Why You Need to Maintain Proper Balance of EPA/DHA with your intake of AAThe type of omega-3 (ω-3) in plant foods (and in meats, but in extremely tiny amounts if present) is ALA (alpha linolenic acid). To produce the majority of the omega-3’s beneficial effects, ALA must be converted to into EPA/DHA, which are the types of ω-3 found in fish and seafood. The EPA and DHA forms of ω-3 are the forms that are effective in reducing inflammation and promoting bone, brain and cardiovascular health. ALA does provide some help in lessening inflammation by competing with LA for the enzymes that metabolize both of these essential fatty acids, but ALA’s effect is minimal compared to the inflammation-fighting effects of EPA and DHA. The type of omega-6 (ω-6) found in plant foods is LA (linoleic acid), and the type primarily found in meats and dairy products is AA (arachidonic acid). AA is the pro-inflammatory ω-6. Although LA has the potential of being metabolized into pro-inflammatory AA, in actuality, hardly any LA gets converted into AA. In humans, LA is either converted into an anti-inflammatory compound called GLA (gamma linoleic acid) – this is the first step in our metabolism of LA – or LA is burned as fuel to produce energy.
Humans are not good at converting either LA to AA or ALA to EPA.We convert less than 0.1-0.2% of the LA we consume into AA. Women convert 21% of the ALA they consume into EPA, and 9% of this EPA they derive from ALA into DHA. Men convert somewhere between 5-8% of the ALA they consume into EPA. And most men convert none, 0% of this EPA into DHA. (1) For the full discussion of how ALA, LA and AA are metabolized, please see the companion article to this diet diary article: How to Determine YOUR Optimal Omega-3 Needs, and my earlier article in this series on the omega-3s: Omega-3s Prevent Our Bones and Muscles from Turning into Fat as We Age.
Step by Step: How to Track Your Omega-6 to Omega-3 RatioFor these reasons, the most important factors in your food diet diary are the AA present in the foods you eat (primarily meats and dairy products), and the EPA/DHA present in the foods you eat (primarily fish). If you want to, you can also track your ALA intake, but it will be unlikely to add much to your EPA total, and even more unlikely to affect your DHA total. If you are a woman and would like to track your ALA intake and analyze its impact on your EPA and DHA total, here’s what you need to do: Enter the ALA content of the foods on the Commonly Eaten Foods list that you are eating.
- Add up your daily ALA content.
- Take 21% of this amount, this is how much ALA you are likely to convert to EPA.
- Add this number to your EPA/DHA total.
- Enter the ALA content of the foods on the Commonly Eaten Foods list that you are eating.
- Add up your daily ALA content.
- Take 5% of this amount and add it to your EPA/DHA total.
- Divide your average daily ω-6/AA intake by 4. This will give you the number of grams of EPA/DHA that YOU require daily to achieve a 4:1 ratio.
- Then subtract your average daily EPA/DHA intake (which is the amount of EPA/DHA your diet is typically providing you) from the number of grams of EPA/DHA that you require daily to achieve a 4:1 ratio. This will tell you how many supplemental grams of EPA/DHA YOU require for a 4:1 ratio.
- Divide your average daily omega-6 intake by 2. This will give you the number of grams of EPA/DHA that YOU require daily to achieve a 2:1 ratio. The resulting number will be the number of grams of EPA/DHA YOU need daily to achieve a 2:1 ratio.
- Then subtract your average daily EPA/DHA intake from the number of grams of EPA/DHA that you require daily to achieve a 2:1 ratio. This will tell you how many supplemental grams of EPA/DHA YOU require for a 2:1 ratio.