Omega-6 fatty acids: Can they cause heart disease?
Omega-6 fatty acids are a type of polyunsaturated fat found in vegetable oils, nuts and seeds. When eaten in moderation and in place of saturated fats, omega-6 fatty acids can be good for the heart and appear to protect against heart disease.
The body needs fatty acids (essential fatty acids) to work properly. It can make most of them. But the body can't make linolenic acid, an essential fatty acid that includes omega-6 fatty acids. A balanced diet is the body's main source of omega-6 fatty acids.
Fatty acids serve different functions in the body. Some are believed to cause inflammation, but others seem to have anti-inflammatory properties. Studies have failed to show an increased risk of heart disease linked to omega-6 fatty acids. In fact, research findings suggest that omega-6 fatty acids may actually reduce the risk for heart disease or stroke.
Until more is known, you can help keep your heart healthy by limiting saturated fats in your diet and choosing plant-based foods such as flaxseed or canola oil. One way to increase the amount of omega-6s in your diet is to swap butter for olive oil when cooking. Or choose Brazil nuts or walnuts as snacks. They're also rich in omega-6 fatty acids.
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