The Right Ratio of These 2 Healthy Fats Can Help You Slim Down — And More
What you eat impacts your health more than you think.
An unfortunate side effect of our increasing consumption of ultra-processed oils? Packing on hard-to-lose pounds. But there’s a potential fix: Striking the right balance between certain kinds of dietary fat. Since forever, we’ve heard about dietary fat’s role in weight loss. We’ve read about saturated and unsaturated fat and tried low-fat and high-fat plans; we’ve reached for handfuls of walnuts and forkfuls of fatty fish. But it’s been hard to determine exactly what to do to make a dent in our waistline. That’s where we come in! Read what the experts have to say about the fats that help you fight fat, and how to balance them to optimize their benefits below.
Which fats help you lose weight?
Experts have discovered an easy approach that involves eating the right daily balance of two essential fatty acids — polyunsaturated fats known as omega-3s and omega-6s. In the simplest terms, omega-3s come from “leaves” (like spinach, seaweed, and Brussels sprouts) and the animals that eat them (grass-fed cattle and seaweed-snacking fish); omega-6s come from “seeds,” or nuts and grains (exceptions are flax and chia, both of which are rich in omega-3s).
“Getting the right balance of these two omegas is the most important choice related to fats that you can make,” contends nutrition researcher Anthony J. Hulbert, PhD. He pored over a century’s worth of data and concluded that people who eat lots of healthy omega-3s in relation to their omega-6 intake are slimmer. But unlike the minimum daily requirements that work for vitamins, it’s the balance between the two that matters, as they compete for space in our cells.
What is the right balance of omega-3s and omega-6s?
Health expert Marianna Moore recommends that adults consume 1.1 to 1.6 grams of Omega-3s daily and about 6.4 grams of omega-6s. But sadly, modern diets fall short. “Today, women aren’t getting enough omega-3s,” says Yale-trained Susan Allport, author of The Queen of Fats. Why? Our food supply has been flooded with omega-6s in processed food, at the expense of less shelf-stable omega-3s. Indeed, intake of omega-3s has dropped, says Dr. Hulbert. Instead, we’re unknowingly consuming processed omega-6 oils, thanks to restaurant fare and boxed food. In short: Dr. Hulbert says, “Omega-6s fatten up our body like they do for livestock.”
Once consumed, inflammatory omega-6s cause fat tissue to proliferate. They may also affect our endocannabinoid system, leading to inflammation and low mood. The downstream effects of that? One study found folks who ate the highest ratio of omega-6s to omega-3s gained more weight over a period of 10 years than those who didn’t.
Weight-loss expert Fred Pescatore, MD, says, “You’ll never lose weight if your diet is tipped too far in the direction of pro-inflammatory omega-6s.” By contrast, omega-3s may reduce fat-tissue growth. Says Dr. Hulbert, over time, as 3s replace 6s in cell membranes, those cells make less fat, so weight is easier to lose.
How do I achieve the right omega fat ratio?
Thankfully, it’s not hard to achieve optimal omega balance. Just eat more omega-3–rich foods and reduce your intake of fried or packaged foods. Allport explains, “Before each meal, scan your plate and make sure you always have a source of omega-3s, like from fish, enriched eggs, or grass-fed meat or butter.”
Slimming is just the start of the benefits. “If you make sure you’re getting more omega-3s than before, you’ll quickly lose weight,” says Allport. You may also experience less joint pain, better skin, and strengthened immunity.
This content is not a substitute for professional medical advice or diagnosis. Always consult your physician before pursuing any treatment plan.
A version of this article originally appeared in our print magazine, First For Women.