Omega-6 fatty acids cannot be produced by the body and must be taken in through food or supplements. In the developed world, this isn't difficult to do, since omega-6 fats are common in the diet. In fact, most people take in far more omega-6 fats than necessary, skewing the ratio of omega-6 fats to omega-3 fats in the body.
Omega-6 fatty acids are a type of polyunsaturated fat, a fat containing a double bond after the sixth carbon atom in the chain. The main dietary omega-6 fat is linoleic acid, or LA. In the body, LA can be converted into other omega-6 fats, such as arachidonic acid, or AA. According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, some people take supplemental omega-3 fatty acids to treat eczema, psoriasis, arthritis, diabetes or breast tenderness.
Recommendation for Children
Babies under the age of six months need 4.4 grams of omega-6 fatty acids every day and infants between seven months and one year old need 4.6 grams daily. For babies, this amount is supplied by breast milk or formula and supplementation is not necessary. Toddlers between one and three years old require 7 grams daily of omega-6 fats. From ages four to eight, children need 10 grams every day. Girls who are nine to 13 years old continue to need 10 grams daily, but boys in this age range need 12 grams daily. Female adolescents between 14 and 18 require 11 grams daily and males need 16 grams every day.
Adult men between 19 and 50 require 17 grams of omega-6 fats every day. Females between 19 and 50 need 12 grams of omega-6 fats daily. Males older than 51 need a daily dose of 14 grams and females over 51 require 11 g daily. Pregnant and lactating women of all ages should get 13 grams of omega-6 fats every day. According to the Linus Pauling Institute, the average intake of omega-6 fats in the United States is 12 to 17 grams a day for adult men and 9 to 11 grams a day for adult women.
Vegetable cooking oils are a major source of dietary omega-6 fatty acids. Safflower oil contains 10.1 grams per tablespoon. A tablespoon of sunflower oil has 8.9 grams. Corn oil supplies 7.3 grams per tablespoon and soybean oil has 6.9 grams per serving. Seeds and nuts are another good source, with 9.7 grams per oz of sunflower seeds. A 1-ounce serving of pecans has 6.4 grams and Brazil nuts contain 5.8 grams per ounce.
The ratio of omega-6 fatty acids to omega-3 fatty acids may be of more concern than the amount of omega-6 fats in the diet. According to a 2002 report in "Biomedicine and Pharmacotherapy", the ratio should be close to 1:1, but most people get 15 to 16 times more omega-6 fats than omega-3s. Omega-3 fatty acids are found in fish, flax seed, algae and some nuts. The Mediterranean diet, which focuses on fish, vegetables, olive oil, garlic and red wine, has a healthy balance of these two fats, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center.