The benefits of omega-3 are widely documented, though many of us know less about omega-6. While both fats play an essential role in our health, research has revealed that getting the right balance of omega-3 and omega-6 can help avoid a number of chronic diseases. This is mostly due to their opposing roles in reducing and triggering inflammation.

Research around the balancing of fatty acids is particularly relevant to modern Western diets, where the ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 intake is around 15 times greater than the recommended amount. Many of us are getting too much omega-6 and not enough omega-3.

Here, we’ll explain more what omega-3 and omega-6 mean for health, and how to balance your intake.

What are omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids?

What are omega-three and omega-six fatty acids

Omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids are polyunsaturated, essential fats that the body can’t produce itself – so you have to get them through your diet.

Unlike most other fats, omega-3s and omega-6s aren’t simply used for energy and stored away; they’re also biologically active and play important roles in bodily processes.

Omega-3 fatty acids

Omega-3s form a crucial part of human cell membranes and help to fight inflammation. As a result, they have various other important functions such as improving heart health, decreasing liver fat, supporting mental health, and helping to maintain a healthy weight. 

There are many types of omega-3 fats that differ depending on their chemical size and shape. However, three of the most common are eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), and Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA).

Omega-6 fatty acids

Omega-6 is a crucial nutrient and building block of every cell in our bodies. It plays a key role in brain function, growth, and development. It also helps to maintain bone health and blood sugar levels, regulate metabolism, improve heart health, and stimulate the growth of skin and hair. 

Additional research has linked omega-6 to a lowered risk of autoimmune conditions, like arthritis – as well as heart disease because it helps to lower cholesterol levels. 

In contrast to omega-3, omega-6 also triggers inflammation – which is a natural response to help fight infection in the body. 

The most common omega-6 fat is linoleic acid, which the body converts into another fat called arachidonic acid (AA).

Why’s it important to balance your omega-3 and omega-6 intake?

Why’s it important to balance your omega-three and omega-six intake

Both omega-3 and omega-6 play important roles in our health. But due to the opposing roles they play in triggering and reducing inflammation, striking the right balance between them is an important component of health. Some inflammation is needed to protect our bodies from injury and infection, but too much can be dangerous and contribute to disease. 

For example, research has found that consuming too much omega-6 and too little omega-3 can contribute to the development of diabetes, heart disease, arthritis, and atherosclerosis. 

Studies by The Arthritis Foundation have also found that this imbalance can trigger the production of pro-inflammatory substances in the body and worsen symptoms of arthritis. Plus, other research has linked diets that are too high in omega-6 fatty acids to obesity. 

Equally, while less common a problem, it’s important to make sure you don’t go the other way and consume too much omega-3s and not enough omega-6. According to research, a lack of omega-6 in the body can cause symptoms such as dry skin, excessive thirst, short-term memory problems, mood disturbances, and trouble sleeping; and too much omega-3 can sometimes lead to high blood sugar, low blood pressure, acid reflux, and insomnia.

Many of us are eating too much omega-6 and not enough omega-3

Many of us are eating too much omega-6 and not enough omega-3

Research has revealed that many people who follow a typical Western diet are eating too much omega-6 and too little omega-3. The fact that processed foods are often made with oils high in omega-6 is a significant contributor to the overconsumption of this fat.

According to research, omega-3 to omega-6 ratios for pre-industrial populations ranged from 1:4 to 4:1, while that of hunter-gatherers who ate mostly land animals around two million years ago sat between 1:2 and 1:4. Even further back, other studies suggest that the ratio humans actually evolved to eat was somewhere around 1:1 – an amount that experts believe is beneficial for health. 

However, today studies indicate that people who follow a typical Western diet are consuming a ratio of between 1:15 and 1:17. 

While both ancient and modern hunter-gatherers had a lower life expectancy, research indicates that they lived free from modern inflammatory diseases like cancer, heart disease, and diabetes – all of which are primary causes of illness and death today. Of course, other factors, such as being less physically active and eating more sugar, also feed into these trends as well.

