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Fats and Oils in a Healing Diet

The debate about fat has filled the American media for more than a decade, but much of the information is contradictory and inaccurate.  Most people know today that there is a direct relationship between the quantity of fat we consume and the quality of health we can expect.  Yet, in the last half of the 20th century, Americans have increased their intake of fat calories by over 33%, especially omega-6 fats.

The link between high salt and fat intake on health has also become clear.  Too much salt inhibits the body's capacity to clear fat from the blood.  Yet, in the last thirty years, Americans have consumed more salt than ever before, largely because we eat almost 50% more restaurant and pre-prepared foods than our parents did.  Much  of this food is fried and salty, or salt-preserved (animal foods), and full of spicy or salty condiments.

We need to clear up the confusion about fats and oils, so you can make the best choices for you healing diet.  Regardless of its "bad press", our bodies need fat to keep warn, protect body tissues and organs and supply us with energy.  Fat is the most concentrated source of energy in our diets, providing nine calories per gram of energy compared to four calories per gram from carbohydrates or protein.  Fat even helps us use carbohydrates and proteins more efficiently by slowing down digestive processes.

Fat supplies essential fatty acids.  We need fat for healthy skin, for metabolizing cholesterol and for prostaglandin balance, (hormone-like body regulatory substances that have a profound effect on body inflammatory processes).  Fat releases a hormone in the stomach called cholecystokinin that send the brain a "full" message when hunger has been satisfied so that we don't overeat.  We need fat in order to absorb fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K.  Fats elevate our calcium levels and transport calcium for strong bones and elastic muscles.


But not all fats are alike.  What is the difference between saturated, poly-unsaturated and mono-unsaturated fats?

The difference is in molecular structure.  All fat molecules are composed of carbon and hydrogen atoms.  A saturated fatty acid has the maximum possible number of hydrogen atoms attached to every carbon atom - hence the term "saturated".  An unsaturated fatty acid is missing one pair of hydrogen atoms in the middle of the molecule - a gap called an "unsaturation"  A fatty acid with one gap is said to be "monounsaturated".  Fatty acids missing more than one pair of hydrogen atoms are called "polyunsaturated".

Animal foods have more saturated fat; except for palm oil and coconut oil, plant foods have more unsaturated fats.  Saturated fats, like butter, meat and dairy fats, shortening and lard, are solid at room temperature.  They are the culprits that clog the arteries and lead to heart disease.  Saturated fats tend to thicken the blood, causing blood pressure to rise and increasing the work load on your heart.  They also promote blood stickiness, exaggerate plaque build-up on the arteries and reduce oxygen availability to your heart muscle.  Unsaturated fats, both mono and polyunsaturated, like seafood, plant or nut oils, are liquid at room temperature.  Although research supports unsaturated fats as helping to reduce cholesterol, just switching to unsaturated fats without increasing dietary fiber, will not bring about health improvement.  For the best benefits, eat moderate amounts of unsaturated fats along with a high fiber diet.


Is there a health difference between polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats?

Monounsaturated fats, in seafoods, avocados, nuts, olive oil, canola and peanut oil, are considered the healthiest fats. Monounsaturated oils are rich in fatty acids and important for normalizing prostaglandin levels.  Tests show that eating moderate amounts of unrefined, monounsaturated fats also significantly lower allergic reactions.

Polyunsaturated fats, in seafoods, walnuts and vegetable oils, are healthier than saturated fats, but not as healthy as monounsaturated fats.  Polyunsaturated vegetable oils are good sources of "essential fatty acids" or EFA's (linoleic, linolenic and arachidonic acids) necessary for cell membrane production, balanced prostaglandin production and metabolic processes.  Good polyunsaturates include sunflower, safflower, sesame oil and flax oil.


Are all plant oils unsaturated fats?

All plant oils are cholesterol free, but commercial oils go through several processing stages to prevent rancidity.  Refined oils are de-gummed, de-pigmented through charcoal or clay, clarified by deodorizing under high heat and chemically preserved,  Unfortunately, processing also destroys healthy antioxidants and forms hazardous free radicals.  Refined oils are clear, odorless............... and almost totally devoid of nutrients.


