Omega 3-6 Balance Food Score

by David Mendosa Patient Advocate

Most of us know that omega-3 is good for us. Some of us are aware that more than just a tiny bit of omega-6 isn't. But hardly anyone can tell how to get the right amounts.

Now, we finally have a tool that makes it much easier for us to get our omega-3 and omega-6 in balance. This tool is the Omega 3-6 Balance Food Score. This score summarizes into a single value the balance among all the omega-3 and omega-6 essential fatty acids for 5,108 foods.

Bill Lands and Etienne Lamoreaux started with the 13,200 foods in the USDA Nutrient Database. This data is the gold standard of nutrition information. Then, they deleted redundant servings and foods that we seldom eat, like brains and raw meat to get down to a more manageable number of foods.

Dr. Bill Lands is the leading expert on omega-3 and omega-6. Until he retired in 2002 Dr. Lands was a senior scientific advisor at the U.S. National Institutes of Health. Etienne Lamoreaux is a computer specialist there.

They just released their new tool in a research report, "Using 3-6 differences in essential fatty acids rather than 3/6 ratios gives useful food balance scores," in the journal Nutrition & Metabolism. The full-text of their report is free online as a provisional PDF.

The tool shows those foods with positive scores that increase the percent of omega-3 in our bodies and the foods with negative scores that increase our percent of omega-6.

With this tool we can look at the scores of the USDA food groups and of individual foods. Either way, we can learn a lot.

Of the 24 food groups, only one has a positive score. Fish & Seafoods, comprising 151 foods, scored +30. I knew that fish was high in omega-3 but had no idea how lonely its outpost of health is. I can't think of anything that ever pointed out to me more strongly how important it is for us to regularly eat fish and seafood.

Salmon is Best for Omega-3

No second best food group exists -- all the others have a negative score. Closest to Fish & Seafoods are two groups that tie with a score of -1, Fruit & Fruit Juices and Beverages.

The worst food group? Fats & Oils score -24. That was no surprise to me, because I know that soybean oil, followed by corn oil, canola oil, and cottonseed oil make up 96 percent of the vegetable oil sold in this country and that they are almost entirely omega-6.

I never touch the stuff. Most of the vegetable oil that I use is either extra virgin olive oil or extra virgin coconut oil, both of which have among the best scores in the group.

But I was unpleasantly surprised to learn what the second worst food group is. Nuts & Seeds are almost as bad as Fats & Oils with a score of -18.

We still have to remember that the absolute amount of omega-6 fatty acids in the individual foods that we eat is more important that the ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 or even this new score. Certainly, almost all Americans need to cut way back on the amount of omega-6 we eat. But we don't have to stop eating otherwise healthful foods that are high in omega-6. A few nuts and seeds won't throw out body out of whack.

We do have to eliminate as much as possible those foods that are sky-high in omega-6 that don't give us much in return. The first to go need to be the most common vegetable oils.

Bill Lands and Etienne Lamoreaux have not only calculated the scores for the USDA Food Groups but have also given us tables that show the best and the worst individual foods.

"Eat the Three" ranks the foods with a positive score. It starts with salmon fish oil, +263, and descends down to raw rutabaga, +1.

"Nix the Six" shows that safflower oil is worst with a score of -84. Second worst is grapeseed oil at -79, which might surprise those people who have written me about using it. Did you know that some of the most negative foods are mayonnaise, microwave popcorn, and peanut butter?

All of this and much more is available on your computer. But it's also available on your iPad or iPhone, as they explain in detail at "Omega 3-6 Balance Score and Volumetric Score."

Nutrition is still largely guesswork, an art rather than a science. But for omega-3 and omega-6 we now have a great new tool to help us balance what we eat much more precisely.

David Mendosa
Meet Our Writer
David Mendosa

David Mendosa was a journalist who learned in 1994 that he had type 2 diabetes, which he wrote about exclusively. He died in May 2017 after a short illness unrelated to diabetes. He wrote thousands of diabetes articles, two books about it, created one of the first diabetes websites, and published a monthly newsletter, “Diabetes Update.” His very low-carbohydrate diet, A1C level of 5.3, and BMI of 19.8 kept his diabetes in remission without any drugs until his death.