Has a little-known family of polyunsaturated
fatty acids called Omega-6s, which has quietly
permeated the Western diet in recent decades,
nullified the impact of heart disease-fighting
According to a new book, The Queen of Fats, the
Western diet now has so many omega-6s that eating
fish to bolster our omega-3s may not do any good.
Why? Because these two families of fats compete
in our body's metabolism.
Or, as Susan Allport, the author of this new landmark
book about the history, science and economics
of omega-3s, published by the University of California
Press (September, 2006), puts it: "It is not the
fish we are NOT eating that is our problem, but
the oils we ARE eating."
How have omega-6s saturated the Western diet so
completely and quietly? Ms. Allport's heavily
researched, fact filled book says that most of
our cooking oils are heavily laden with omega-6s
(much used corn oil, for example, has a 46 to
1 ratio of omega-6s to omega-3s; lesser used canola
oil's ratio, however, is only 2 to 1), and that
whatever omega-3s there are in oils are eliminated
if those oils are hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated
to extend the shelf life of foods, as occurs in
most food manufacturing.
Also, when farmers feed corn and soybeans (instead
of grass) to the animals we eat, their tissues
become full of omega-6s at the expense of omega-3s.
Eggs from chickens fed corn, for instance, have
one-tenth the omega-3s in them as eggs from free-range
chickens that eat greens and bugs.
According to Ms. Allport's research, the out-of-kilter
balance between these two families of fats, one
of which is derived from the fats in green leaves
(omega-3s) and the other from seeds (omega-6s),
is as much a culprit as cholesterol, saturated
and trans fats for our country's epidemics of
heart disease, obesity and other chronic health
problems. Omega-6s are not bad, she cautions;
in fact they are absolutely essential for health.
We just have too many of them.
Ms. Allport writes at a lively pace about how
scientists, in just the past two decades, have
discovered how omega-3s are essential for our
eyes to see and our brains to function, and she
also focuses on policy changes that are needed.
For example, most people are unaware of the omega-6/omega-3
problem because the USDA's dietary guidelines
do not mention it. The American Heart Association
does not distinguish between these two families
Short of overhauling some aspects of the food
processing and vegetable oil industries, which
she feels ultimately are necessary, Ms. Allport
suggests we should consume oils and fats that
have a healthier balance of omega-3s and omega-6s
and eat foods that are rich in omega-3s, including
greens, flax seed, fish, and free range (or omega-3
enriched) meat, dairy products, and eggs. She
has a handy time line of the important omega-3
discoveries (from their use in brain function
to prevention of arrhythmia), 30 pages of medical
and science journal citations, interviews with
researchers and a handy glossary of terms.