Wednesday, November 07, 2007

The problem with fats

I am always thrilled when I find out that someone is actually reading this blog, and when I get an actual request to cover a subject, I feel I should hasten to the task. So when a friend asked me what I had learned about the various fats and how they contribute to health/disease, I thought it would be a good subject for a little research. The more I looked into the topic, however, the more difficult I found it to synthesize a response that could govern my use of fats at home. But here is my attempt.

Our bodies need fats to maintain our skin and hair, to protect cells, to transport vitamins and protect our organs. However, there are three main problems about the types of fats featured in the Standard American Diet (SAD). 1. We eat too much saturated fat. These fats raise our LDL cholesterol and contribute to heart disease, among other things. The fats are found in butter, lard, dairy products, coconut oil, meat, and some prepared foods.

2. Our fat consumption is too skewed towards Omega 6 fats. Check out the Wikipedia definition of Omega 6, which refers to the fatty acid portion of fats. Omega 6 fats are found in nuts, cereals, vegetable oils, eggs, and poultry. High consumption of Omega 6 fats has been linked to cancer, heart attack, high blood pressure, and depression. Over-consumption of Omega 6 fats has an inflammatory effect on the human system, which makes it a culprit in all of these disease conditions. Immunologist Stephen Martin says: "Currently, the ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 oils in our diet is about 15 to 1. We are drowning in pro-inflammatory oils such as corn, soy and safflower oils. These oils are precursors of arachidonic acid, the substrate for pro-inflammatory prostaglandins and leukotrienes. The high level of omega-6 oils in our diet is killing us...literally. "

Research is showing that Omega 3 fats, the kind found in flax oil, fish and fish oil, green leafy vegetables, and walnuts, can reduce these health risks. Science Daily reported on a terminal cancer patient who reduced his Omega 6 fat consumption to a bare minimum, and took mega-doses of fish oil to shrink his tumors.

Here is a handy table that indicates the mix of omega 6 and omega 3 fats in oils in everyday use. A friend asked if walnut oil was a good oil to use instead of some of the other more popular oils. The ratio of omega 6 to omega 3 in walnut oil is 5:1, whereas it is 83:1 in corn oil!

Another good resource for investigating the nutritional qualities of foods is Nutrition Data. From this source, I learned that cheddar cheese is high in saturated fats, but has an omega 6 to omega 3 ratio of about 1.6 to 1. So organic cheddar cheese in moderation, seems to be a good protein. Also, cottage cheese has some redeeming qualities. We need our healthy calcium for bones, too.

3. We are eating poor quality, chemically modified fats. Many agree that trans fatty acids are the worst type to eat. These are fats that are chemically modified so that they will be solid and have a longer shelf life. They are found in packaged cookies, chips, crackers and margarines. These fats increase your bad cholesterol. We should avoid hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated fats. In addition to the dangers of trans fatty acids, many of the fats we eat are rancid, genetically modified, and damaged through the cooking process. The refining process we subject oils to uses solvents and high heats, changing their chemical constitution, creating "free radicals" that can cause cancer and other diseases.

So, what does all this mean for our everyday life of preparing food at home or eating out? Here are my suggestions:
  • For cooking or salad dressing, use extra-virgin olive oil, or clarified butter. Better yet, make a simple salad dressing of balsamic vinegar and flax oil.
  • Use less oil for cooking and sauteeing. For example, saute onions in a tablespoon of broth and a tiny amount of olive oil.
  • Eat more foods with high Omega-3's: fresh, deepwater fish, flaxseeds, flax seed oil, and fish oil. Buy water-packed tuna and sardines in tomato sauce.
  • Avoid french fries, deep-fat fried foods, and processed foods.
  • Buy organic milk and dairy products, which are higher in Omega 3's.
  • Eat nuts in moderation. Walnuts, almonds, sunflower seeds, and pumpkin seeds all have redeeming qualities. I am down on peanuts because I am somewhat allergic to them. Here is what Dr. Andrew Weil says about nuts: "I... prefer almond butter and cashew butter, because they have a better fatty acid profile. And for snacking, I tend to choose raw, unsalted cashews, almonds or walnuts (an omega-3 source). If you do go for peanut butter, look for brands containing only peanuts or peanuts and salt (such as Laura Scudder's and Adams). Avoid those with hydrogenated oils, sugar and other additives."
  • Eat your fruits and vegetables! Consider lowering your animal protein to 4 oz. per day.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

You write well and have some pretty interesting facts. I'm researching the same thing and TRYING to creatively reinvent my style of eating to incorporate all this and more. Not the easiest.