What are omega-6 fatty acids? Omega-6 (n-6 polyunsaturated) fatty acids are the other group of essential fats that your body needs to function properly but does not make. Hence, they need to be consumed in the diet. Food sources of omega-6 fatty acids include some vegetable oils (soybean, safflower, sunflower or corn oils), nuts and seeds. Increased consumption of omega-6 fatty acids in place of saturated fats and trans fats is associated with a decreased risk of coronary heart disease. American Heart Association
Should I worry about eating too much omega-6 fatty acids? No. Omega-6 fatty acids are one of the “better” fats that may actually lower your risk of heart disease. However, it is important to avoid eating too much of any one type of fat, even better fats, or any other source of calories, because of the potential problem of weight gain. So, stay within recommended amounts of omega-6 fatty acids. American Heart Association
Eating fish, especially oily fish, at least twice per week is recommended for heart disease prevention. Fish is low in total and saturated fats, high in protein and essential trace minerals, and contains long-chain omega-3 fatty acids (EPA and DHA). Oily fish rich in these healthy omega-3s include salmon, trout, albacore tuna, sardines, anchovies, mackerel and herring. Our omega-3 needs can also be met by eating less-oily (lower-fat) fish more often.
Tilapia and catfish are examples of lower-fat fish that have fewer omega-3s than the oily fish listed above, but still provide more of these heart-healthy nutrients than hamburger, steak, chicken, pork or turkey. Actually, a 3 ounce serving of these fish provides over 100 mg of the long chain omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA. Considering that this is about the current daily intake of these fatty acids in the US, even these fish should be considered better choices than most other meat alternatives. Since they are also relatively low in total and saturated fats and high in protein, they clearly can be part of a healthy diet.
US Department of Agriculture statistics indicate that farmed tilapia and catfish contain somewhat more omega-6 fatty acids than omega-3. Most health experts (including organizations such as the American Heart Association and the American Dietetic Association) agree that omega-6 fatty acids are, like omega-3s, heart-healthy nutrients which should be a part of everyone’s diet. Omega-6 fatty acids are found primarily in vegetable oils (corn, soybean, safflower, etc) but also in salad dressings, nuts, whole-wheat bread, and chicken.
Replacing tilapia or catfish with “bacon, hamburgers or doughnuts” is absolutely not recommended.
William S. Harris, PhD, FAHA
Sr. Scientist and Director
Metabolism and Nutrition Research Center
Sioux Falls, SD
Thomas Barringer, MD, FAHA, Medical Director, Center for Cardiovascular Health; Philip Calder, PhD, Professor of Nutritional Immunology, University of Southampton, UK; Marguerite M. Engler, RN, PhD, FAHA, Professor, Dept. of Physiological Nursing UC San Francisco; Mary B. Engler, PhD, RN, MS, FAHA, Professor and Director, Cardiovascular and Genomics Graduate Program, Dept. of Physiological Nursing, UC San Francisco; Bruce Holub, PhD, Professor Emeritus, Dept of Human Biology and Nutritional Sciences, University of Guelph, Ontario, Canada; Peter Howe, PhD, Professor and Director, Nutritional Physiology Research Centre, University of South Australia; Penny Kris-Etherton, PhD, RD, FAHA, Distinguished Professor of Nutrition, Penn State University; Dariush Mozaffarian, MD, DrPH, DSc, Assistant Professor, Harvard School of Public Health; Joyce A. Nettleton, DSc, Editor, PUFA and Fats of Life Newsletters, Denver; Yongsoon Park, PhD, Chair and Assistant professor, Department of Food and Nutrition, Hanyang University, Seoul, Korea; Eric Rimm ScD, FAHA, Associate Professor, Harvard Schools of Medicine and of Public Health; Larry Rudel, PhD, FAHA, Professor of Biochemistry, Wake Forest University, Winston-Salem; Frank Sacks, MD, FAHA, Professor of Cardiovascular Disease Prevention, Harvard School of Public Health; Andy Sinclair, PhD, Chair in Human Nutrition, School of Exercise and Nutrition Sciences; Deakin University, Burwood, Australia; Clemens von Schacky, MD, Cardiology, Ludwig Maximilians-Universität München, Munich, Germany.