The ketogenic diet is a low carb, high fat, moderate protein eating style. Removing processed sugar and carbs is a significant first step to optimizing your diet. The next important step is to look at the types of fats you are consuming. Similar to carbs, not all fats are created equal. On a nutrition label, you can see the types of fats broken down into different types: trans, saturated, monounsaturated, and polyunsaturated. Each one plays a different role in the body, and some are better than others. Omega-3 and omega-6 are two polyunsaturated fats that are essential for life-
A polyunsaturated fat, like other types of fat, is a chain of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen. It is differentiated from other types of fats because it has two or more carbon-carbon double bonds. It is also the most unstable type of fat, meaning that it can oxidize and go rancid if exposed to high heat or too much light.
Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids are types of polyunsaturated fats that are essential to human life. It is crucial to obtain Omega-3s and 6s from the diet because the body cannot produce them. A deficiency of these fatty acids can cause rough scaly skin, dermatitis, brittle nails, and more.
It is essential to balance the ratio between Omega-3 and Omega-6 in your body because they compete for the same enzymes. As a result, if there is significantly more of one type of fatty acid, you will not be able to use and absorb the other. Most people have too much Omega-6 and not enough Omega-3. The ideal ratio is 4:1 (4 Omega-6s for every 1 Omega-3), and an optimal ratio is 1:1. The average American has an Omega-6 to 3 ratio of 20:1. That means we are consuming 20x more Omega-6 than Omega-3!
Omega-3 fatty acids support brain function, reduce inflammation, and improve heart health in the body. There are 11 types of Omega-3. The three most important are alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA).
Alpha-Linolenic Acid (ALA)
ALA is the only fatty acid that is truly essential. This means that the body cannot produce ALA and it must be obtained from the diet. ALA is found mostly in plants. Good sources of ALA include chia seeds, flax, hemp seeds, walnuts, soybeans, spinach, and kale.
ALA converts into DHA and EPA in the body. However, the conversion rate is only 1-10% for EPA and 0.5-5% for DHA. The conversion rate is dependent on other nutrients and electrolytes in the body. As a result, it is recommended that EPA and DHA should also be regularly consumed in the diet.
Eicosapentaenoic Acid (EPA)
EPA reduces inflammation in the body and helps form signaling molecules in the body. This form of Omega-3 can also decrease the risk of cardiovascular disease. Because the body does not produce significant amounts of EPA from ALA conversion, it is crucial to find dietary sources of the fatty acid. EPA is mostly found in animal foods, specifically fatty fish like salmon. Smaller amounts of EPA are found in meat, dairy, and eggs.
Docosahexaeonoic Acid (DHA)
DHA keeps your nervous system functioning properly. Gray matter in the brain contains significant amounts of DHA, so it is essential for brain development. Additionally, DHA is anti-inflammatory and an important component of skin and retina in the eye. DHA is found mostly in fatty fish. It is also present in meat, dairy, and eggs.
The recommended daily intake of ALA is 1.1g for females and 1.6g for males. There is no recommended daily intake for EPA or DHA because they are not essential fatty acids since the body can produce them, even though the conversion rate from ALA is so low. However, the established benefits of consuming an additional 400-500mg of EPA and DHA suggest that this may be an adequate intake.
Unless you are consuming fatty cuts of fish multiple times a week, it can be challenging to get an adequate amount of DHA and EPA. To obtain optimal levels of DHA and EPA, supplementing is practically required. I supplement daily with 1tsp of cod liver oil from Carlson Labs. One serving contains 500mg of DHA and 400mg of EPA, as well as vitamins like A, D and E.
Omega-6 fatty acids support muscle growth, hormone production, and help brain growth. Although they are essential and very beneficial to the body, Omega-6s can cause inflammation. Therefore, it is optimal to not consume more than the body needs. The Food and Nutrition Board of the US Institute of Medicine states that adults should consume 15g of Omega-6 fatty acids per day.
Omega-6 is most commonly found in the form of linoleic acid. We consume Omega-6s from nuts, seeds, grains, leafy veggies, vegetable oils and more.
It is not necessary to supplement with Omega-6s because we are regularly overconsuming them. Instead, the focus should be on limiting the bad sources of Omega-6 in the diet.
