|Good food choices begin with good information. The Omega-3+6 Balance Scores on our foods convey a critical nutrition factor
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Introduction: Omega-3 basics
Like vitamins and minerals, people need omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids to survive and thrive.
Foods contain two kinds of omega-3 and omega-6 fats: “short-chain” from plant foods and “long-chain” from animal foods.
The only omega-3s and omega-6s essential to life and health are the “long-chain” types known as Highly Unsaturated Fatty Acids (HUFA).
However, if your diet lacks omega-3 and omega-6 HUFA, your body can make them from short-chain omega fats. This is why the short-chain omega fatty acids are called (somewhat misleadingly) “essential fatty acids” or EFAs.
A fast-growing body of scientific evidence shows that – in addition to adequate intake of omega-3s – maintaining good health requires roughly equal proportions of omega-3 and omega-6 HUFA in our cell membranes.
Together, omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids make up virtually 100% of the health-impacting HUFA in your cells.
What does your body's “Omega Balance” mean for health?
We coined the term “omega balance” to describe the relative proportions of omega-3 and omega-6 HUFA in people’s cells.
If you consume too few omega-3s and too many omega-6s – which produces an unhealthful “omega imbalance” in the body – your brain, heart, and immune system (including inflammation control) can’t function properly, and your risk of major diseases increases.
Ideally, your diet should contain roughly equal proportions of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids … and no more than three parts omega-6s to one part omega-3s.
The Omega 3/6 Balance Score: A guide to smart food choices
Worldwide, people’s daily Omega-3/6 Balance Scores – which are based on both their foods’ scores and the amounts of each eaten – range from +3 to -8.
The differences among international diets explain the widely varying omega balances found in various countries and ethnic groups … and their widely varying rates of death from heart disease and other degenerative, lifestyle- and diet-driven disorders.
How can you know which foods to favor and which to avoid or minimize to optimize your omega balance?
Renowned fatty acid researcher William Lands, Ph.D., developed a formula that uses USDA nutrient data to predict the impact any given food will have on the “omega balance” in your cells … a measure we call the “Omega 3/6 Balance Score”.
To help you gain and maintain a healthy omega balance, we display the Omega 3/6 Balance Score of most foods we sell, at the top of their product pages.
You will find each food’s Balance Score in the form of an OM3/6 Balance Score icon like the one shown here.
Using the Omega Balance Scores on Vital Choice foods
Foods with positive Omega 3/6 Balance Scores – such as + 5 or +20 – will increase the proportions of omega-3 HUFA in your cells.
Conversely, foods with negative Omega 3/6 Balance Scores – such as -5 or -20 – will increase the proportions of omega-6 HUFA in your cells.
You can use these general rules as a guide to food choices:
Favor foods with Positive Scores … especially fatty foods scoring +5 or higher.
Minimize foods with Negative Scores … especially fatty foods scoring -5 or lower. Foods with Scores between +5 and - 5 produce a roughly equal balance of 3s to 6s in your cells.
IMPORTANT: A food’s Balance Score alone is not the whole story. The quantity of fat you get from a typical serving of a food makes a big difference, in terms of its impact on your body’s omega balance:
- Fatty foods can have a substantial impact on your body’s omega balance, even in fairly modest quantities (i.e., one serving per day). These include seafood, oils, nuts, seeds, fatty meats and poultry. The few exceptions are noted in the table below.
- Leaner foods will not make as much impact on your body’s omega balance. In addition, most of these foods have rather neutral scores (close to zero). Leaner foods include milk products and most vegetables, fruits, grains, and beans. The few exceptions are noted in the table below.
Omega Balance Scores by Food Category
To help guide the choices you make in your overall diet, the table below shows the range of Balance Scores within each major food category, and notes any major exceptions within a food category.
Most people need to shift their diets toward Positive and Neutral Score foods, like those in the left and center columns.
To a very large extent, you can improve your scores by strictly limiting your consumption of these top sources of omega-6 fatty acids:
Peanut and other nut butters
Chips and buttered popcorn
- Takeout, and packaged foods.
Fried, battered chicken or fish
Margarine and vegetable shortening
Chicken skin (remove before or after cooking chicken)
Salad dressings ... best choices are ones made with olive or canola oil
Vegetable oils ... best choices are olive, macadamia nut, and canola oil
Note: The Volumetric Scores provided in Dr. Lands’ tables can help you adjust your dietary balance of omega-3s and omega-6s, but they are not necessary. Just eat more positive-score foods (especially those with scores above +5) and eat fewer negative score foods (especially ones that score below -5).
