tagline “AKA can’t be bought, it’s earned” highlights the non-profit, non-financially influenced nature of this project.


    Widely sought for her knowledge and ability to translate nutrition science into practical and motivating messages, Koff regularly appears on national television programs, including “The Dr. Oz Show,” “The Doctors”, and national and local news programs. She is also frequently featured in and writes articles for national publications, including The New York Times, O!:The Oprah Magazine, Every Day with Rachael Ray, Redbook, and Women’s Health. She is currently a contributing editor for Prevention and Natural Health magazines, on the advisory boards of Fitness, and the editorial advisory board of Prevention magazine where she has her own online column, and writes for several blogs including The Huffington Post.   She also serves on the faculty of the Continuum Center for Health and Healing at the Beth Israel Medical Center in New York City. Koff was educated at both Duke and New York Universities and trained at LA+USC and Columbus Children’s hospitals. She completed coursework for Certified Clinical Nutritionist (CCN) and continues her education with online integrative medicine modules and conferences.

Published On: February 21, 2014