How much omega-3 and omega-6 should you consume?

How much omega-3 and omega-6 should you consume?

According to experts, a healthy ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids sits between 1:1 and 1:4. In translation, following the 1:4 guideline, most health organisations recommend that healthy adults consume around 500mg of omega-3 and 2g of omega-6 per day.

Sources of omega-3

Omega-3s are found in several different food sources, so it’s often possible to get enough by simply eating a healthy, balanced diet.

Oily fish is commonly recognised as the best source of omega-3 fatty acids because it contains both EPA and DHA. Fish and seafood that contains the highest amounts of omega-3s include salmon, mackerel, sardines, cod liver oil, anchovies, caviar, herring, and oysters. 

Other sources of omega-3 include nuts like walnuts, pecans, and hazelnuts; seeds including chia, pumpkin, and flax; fortified foods like eggs, orange juice, and yoghurt; as well as soya beans, spinach, avocado, and Brussel sprouts.

Note: some sources of oily fish also contain certain amounts of metals and chemicals that can be harmful. As a result, experts advise not to eat any more than four portions of oily fish a week.

Sources of omega-6

Omega-6 fatty acids are found in sources including meat, poultry, eggs, maize (corn), walnuts, tofu, peanut butter, sunflower seeds, cashews, and vegetable oils like sunflower and rapeseed.

However, processed foods that are made with vegetable oils, such as pizza, fast food, and packaged snacks like cookies, also contain omega-6. 

Due to their prevalence in Western diets, processed food is thought to be one of the – if not the most – important factors behind our overconsumption of omega-6. Therefore, it’s best to limit your intake of these foods and stick to eating as many whole foods as possible.

Balancing your omega-3 and omega-6 intake

Balancing your omega-3 and omega-6 intake

As the data from pre-modern society omega-3 to omega-6 ratios reveals, it’s very possible to consume a healthy balance of these fatty acids. And for many of us, following a healthy, balanced diet that limits processed foods is a good approach to take.

Some others top tips to consider include:

  • Avoid using processed seed and vegetable oils high in omega-6. According to research, sunflower oil, corn oil, and soybean oil are among those containing the highest amounts of omega-6.

    Instead, consider using coconut oil, olive oil, and butter in moderate amounts in their place, as these are all relatively low in omega-6.


    For example, this scientific review found that lowering intake of vegetable oil, especially those high in omega-6 significantly reduced the risk of lifestyle diseases such as heart disease, stroke, and diabetes.
  • Consume animal foods that are high in omega-3. Today, many animals are fed grain-based feeds containing soy and corn, which reduces their omega-3 content and makes them richer in omega-6.

    As a result, where possible, it’s worth opting for grass-fed animal foods for a better balance of omega-3 and omega-6.

  • Eat seafood once or twice a week. Prioritise fatty fish that’s high in omega-3.


  • Focus on eating whole foods. This includes fruit, vegetables, nuts, and lean sources of protein.


  • Where possible, consume free-range eggs. These contain higher levels of omega-3 and antioxidants. Omega-3-rich eggs typically have bright orange yolks. If your yolks are yellow, it might be worth finding a different source.


  • Speak to your GP about the possibility of taking a supplement, if you feel you’re not getting enough omega-3 from your diet. Supplementation can be an option for people who eat a lot of conventionally raised meats and/or don’t eat much (or any) seafood. Though, supplements aren’t suitable for everyone and taking large doses can be harmful, so you should always check with your GP first before taking anything.


    You can find further information on omega-3 supplements in our omega-3 article

Final thoughts…

Omega-3s and omega-6s are both essential for our health, but due to the nature of modern diet habits, striking the right balance between them can sometimes feel tricky. 

However, the good news is that often by making a few simple diet swaps, limiting our intake of processed foods, and being more mindful of where our food comes from, many of us will be able to take steps towards that healthy balance.

For more balanced diet tips, head over to the diet and nutrition section of our website. Here you’ll find everything from essential vitamin and mineral guides to quick and simple diet swaps for a healthy lifestyle