Fats have had a bad reputation over the past few decades, so I hope that this article helps to: 1) clarify the importance of fat for our health and 2) explain the different types and benefits of different types of fats along with which ones to avoid.
Importance of fat: Our brain, liver, kidneys, nervous system and skin are all made of fat; we need fat to repair and sustain these organs. Our neurotransmitters and hormones are made of fat–we need fat for proper physiological functioning. Vitamins A, D & E are also made of fat….essential for health and life.
What does omega 3 mean, exactly? Your organic chemistry teacher would say that in the carbon chain of the fat molecule, the double bond exists at carbon #3 (C=C). In omega 6, the double bond occurs at carbon #6. In other words, it refers to its molecular structure. On a practical level, omega 3 & 6 have different therapeutic benefits which we’ll get into below. When a fat molecule contains a double bond, it means it’s unsaturated. Unsaturated fats are liquid, and have a molecular structure that is more fluid or flexible. These oils are generally considered to be healthy oils, however the downside is that they are also more likely to become damaged.
Essential fatty-acids (EFAs): Essential means, our bodies cannot make them ourselves, so we need to get them from the diet. These include omega 3 & 6.
Omega 6: As you can see by the list below, it’s not hard to find omega 6 in the diet. Because it’s easy to acquire, many people are getting a low ratio of omega 3: omega 6 for example, 1:30, however we should be aiming for a ratio of 1:4–which is significantly more omega 3. This low ratio of omega 3 to omega 6 is one of the main factors attributed to omega 6’s reputation as pro-inflammatory. The oils below are all unsaturated fatty acids.
Sources: Safflower, Sunflower, Walnut, Wheat germ, Hemp, Corn, Sesame, Peanut, Pumpkin seed
Some general benefits of omega 6: anti-inflammatory, brain function, hair, skin and bone health, metabolism and reproductive function.
Omega 3: Some general benefits of Omega 3: lowers LDL cholesterol, triglycerides, regulates blood pressure, supports healthy brain and nervous system function, anti-inflammatory, helps to regulate hormones, anti-cancer effects…..and much more!
Flax oil: Also contains omega 6. It’s a well-known vegetarian source of omega 3, the liver must convert it from alpha-linolenic acid to an active form (EPA) eicosapentaenoic acid, which the body uses. Flax oil is very unstable and goes rancid easily so it must be refrigerated at all times. Look for manufacturers who use stringent cold-pressing methods to prevent heat-related deterioration. I also suggest buying flax oil in small quantities so that it is used up quicker, and doesn’t allow a lot of time for the oil to deteriorate. Flax seeds also contain lignans which have anti-microbial and anti-cancer properties.
Can you reap the benefits of omega 3 from flaxseeds? To access the oils in the seeds, you need to grind the seeds. If you grind the seeds, you absolutely need to store it in the fridge or freezer to prevent rancidity. The amount of oil that you will get from 1 or 2 tbs of ground seeds is very small compared to the amount of oil in a spoon of oil.
What about Omega 3 eggs? Chickens fed flax seeds may produce eggs with a higher omega 3 content, however the therapeutic benefit for you in terms of how much omega 3 you actually ingest is negligible.
Omega 9: Not an essential fatty-acid, but still beneficial.
Olive oil: Contains mostly omega 9, and smaller amounts of omega 6 and 3. Make sure the oil you buy says “Extra virgin”. Oils that do not meet this standard may have been made from poor quality olives, and the resulting oil may have been refined, bleached and deodorized, making it no better than a generic “vegetable oil”. Do not use extra virgin olive oil for high temperature cooking, it is a combination of mono-unsaturated and poly-unsaturated fatty acids, therefore it is susceptible to heat damage. EVO is best used unheated, into salad-dressings or poured over cooked food.
Some Benefits of Extra Virgin Olive oil or EVO: increases blood fluidity, anti-inflammatory, supports bile flow, supports liver function, stimulates pancreas function, increases HDL, protects fats from oxidation, decreases cholesterol absorption from foods
Naturally vs. synthetically saturated:
Synthetic: AVOID THESE!!! When an oil is synthetically saturated, that double bond in the unsaturated fat’s molecular structure (mentioned above) becomes broken, and hydrogen atoms are added. This makes the fat much more stable. A by-product of the hydrogenation/saturation process, is trans fats. Trans fats are slower to break down, interfere with essential fat metabolism and are associated with increased risk of atherosclerosis and cancer. Hydrogenation destroys all nutrients in the oils and creates unnatural and toxic fatty acid structures. By all means necessary, stay away from shortening and margarine!!!
Synthetically hydrogenated fats can be found in processed foods such as: pastries & baked goods, fried foods, packaged snacks, ready-to-use dough, coffee creamers, vegetable shortening, margarine.
