The ω-3 and ω-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) are separate essential dietary fatty acids that play a key role in many physiologic processes in higher animals. The content of these PUFAs is relatively well described for many individual food components. Our goal in this study was to analyze the PUFA content of whole meals and produce a simple measurement to estimate the intake of these fatty acids.

The fatty acid profile and macronutrient composition were determined for a range of fast food, cuisine (restaurant-prepared), and home-prepared whole meals commonly consumed by Australians.

Across the different meals there was significant variation in protein (4-fold), fat (13-fold), and carbohydrate (23-fold) contents. With regard to the fatty acid profile, saturated and monounsaturated fatty acids made up approximately 80% of total fatty acids for most meals. The ω-6 PUFAs were substantially more abundant than ω-3 PUFAs for most meals. The balance of dietary ω-3 and ω-6 PUFAs is an important determinant of their metabolic effects within the body, and accordingly we calculated the percentage of the total PUFA comprised of ω-3 PUFAs and referred to this as the PUFA Balance. This parameter showed the greatest variation among the different meals (>45-fold).

The relative proportions of ω-3 and ω-6 PUFAs vary greatly across meals. PUFA Balance is a useful tool that will allow individuals to more easily monitor and balance their intake of ω-3 and ω-6 fats.