Importance of Cooking Oils in our Diet
As I’ve mentioned, one of the great problems with the Westernized diet is an imbalance in our fat intake. We’ve been oversold on both the “dangers” of saturated fat as well as on the unqualified “goodness” of polyunsaturated fats. The true picture is more complex and nuanced. All saturated fat is not bad for you and “polyunsaturated fat” is a large class of fatty acids with many members, including both the inflammatory omega-6s and the anti-inflammatory omega-3s. The balance between the omega-6s and the omega-3s is essential to human health. It’s as simple as that.
Omega -6s (linoleic acid) and one of the several omega-3s (alpha-linolenic acid) are considered essential fats (meaning our body can’t make them and we must get them from the diet). The other two omega-3s, which I consider to be the most important of all (docosahexaenoic acid, DHA, and eicosapentaenoic acid, EPA), can theoretically be made in the body from the first omega-3 (alpha-linolenic acid), but the body does a lousy job of it-only about 20 percent of alpha-linolenic acid gets converted to DHA and EPA. That’s why fish and fish oil are so great-they give you readymade DHA and EPA so your body doesn’t have to make them. But I digress.
What’s Wrong with Omega-6?
The problem in the Western diet is that we get far too little omega-3 (of any variety) and far too much omega-6. The problem is compounded by the fact that most of the omega-6 we get is crappy. Omega6s are like foods at the typical Vegas buffet-the wrong kind of food, and there’s so darn much of it! Most Of us get our omega-6s (plenty of them, I might add) from highly refined and processed vegetable oils-safflower, sunflower, soybean, corn-which are loaded with a refined omega-6 devoid of any of the natural health-promoting antioxidants that are normally found in these oils but are processed out because they shorten shelf life. Com-mercial, processed, refined vegetable oils are among the worst foods on the planet, and we’ve been told they’re “healthy” because they are “polyunsaturated.” Don’t believe it for a minute. It’s not that omega-6s don’t do any good. They do.
A comprehensive review paper on the relationship of fats to coronary heart disease by Frank Hu, JoAnn Manson, and Walter Willett from Harvardthe folks who ran the Nurses’ Health Study-points out that omega-6s do lower LDL (“bad”) cholesterol and also improve insulin sensitivity. But even that team, gently conservative in their phrasing, point out that “the ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 (fats) is less than optimal and should be improved.” The argument is over whether to improve that ratio by increasing omega-3s, reducing omega-6s, or both. Personally, I think it’s both. No one save theoretically the Eskimos, who eat a ton of omega-3s-is in any danger of getting too much omega-3 and not enough omega-6. In fact, it’s the opposite.
Balancing Faty Acids is key to Healthy Blood Flow
Why is building blocks of hormones and “minihormones” called eicosanoids (also called prostaglandins), which literally control dozens of metabolic processes in the body that need to be in balance in order for us to stay healthy. For example, some of these prostaglandins control inflammation, some are anti-inflammatory. Some control clotting, some control flow. It’s not that they are “good” or “bad”-but that they need to be in balance. For example, if you’re injured, you want some inflammation and clotting-it’s part of the body’s healing response to send water and blood to the site of injury and then to allow it to clot. But if you clot too much, you get a stroke. On the other hand, if you don’t clot at all, you hemorrhage. Get it? In real estate, it’s location, location, location. In fatty acids, it’s balance, balance, balance.
Our Paleolithic ancestors-and all known hunter-gatherer societies that have been studied got somewhere between a 1: 1 and a 4: 1 ratio of omega-6 to omega-3. Most nutritionists consider that the ideal intake ratio, and the ones I know lean more toward 1: 1. Would you like to know what the average person consuming a Western diet gets? It’s between 20:1 and 25:1. (I’ve heard some estimates as high as 65: 1, but even at the lower number it’s completely unhealthy.) Think I’m being a nervous Nelly about nothing?
Consider this: High ratios of omega-6s to omega-3s are associated with increased prostate and breast cancer risk; increased risk of heart disease; and aggravated inflammatory and autoimmune diseases. In addition, most of our restaurants, in response to the fear of “bad” saturated fat now, cook with “healthy” vegetable oils.
New research shows that high amounts of a toxin called HNE (4-hydroxy-trans2-nonenal), with connections to heart disease and so important? Because these fatty acids are the neurological disorders, accumulate in vegetable based cooking oils that are heated or reheated for hours at a time (fast-food restaurant, anyone?). HNE forms in especially high amounts in polyunsaturated oils-including canola, corn, soybean, and sunflower. (It does not arise in saturated fats.) “There’s a tremendous literature in biochemistry on HNE, a library of studies going back twenty years. It’s a very toxic compound,” says lead researcher on the most recent study, A. Saari Csallany, a professor of food chemistry and nutritional biochemistry at the University of Minnesota.
Eating the Right Oils Can Help You Avoid Deadly Diseases
Remember Vioxx and Celebrex? They were COX2 inhibitors. COX-2 enzymes create inflammation in the body. When our intake of omega-6 fats greatly exceeds our omega-3 fats, guess what happens? COX-2 enzymes increase. High intakes of omega-6 poly-unsaturated fats (coupled with low intakes of omega-3s) equal higher levels of inflammation. If you don’t think that’s anything to worry about, consider that inflammation was recently the subject of a cover story in Time magazine that called it “The Secret Killer.” The subtitle: “The surprising link between inflammation and heart attacks, cancer, Alzheimer’s and other diseases.” That secret killer if you haven’t guessed by now was inflammation. Here are the take-home points about fats and oils:
- • Some saturated fat is good for us.
- • Omega-3s are very, very good for us.
- • Monounsaturated fats are good for us.
- • Omega-6s are good for us in balanced (usually small) amounts and from sources that haven’t been processed and refined to death.
- • Reused (reheated) vegetable oils are really, really bad.
- • Trans fats are metabolic poison. The acceptable level in the diet is zero.
Keep these points in mind when you read through the fats and oils that have been selected for inclusion in the “world’s healthiest foods.” And remember as well that in all cases, unrefined, cold pressed oils beat the pants off the refined kind, even when it’s”good” oil like olive oil.
(Courtesy/Source: 150 Healthiest Foodson Earth by Jonny Bowden)