Naturally saturated fats: Naturally saturated fats are plant oils that are solid at room temperature, without having undergone any kind of chemical manipulation. Examples of these are: coconut and palm oil. These oils have had a bad reputation in the past, as the benefits of these oils were not understood, and the oils that were used had processed to remove much of its therapeutic value. The best quality coconut and/or palm oils are organic and “virgin” or “unrefined”. These words indicate that the naturally occurring antioxidants and vitamins in the these fats have been retained. There is also research into the benefits of MCTs (medium-chain triglycerides) contained in coconut oil which have antioxidant properties and help with improving fat metabolism, blood sugar stability, Alzheimer’s treatment and overall cognitive function.
The best oils for cooking are the oils that are the most stable at high temperatures. Unsaturated fats which become damaged by heat, light or oxygen go from being healthy “DNA-protecting” oils, to unhealthy “DNA-damaging” oils.
The best oils for cooking are:
–Virgin coconut oil
–Grapeseed oil: although a liquid, the high antioxidant content helps to diminish the degree of heat damage to the oil.
Other therapeutic oils: The following oils are more commonly supplemented rather than consumed in therapeutic doses through the diet.
Fish oil: most common source of omega 3, particularly from cold-sea fish. Common sources include: herring, mackerel and sardines. Typically smaller fish are used because of the reduced bio-accumulation of heavy metals and toxins from the environment. Fish oil can be acquired to some extent from eating fish, however, keep in mind the potential damage to the oil through the cooking process. The two main types of omega 3 contained in fish oil are: EPA (eiocosapentaenoic acid) & DHA (decosahexanaeoic acid). EPA is associated with hormone-balancing, anti-inflammatory and generally nourishing effects. DHA is required in lower quantities and is associated more with neurological function and brain-development. The body can convert EPA to DHA, but not the reverse.
Salmon oil: A source of omega 3, salmon oil also contains astaxanthin, and antioxidant known for its cardio-protective effects e.g. atherosclerosis, hyperlipidemia and heart disease.
Cod liver oil: A source of omega 3, also containing naturally-occurring vitamin A & D (from the liver). Cod liver oil generally contains lower amounts of EPA & DHA compared to a regular fish oil, but it has the vitamins A & D, which are not found in regular fish oil.
GLA: Another type of omega 6, helps to make prostaglandin E1(an anti-inflammatory), acts as a vasodilator and blood thinner, regulates immune function, lowers blood pressure, inhibits cholesterol synthesis, has hormone-balancing effects, supports nervous system, skin and hair…etc.
Possible sources: Evening Primrose, Black Currant Oil, Borage Oil
Which oils should I be using?
There are a lot of different types of therapeutic oils available in the market place and just because they have health benefits associated with them, doesn’t mean they are all right for you. If you are interested in recommendations for using the best oil(s) in the most effective way for your health concerns, you can contact me to book an appointment, or consult another qualified healthcare professional.
What exactly is in “vegetable oil”?
It contains mostly soybean oil, and possibly small amounts of sunflower, safflower, canola, peanut, sesame, cottonseed or palm oil. It is an odorless, flavorless, colourless oil because hexane solvents are used to extract many of the plant’s constituents. It’s genetically modified and chemically-extracted….not a healthy choice.
What about canola oil?
Canola oil is one of the most widely-consumed oils available on the market today. Many restaurants use it as the “heart-healthy” and vegetarian solution for deep-frying and general food preparation. This oil is not as healthy as it seems. Canola is a hybrid of rapeseed, which was created to reduce the content of erucic acid, associated with a presumed increased risk of atherosclerosis. More significantly, it is also a widely genetically-modified crop which has been designed to resist herbicides. Canola has a reputation for being “heart healthy” because it contains more poly-unsaturated fats than saturated fats, however as we know, heating the oils destroys any health benefits! It is also a solvent-extracted, bleached, deodorized and refined oil. While there are many unsubstantiated claims as to how this oil may be harmful to health, I can say that in testing food compatibility in my practice, canola has not tested well.
What about lecithin?
Lecithin is a type of fat-based nutrient that is naturally occurring in many fatty foods like oils and egg yolks. Lecithin is a fat emulsifier, so it helps break down fats into smaller droplets, which aids in cholesterol metabolism, liver, gallbladder and kidney function. It is an important component of bile which is important for the digestion of fats. Many lecithin supplements are soy-derived, but there are also sunflower seed-based sources available.
Now over to you…..
What oils do you like to use? How do you implement them into your diet? Join the conversation!
To learn more about labelling, shopping tips and caring for your oils, STAY TUNED…..
Erasmus, U. (1993). Fats that Heal Fats that Kill.
Fernando WM, Martins IJ, Goozee KG, Brennan CS, Jayasena V, Martins RN. The role of dietary coconut for the prevention and treatment of Alzheimer’s disease: potential mechanisms of action. Br J Nutr. 2015 Jul 14;114(1):1-14. doi: 10.1017/S0007114515001452. Epub 2015 May 22. Review.
Lands B. Omega-3 PUFAs Lower the Propensity for Arachidonic Acid Cascade Overreactions. Biomed Res Int. 2015;2015:285135. doi: 10.1155/2015/285135. Epub 2015 Aug 2. Review.