Omega-6 rich oils are ubiquitous in the processed and packaged food world as they are found in baked goods, frozen items, cereals, crackers, energy bars, salad dressings, and so forth. And now that consumers have become so savvy about the dangers of trans fats, food manufacturers have begun replacing one bad boy fat with another; instead of your favorite brand of crackers being made with partially hydrogenated oil it is more likely than not that if you read the ingredients list on the back of the cracker package it is now sporting a “trans fat free” (but also not healthy!) processed vegetable oil.
In addition to omega-6 rich vegetable oils being used in excess in processed foods, they are also used with a heavy hand in home kitchens. Those bottles of “pure” vegetable oil and corn oil are loaded with highly refined and highly inflammatory omega-6 rich fats and should not be used as part of an anti-inflammatory diet.
Plus, because they are in oil form they are very easy to over-consume. It is a whole lot easier to eat 100 calories of omega-6 fat from corn oil than it is to get 100 calories of omega-6 fat from “whole food” corn!
Unfortunately, most people get most of their omega-6 fat from highly refined empty-calorie vegetable oils such as corn oil, “pure” vegetable oil, peanut oil, soybean oil, sunflower oil, safflower oil, and cottonseed oil. Despite their healthy-enough sounding names, most vegetable oils are anything but healthy. Conventional, modern-day processing techniques used to refine grains and seeds into vegetable oils damage the omega-6 fat within the oil and make the LA incapable of converting to the beneficial GLA our bodies really need.
“Whole Food” Processing
The modern-day processing techniques also strip the original “whole food” (corn, soybeans, sunflowers, and peanuts) of its other nutrients and antioxidants, thus rendering an empty-calorie, highly processed food. Furthermore, the vast majority of omega-6-rich vegetable oils have been heated to very high temperatures during processing, even though the omega-6 fats within these oils are very fragile and cannot withstand high-heat temperatures.
Vegetable oils that are not cold pressed, or at the very least, expeller pressed, should be thought of as empty-calorie, highly refined foods—foods to be avoided. The easiest way to avoid getting too much empty-calorie omega-6 fat is to eliminate processed vegetable oils (corn, “pure” vegetable oil, peanut oil, soybean oil, safflower oil, sunflower oil, and cottonseed oil) from your diet and avoid eating processed foods containing these oils. Instead, use healthier oils containing more omega-3 fats and more monounsaturated fats and eat “whole” food sources of omega-6 plant foods instead (see suggestions at the bottom of the article.)
Meet the “Super Omega-6 Fat”
You might be questioning why omega-6 fat should even be eaten at all. The reason is, you still need omega-6 fat and you actually need slightly more of it than omega-3 fat. The form of omega-6 fat you get from food is called LA (linoleic acid), and it is converted by your body into GLA (gamma linolenic acid), an omega-6 fat your body can directly utilize. It is difficult to get GLA from food but you can easily get it from supplements such as evening primrose oil, spirulina, black currant seed oil, or borage oil. (click images to purchase) It is important to take note that most people are not getting their omega-6 fat from GLA, but rather from LA. As part of an anti-inflammatory diet I routinely suggest my patients supplement their diets with GLA (typically I recommend 1,300 mg of evening primrose oil daily.) GLA has potent anti-inflammatory benefits and none of the negative side effects associated with anti-inflammatory drugs. I like to think of GLA as a “super omega-6 fat” because it not only reduces inflammation but also supports a healthy metabolism, nourishes your hair, skin and nails, and even helps regulate hormones and reduce symptoms of PMS and menopause. Although it is pretty much impossible to get GLA from most foods, it is worth noting you can obtain this “super omega-6 fat” directly from eating hemp seeds and hemp seed oil, both of which are excellent anti-inflammatory foods.
Your Choice of Meat Matters Too
Eating more “whole” plant foods and less animal foods in general is an important component of an anti-inflammatory diet. When you do eat animal foods it is essential to buy the absolute highest quality. You should also make every effort to purchase meat from grass-fed animals rather than grain-fed, since grass-fed animals have a more optimal omega-6 to omega-3 ratio.
Choose “Whole” Food Sources of Omega-6 Fats (Anti-Inflammatory Foods)
Finally, in order to be certain you are obtaining the omega-6 fats your body needs in their freshest, most nutritious form, eat “whole foods” sources of unrefined omega-6-rich foods daily, such as whole soybeans, corn, nuts, all-natural nut butters, seeds (including hemp seeds), all-natural seed butters, wheat germ, tofu, tempeh, whole grains, and soymilk.
Monday 4th of November 2013
I know that sunflower oil isn't considered a healthy choice but I'd like your opinion on a product I bought that has some in the ingredients. It's by Nature's Path Organic & called Qi'a superfood. Ingredients are chia, buckwheat, and hemp,(cranberries coated with sunflower oil) almonds, natural vanilla flavor. Wondering your thoughts on this food product. I'm trying to eat clean.;) thanks!
Sunday 10th of November 2013
hi Heather! I think the very small amount used just to coat the cranberries is ok in the grand scheme of things. and by the way, I have that cereal too and I love it! I think it is a great breakfast choice to put on top of a bowl of fresh fruit. Hope this helps?