The Problem with Vegetable Oils
Although Omega-6s are essential, there is a problem with overconsuming or consuming the wrong forms. Vegetable oils like soybean, canola, and corn are in nearly all prepackaged foods. These oils are heated to high temperatures and refined or hydrogenated. As a result, they are oxidized and rancid. Consuming these unstable unsaturated fats is another contributor to inflammation in the body. It is best to avoid these oils and obtain Omega-6s from other sources, like nuts and seeds.
Soybean oil makes up approximately 20% of the calories in an average American diet. On a standard 2,000 calorie diet, that’s 45g of soybean oil. Each tablespoon contains 6.9g of linoleic acid. This adds up to a whopping 20.7g of linoleic acid, just from soybean oil! The recommended daily intake of Omega-6 is only 15g.
What to Avoid
As more attention is being brought to the importance of limiting vegetable oils in the diet, companies are beginning to change the ingredients of their products. However, don’t be fooled. Some products will say “Made with avocado oil!” on the package. If you flip it over, avocado oil is on the ingredient list, but there is usually a vegetable oil listed as well.
The easiest way to avoid over-consumption of Omega-6 is to read ingredient labels of products and avoid the following:
Vegetable oils are also used to fry foods, like wings. If possible, find restaurants that fry using beef tallow. Buffalo Wild Wings is an example. Usually, you can find this information with the restaurant’s nutrition facts on their website.
Since vegetable oils are found in most store-bought dressings, dips, and spreads, it can be challenging to avoid over-consuming Omega-6s. On a ketogenic diet, it is especially tricky because you usually need extra sources of fat from products like these. Luckily, there are now several options that are made with avocado oil instead of vegetable oils. Primal Kitchen makes delicious salad dressings and mayo. Chosen Foods is another brand that offers similar products. Both of these brands are more expensive than traditional dressings, so a good alternative is to make your own!
Easy Homemade Mayo
Add ingredients to a jar and let the egg sink to the bottom. Place an immersion blender to the bottom of the jar and mix for 20 seconds until everything is incorporated and creamy. Keep refrigerated.
Homemade Ranch Dressing
Put all ingredients in a jar and shake or mix well to combine. Keep refrigerated.
Good Omega-6 Sources
As mentioned above, Omega-6s are essential to the body. There are good sources of Omega-6s, and it’s important to be consuming them regularly. Below is a list of linoleic acid content in a 1-ounce serving of some Omega-6-rich foods:
To summarize, we are overconsuming Omega-6 and under-consuming Omega-3. An excellent first step to repair the imbalanced ratio is to limit Omega-6s. We can do this by not consuming vegetable oils regularly. Nuts and seeds are the best sources of Omega-6s for the body. DHA and EPA are the two most important Omega-3 fatty acids. ALA, while essential, is not as important because its role is to convert to EPA or DHA, which it does at a low rate anyway. EPA and DHA can be found in animal foods, especially fatty cuts of fish. Supplementation of Omega-3 is almost necessary if you are striving to achieve an optimal 1:1 ratio of Omega-3 to 6. Fish oil or cod liver oil is the best supplementation option. I would recommend opting for the lemon flavors because they do not taste fishy!
Here is an example of a ketogenic day of eating with a balanced Omega-3 to 6 ratio:
|Omega-3 ALA (g)||Omega-3 EPA (g)||Omega-3 DHA (g)||Omega-6 (g)|
|4oz 80/20 ground beef||0.058||0||0||0.5|
|1oz cheddar cheese||0.025||0.003||0||0.3|
|1tsp Cod Liver Oil||0||0.31||0.494||0|
|3oz wild caught salmon||0.038||0.273||0.948||0|
|2tbsp Primal Kitchen Dressing||0.24||0||0||3.13|
|8oz Ribeye steak||0.094||0.026||0||0.7|
|1tbsp grass fed butter||0||0||0||0|
|1oz macadamia nuts||0.036||0||0||0.4|
|1oz 90% dark chocolate||0||0||0||0|
The ratio in this example is 2.5:1 Omega-6 to 3. Without supplementation of Omega-3 and limiting Omega-6, it would be challenging to achieve a ratio within the desired range of 1:1 and 4:1.
Balancing Omega-3 to 6 ratios in the diet allows your body to utilize more EPA and DHA. Limiting Omega-6 reduces inflammation in the body. Overall, balancing the intake of these fatty acids allows you to continue improving your health and wellbeing.