It's impossible to say that omega 3 is better than omega 6, because both are essential oils, and both work in concert. However it's fair to say that omega 3 supplementation is needed and that the average Western diet contains far too much omega 6. The most important fact about omega 6 vs omega 3 is that these oils need to be consumed in balance. The ratio between omega 6 and 3 is therefore the most important number to keep in mind.
If omega 6 is the gas pedal, then omega 3 is the brake. The brake without the gas pedal is useless, because it will get you nowhere. The gas pedal without a brake is heading for disaster and death. The same is true for omega 3 vs omega 6. WellWise explained the toxic side effects of omega 6 over-consumption on the Omega 6 Benefits page.
Ideal omega 6 to 3 ratio
There’s an ideal ratio between omega 6 and omega 3. Originally, when we were hunter-gatherers that ratio was 1:1. Meaning that we consumed the same quantity of omega 6 as the omega 3 quantity. Scientific studies, based on statistical analysis, set the desired omega 6 to omega 3 ratio at 5:1. Meaning that we need to consume 1 gram of pure omega 3 for every 5 grams of omega 6 that we consume.
The Western diet contains massive quantities of omega 6, and thus it is important to moderate that, while actively increasing omega 3 intake. Westerners consume on averrage 35 times more omega 6 than omega 3.
Krill oil: Krill Oil has the best ratio of all oils, even though on the surface krill oil contains less omega 3 than standard fish oil. In krill oil the majority of the omega 3s is in phospholipid form and not in triglyceride form as in fish oil. In other words, krill oil omega 3s are identical to the lipids in the human cell membrane, whereas fish oils are not. Fish oil needs to be made into phospholipids by the liver. This conversion process is inefficient and does not guarantee that the fish EPA and DHA ends up in the cell membrane.
The omega 6 to omega 3 ratio in krill oil is 1:12, and this ratio is even better than the omega 6 to 3 ratio of fish oil. One krill oil supplier (Neptune Bioressources) claims a ratio of 1:15 but such ratio can only be achieved from krill caught during the 4 week peak window of the harvesting season. In the charts to the right the omega 6 to 3 ratios of krill oil, fish oil, flaxseed oil, canola, soybean and corn oil are shown in order from best to worst.
Fish: cold water fish is the best source for omega 3 EPA and DHA. The omega 6 content of fish is the same as for cold water fish oils. The fish oil omega 6 to 3 ratio is around 1:7. Not all fish are a good source of EPA and DHA. Catfish for example contains 10 times less EPA/DHA than salmon. Salmon contains approximately 3 grams of EPA and DHA per 6 ounces (170 grams).
Fish oil: The standard fish oils are made from fatty fish such as sardines, anchovis, mackerel, and menhaden. These fish oils have typically 18% EPA omega 3 and 12% DHA omega 3. They also contain around 3% omega 6. The omega 6 to omega 3 ratio of fish oil is around 1:8 (see chart above).
Canola oil is the best antidote against corn oil
Canola oil: This healthy vegetable oil contains around 11% ALA (alpha linoleic acid), which is an omega 3 precursor for EPA and DHA. The disadvantage of ALA is that it must compete with LA (linoleic acid) in the conversion to longer fatty acids such as EPA and DHA. ALA converts very poorly to EPA and extremely poorly to DHA because of this competition with the omega 6 LA. It has been estimated that less than 5% of ALA converts to EPA, and that less than 1% converts to DHA. The omega 6 to omega 3 ratio in canola oil is 1:2. However, keep in mind that the EPA is converted from ALA in a ratio of 1:20.
To get 1 gram of EPA, one needs 20 grams of ALA. So the omega 6 to EPA/DHA ratio of canola oil is more like 8:1. The fish oil ratio of omega 6 to EPA/DHA is 56 times better, and the krill oil omega 6 to EPA/DHA ratio is at least 80 times better.
Corn oil and soybean oil are the number 1 and 2 sources of dietary omega 6 consumption. These oils contain virtually no omega 3, and massive quantities of omega 6. The omega 6 to 3 ratio of these oils is worst than 100:1. A diet of solely these omega 6 oils would be surely result in deadly diseases over the long haul. An easy and cheap strategy to reverse the dangerous omega 6 to 3 ratio from corn and soybean oils is to replace corn oil and soybean oil with the healthier canola oil. WellWise presented 10 easy steps to change the omega 6 to 3 ratio on the Omega 6 Food Tips page.
Flaxseed oil is a better source for omega 3 ALA than canola oil, but flaxseed oil cannot be used as a cooking oil as canola oil can. The omega 6 to omega 3 ratio of flaxseed is around 1:3. So flaxseed oil may be healthier, but it is less practical to use.
Omega 6 to omega 3 ratio table
The following table shows that the comparison of omega 6 to omega 3 is meaningless if the conversion of ALA to EPA and then onto DHA is not taken into account. Omega 3 from plants such as from rape seeds (canola) or flax seeds is in the form of ALA, which has no purpose other than being a precursor for EPA and DHA. In the chart below we depict the ratio's between omega 6 and EPA and DHA. These numbers are rough estimates, because each oil can differ from batch to batch and from season to season. More blue in the chart relative to red is better. Again, krill oil has the best ratio. The omega 3 benefits of flaxseed and canola oil are far less in this chart, because little of the lesser omega 3 ALA actually converts to the critical EPA and DHA.
The table below shows the same information in more detailed numbers. Again, these numbers are approximations. The table shows that krill oil has an omega 6 to EPA/DHA ratio that is 80 times better than canola oil and 50 times better than flax seed oil.
Disclaimer: The information provided in this section is a public service of WellWise.org, and should not in any way substitute for the advice of a qualified healthcare professional and is not intended to constitute personal medical advice. Copyright WellWise.