I was recently in the grocery and saw a mayonnaise jar label that proclaimed that it was “Always an excellent source of omega-3s.”
Don’t be fooled! Here’s the truth behind the “mayonnaise omega-3” marketing.
As a reminder, we require omega-6 and omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) for brain and eye health and proper immune system functioning.
However, omega-6 and omega-3 compete in the body to be absorbed and used in our cells. Due to this competition, the ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 in the diet becomes very important. If you have too much omega-6, your body won’t be able to utilize the omega-3. Historically, human diets had an approximately one to one ratio of omega-6 to omega-3, but in a typical, modern Western diet this ratio is ten to one.
A healthy diet has a one to one ratio of omega-6 to omega-3, which allows the body to absorb and use a sufficient amount of omega-3. To improve health, we need to limit our intake of high omega-6 foods and increase our intake of foods high in omega-3 to improve our ratio.
What This Has to Do with Mayo
Mayonnaise is made with egg and oil. Most of the time, this oil is soybean oil, which does have some omega-3. But remember, the important issue is not whether it contains omega-3, but whether it contains omega-6 and what the ratio between omega-6 and omega-3 is in the mayo.
The bad news for mayo is that soybean oil has lots of omega-6, and has an omega-6 to omega-3 ratio of over 7 to 1. So while officially there is omega-3 in soybean oil, our bodies cannot actually use much of it. For every molecule of omega-3 there are seven molecules of omega-6 that are competing for absorption and utilization in our bodies. The reality is that soybean oil and mayo are not good sources for omega-3s.
Many nutritional experts actually blame soybean oil for the very high ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 in the western diet. Vegetable oils like corn, soybean, safflower, sunflower, and cottonseed oil have very high levels of omega-6. These oils are pervasive in our modern diet, and they are not good sources of omega-3 due to their very unfavorable PUFA ratio.
Don’t be fooled by advertising — look at the label. If corn oil or soybean oil is one of the main ingredients, you should avoid it. Instead of cooking with corn oil or soybean oil, choose olive oil or canola oil, which contain some omega-3s, and more importantly, have lower levels of omega-6. Olive oil and canola oil are considered monounsaturated oils that contain omega-7 and omega-9 fatty acids that do not compete with omega-3.
What You Can Do
- Look at labels and decrease your intake of soybean oil and corn oil.
- Avoid fried foods. They are often cooked in soybean or corn oil and contain trans-fats that are created from these oils at high heat.
- Avoid foods with hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils, because these oils are trans-fats.
- Cook with olive oil and canola oil. Extra-virgin olive oil is less processed and also contains many healthy antioxidants.
- Avoid high heat when cooking because it can create trans-fats in your cooking oil.
- Eat cold water fish regularly to increase the amount of omega-3 in your diet.
- Take a fish oil or marine algae supplement with 500 to 1000 mg of DHA and EPA.