Could This Popular Supplement Be Making You Fat?

Condé Nast Digital Studio
Condé Nast Digital Studio

By April Hussar,SELF magazine

When you hear the word "omega," you probably think, "healthy!" However, just as we've been learning over the past few years that all fats are not created equal, turns out, neither are all omegas.

See more: The Healthiest Cities for Women

William D. Lassek, M.D., a public health doctor and the co-author of Why Women Need Fat, says there are two types of polyunsaturated fats that are essential to your health and must come from your diet: omega-6 and omega-3.

"Both types are required by our bodies and both are found in large amounts in our brains," explains Lassek. "Omega-3 polyunsaturated fats are unquestionably beneficial, because they reduce both weight and inflammation and are very critical to healthy brain function," he says.

However, while our bodies do require some omega-6, Lassek says the excessive amount in the average American's diet has been shown to increase appetite and weight, and also promote inflammation in your body tissues. "Our extraordinarily heavy dose of omega-6 is not good for us," he says, noting that inflammation plays a critical role in coronary disease.

See more: How to Lose Two Pounds in One Week!

What is it about the modern diet that's leading you to eat too much omega-6? Like omega-3, omega-6 fats occur naturally in small amounts in plants and in the meat of animals that eat plants, while nuts and seeds tend to have more omega-3. "In the diet of our Stone Age ancestors, there was probably more omega-3 than omega-6," says Lassek. "The problem for us today is that there is more than 20 times as much omega-6 as omega-3 in the American diet."

The culprit? Industrially processed vegetable oils, like corn and soybean oils, which according to Lassek, are added to most prepared foods.

Marjorie Nolan, RD, national spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics, agrees that the average American is consuming excessive amounts of omega-6. "A problem arises when the balance of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids is off," she says. "Omega-6 is easily found in the standard American diet, while omega-3 is not."

According to Nolan, your body needs a ratio of 1:1 omega-6 to omega-3, yet she says the typical American consumes at least 15 times as much omega-6 as omega-3.

Related: The Benefits of Being Part-Time Vegetarian

Yikes! So what should you be eating so you're getting enough omega-3 and not consuming an excess of omega-6? According to Lassek, your best bets are wild-caught seafood (which has lower amounts of mercury than farm-raised); eggs from chickens fed diets enriched in omega-3; and meat from grass-fed animals (corn-fed supermarket meats are high in omega-6). Other good sources include flaxseed, canola and walnut oils, as well as dairy products from grass-fed cows.

And step away -- far, far away -- from that package of chips, especially if you're trying to lose weight. According to Lassek, who's a big fan of the Mediterranean-style diet, "Cutting way down on prepared foods and increasing foods rich in healthy and slimming omega-3 fats should help most women to gradually return to more natural weights."

More from SELF:

20 Superfoods for Weight Loss
Yoga Moves for Flat Abs
38 Antiaging Foods
Gwyneth Paltrow's Arm and Ab Workout