Omega-3 Fatty Acids Can Reduce Your Risk of Type 2 Diabetes

Balance Your Intake of Omega-3 and Omega-6 Fatty Acids

Walnuts in wooden bowl
Walnuts are a good source of omega-3 fatty acids. Arx0nt/Getty Images

When it comes lowering your risk for metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes and coronary heart disease, eating foods that cause the least amount of inflammation might be the best diet of all. High levels of inflammation lead to vascular damage and insulin resistance.

Omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids are an essential source of energy found in animal and vegetable fats and oils. The general consensus is that eating the right proportion of omega-3 and omega-6 reduces inflammation in the body. It used to be easy to obtain that balance, before processed and fast foods became so prevalent in our typical American diet. These days, sources of omega-3 fatty acids are hard to find, while the consumption of omega-6 fatty acids has increased. This imbalance is thought to contribute to the inflammation that increases the risk of developing diseases like type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

Back in the old days, before processed foods, omega-3 fatty acids were abundant in many foods. Free-range animals and poultry grazed naturally which gave them a rich supply of omega-3, which was then passed on to us through their eggs, milk and meat. With the mass production of our food supply, omega-3 has been greatly reduced if not totally obliterated in a majority of the things we eat.

On the other hand, consumption of omega-6 has increased through the years. Americans get plenty of omega-6 fatty acids due to consumption of vegetable oils such as corn, sunflower, safflower, soybean and cottonseed in most processed and fast food. This further disrupts the delicate balance of omega-3 and omega-6 that we need for health. A high level of inflammation, vascular damage and disease is the end result.

It's not that omega-6 fatty acids are bad and omega-3 are good. It's the balance of both that keeps us healthy. Finding healthier sources of omega-6 is just as important as adding more omega-3 to our diets.

Avoid the over-processed foods and fast foods that use vegetable oils. Use olive oil, which is a healthy, neutral oil that is not rich in omega-6 fatty acids. Eat more nuts and seeds, being mindful of portion sizes. Even though nuts and seeds are good for you, they still pack a wallop in calories and fat grams.

Add more foods that are rich in omega-3 to your diet. Eat fish once or twice a week. Snack on walnuts (again, being mindful of portion sizes) and add ground flax seed to foods that you eat.

Sources of omega-3 fatty acids:

  • Salmon, sardines, herring, mackerel, and other cold water fatty fish
  • Walnuts
  • Flaxseeds
  • Canola oil
  • Eggs from free range chickens

Sources of omega-6 fatty acids:

  • Nuts and seeds
  • Vegetable oils (such as soybean, cottonseed, corn, sunflower, and safflower oil)
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Article Sources

  • Giugliano, MD, PhD, Dario, Ceriello, MD, Antonio, & Esposito, MD, PhD, Katherine The Effects of Diet on Inflammation. Journal of the American College of Cardiology, 48:677-687, 
  • Weil, MD, Andrew (2007, Feb 22). Balancing Omega-3 and Omega-6. Ask Dr. Weil,