If the results of your Vital Omega 3 and 6 HUFA Test™
show that you need to adjust your intakes of omega-6s and omega-3s to achieve a healthier omega you can use the “Omega Balance Scores by Food Category” table above and the OM 3+6 Balance Scores on our product pages.
Again, you can readily achieve a healthier omega balance in your body if you do two things:
Minimize intake of fatty foods with negative scores (fatty meats or poultry and most oils, nuts, and seeds).
Get most of your daily calories from low-fat, neutral-score foods (e.g., most vegetables, grains, fruits, and beans) and fatty foods with positive scores (e.g., seafood and flaxseed).
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High scores hide some healthful foods
What about nuts, which are fatty and have fairly low scores, but are consistently linked to better heart and metabolic health?
While nuts have relatively low scores (-10 to -44), you probably wouldn’t eat more than about one-half ounce serving in a day.
The large proportion – but small amount – of omega-6s in a serving of nuts would be balanced by eating a small amount of a fatty food with a high positive score, such as an ounce of canned wild salmon (+35).
And, it’s critical to stress that the nutritional value of a food cannot be reduced to its Omega-3/6 Balance Score, which, while important, tells nothing about its overall nutritional profile.
Although nuts have low negative Omega-3/6 Balance Scores, nut-rich diets are linked to better heart health … probably because they are rich in polyphenols (antioxidants) and fiber.
Finally, small amounts of nuts will make you feel full, so snacking on some in the afternoon should mean that at dinner, you’ll ingest less of other foods that may contain many more omega-6s.
For example, you'd likely eat less of a fatty meat or poultry product that's typically eaten in quantities (3 to 6 ounces) that deliver larger amounts of omega-6s.
Knowledge is power …
... take an omega blood test!
You can adjust your diet to achieve roughly equal proportions of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids in your cells. But first, you need to know where you stand with regard to your cells' balance of omega-3 and omega-6 HUFA.
Our innovative Vital Omega 3 and 6 HUFA Test™, offers a simple way to measure your body's critical balance of omega-3 and omega-6 HUFA. Once you know where you stand you can begin to adjust your diet to optimize your 3/6 “omega balance”.
After three to six months of dietary adjustments, we recommend that you retake the Vital Omega 3 and 6 HUFA Test™ to see how much progress you've made. And consider monitoring your status with an annual test.
Sources and health benefits
There are two distinct omega-3 HUFA, called DHA and EPA. Both are critical to human health, and they exert different but overlapping effects in the body.
Seafood – especially fatty fish like salmon, tuna, and sardines – and fish oil supplements are the only food sources of omega-3 DHA and EPA.
Health officials in the U.S. and Europe agree that diets high in omega-3s reduce the risks of stroke, sudden cardiac death, and repeat heart attacks.
Accordingly, the U.S. FDA approved this qualified health claim for omega-3s in 2004: “Supportive but not conclusive research shows that consumption of EPA and DHA omega-3 fatty acids may reduce the risk of coronary heart disease.”
And hundreds of studies show that omega-3s either enhance or are essential to heart, skin, brain, mood, and eye health, while preliminary evidence indicates that higher omega-3 intake by mothers and infants support optimal learning, attention, coordination, and self-control.
How many omega-3s do
To date, there are no U.S. recommended daily allowances (RDAs) for omega-3s, though the U.S. Institute of Medicine (IOM) is reportedly working to establish them for different age groups and genders.
The U.S. IOM and the International Society for the Study of Fatty Acids and Lipids (ISSFAL) recommend daily EPA+DHA intake levels ranging from 260mg to 660mg, while public health authorities worldwide recommend consuming from 250mg to 500mg per day.
The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends that people without coronary heart disease eat a variety of fish, preferably oily fish (salmon, tuna, mackerel, herring and trout) at least twice a week.
The AHA advises people diagnosed with heart disease to consume about one gram (1000mg) of EPA and DHA per day, from oily fish and/or omega-3 fish oil supplements.
The Heart Association also says that people who have elevated triglyceride levels may need two to four grams of EPA and DHA per day to lower those levels, and that they should follow their physician's dosage guidance.