Unrefined vegetable oils are the least processed and most natural.  They are mechanically pressed and filtered (cold pressing applies only to olive oil).  They have small amounts of sediment, and taste and smell like the nut, seed, or fruit they came from.


Solvent extracted oil is the second pressing from the first pressing residue  The petroleum chemical hexane is generally used to get the most efficient extraction; even though minute amounts of hexane remain, it is still considered an unrefined oil.

Note1:  Vegetable oils are traditionally seen as top dietary sources of essential fatty acids.  New research shows this to be true only of cold pressed olive oils.  Commercial oils contain such a large number of contaminants and are so heavily processed that they can no longer be regarded as good sources of EFA's.

Note 2:  Heat and air exposure easily cause unrefined oils to spoil, so store them in an air-tight container in a cook dark cupboard (65F) or the fridge.  Purchase small bottles if you don't use much oil in your cooking.


What are hydrogenated fats?

All fats, especially unsaturated fats, tend to break down when exposed to air.  To delay rancidity, hydrogenation bubbles hydrogen molecules through a polyunsaturated oil to reconstruct its chemical bonds for more stability.  For example, hydrogenation converts liquid corn oil to a semi-solid form - margarine.  Some test show that these altered fats are comparable to animal fats in terms of saturation and effects by the body.

What are trans fats?  Why are they such a problem for our health?

Trans fatty acids are byproducts of hydrogenation.  When hydrogen molecules are added back to a polyunsaturated fatty acid, some of the hydrogenated fatty acids take on a "straight" structure, and become trans fatty acids.  Originally only used for foods like shortening and margarine, today trans fats are now part of most snack foods, pastries an desserts.  Some researchers think they may be real villains in America's health problems.

Here's why:

Trans fatty acids raise blood cholesterol almost as much as saturated fat.  They may even be worse.  Where saturated fats increase both LDL and HDL cholesterol levels, trans fats increase LDL cholesterol, and decrease HDL cholesterol, the good cholesterol which actually helps clear arteries.  Trans fats have been linked to more cancer risk, premature skin aging and lowered immune response by impairing prostaglandin and cell functions.  Most significant, they interfere with the metabolism of natural fast and with the body's ability to utilize essential fatty acids.

How do you know if trans fats are part of the food you buy?

You don't.  Trans fats are not saturated, monounsaturated, or polyunsaturated, so food labels don't have to disclose how much a food has.  Foods with "partially hydrogenated oil" in their ingredient lists have trans fats, but some foods have only slightly hydrogenated oils with tiny amounts of trans fats.  Other foods contain heavily hydrogenated oils. FDA limits the saturated fat in foods labeled "no-cholesterol" or "low-cholesterol".  But there is no label requirement or limit on the trans fats allowed in those same foods.

What about margarine?  We used to think it was healthier than butter.  Is it?

Margarine products today are lower in calories, total fat, saturated fat and trans fats than ever before.  Many are made from soy oil, so they are cholesterol-free and contain vitamin E.  Most are sold in a squeeze tube, soft and liquid, meaning they have low amounts of trans fatty acids.

Yet margarine manufacturers are allowed to omit trans fats from their labels.  Since margarine is a main source of polyunsaturated fats in the American diet, hopefully this consumer information problem can soon be solved.  A good, low saturated fat alternative to margarine or shortening is a combination of equal amounts of warm butter and vegetable oil.

What are essential fatty acids?

Essential Fatty Acids (EFA's) are the healthy fats that do the job of protecting our bodies from degenerative disease and boosting our brain power.  EFA's help us maintain energy, insulate our body and protect our tissues and organs.

Essential Fatty Acids (EFA's) and the essential amino acids from which protein is made, are ?????? to each other and work synergistically in our bodies.  Together they from lipoproteins ??????organic compounds that make up our bodies.








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