In my last blog The Fat of This Land, I dipped into the huge subject of fats and oils. This week I want to give you some really practical advice about the fats and oils you want to be using in your diet for good health.
This is my staple cooking oil. I would really recommend ditching all other oils for cooking and switch to using only coconut oil, as there have been numerous studies showing its amazing health giving properties.
Calling it an oil is a little misleading as it is solid at room temperature like all other saturated fats. This is however a saturated fat of a very different kind with a unique molecular structure of medium chain fatty acids. What does this mean? Having a medium chain fatty acid profile means it is very easy for the body to break down and unlike other fats and oils that have to be processed by the liver, coconut oil is instantly turned into energy and does not require bile acids for digestion. It is also quite different as it is made up of lauric acid (which is also found in breast milk) and has great antibacterial and anti viral properties.
Interestingly, research on the inhabitants of 2 Polynesian atolls where the majority of the people gained most of their calories from coconut oil, found them to have superb vascular health. There are many others benefits apart from promoting heart health, including lowering cholesterol, weight loss, good metabolism, great skin and hair, healthy immune system and the promotion of good thyroid gland function. There are links at the bottom of the article if you want to learn more about the benefits of coconut oil as there are so many it would take me forever to list them all here!
Challenge your thinking and switch to coconut oil and see how you feel - coconut oil contains the most saturated fat of any edible oil. Make sure you choose raw, organic, virgin coconut oil. Viridian is my current favourite brand.
Butter & Butter Ghee
From a nutritional point of view butter and ghee are basically the same thing. Ghee or clarified butter, commonly used in South Asian cooking, has been melted over a low heat and left to simmer, eliminating moisture, such that any milk solids can then be removed. Ghee is preferable to butter in cooking as it is less likely to burn. I use it for cooking curries and on the odd occasion when I want a richer taste than coconut oil offers.
Animal Fats: Duck & Goose Fat
I am still partial to a Sunday roast and when I want really tasty roast potatoes then duck or goose fats are my first choice. They are both saturated fats so are stable at high temperatures, unlike their polyunsaturated vegetable oil counterparts and so the body knows exactly how to process them. It is worth remembering that saturated fat makes up half the cell membrane in every cell in your body, is a rich source for fat soluble vitamins and is needed for the synthesis of essential fatty acids.
Theses fats are made up of both the omega 3 and omega 6 family known as essential fatty acids. 'Essential' refers to the fact that they cannot be manufactured by the body alone but must be found in the diet.
It is the balance of omega 6 to omega 3 oils in the diet that are key in optimising your health. The ideal is estimated at an omega 6 to omega 3 ratio of around 4:1, whereas the modern westernised diet is nearer to 20 or in extreme cases 50:1. Reducing your intake omega 6 and increasing your intake of omega 3 is recommended for the vast majority of people, especially if you don't already supplement with omega 3.
Omega 6 and 3 compete for the same enzymes in the body so too much omega 6 will always be at the detriment of omega 3 where DHA and EPA disease protecting properties are not able to be absorbed. A diet rich in omega 3 and low in omega 6 reduces inflammation, with inflammation being a key component of every disease picture within the body. It is estimated that westernised populations are up to 90% deficient in DHA. If you are pregnant or breastfeeding this is especially important for baby's brain development (the brain is half made up of DHA). There is also a strong link with I.Q. , mood and concentration levels and omega 3 intake.
The introduction of highly processed polyunsaturated cooking oils and clever food manufacturer promotion pushed saturated fats to the back of the shelf deeming them unhealthy cholesterol raising, artery clogging fats, with the new oils being promoted (falsely) as good for your heart. Countless research studies now find the reverse is true with heart disease now the biggest killer in the westernised world. I strongly advise you to get rid of any vegetable oils including corn, soy, safflower, sunflower, rapeseed oil etc. as they are absolutely the worst oils to cook with. Most are already damaged through processing and even then heating them will cause further damage. They are artificially hydrogenated (producing those nasty trans fats in the process) with a molecular structure of long chain fatty acids that are more difficult for the body to break down. They also contribute to greater omega 6 in the diet creating an imbalance with the omega 3 EFA's.
Omega 3 Oils:
Many processed foods are advertised as containing omega 3 and more and more food manufacturers are jumping on this bandwagon with the growing knowledge of how important it is to a healthy diet. Although the food companies may physically be adding a tiny amount of omega 3 to their foods, the processing the food then undergoes completely destroys the essential fatty acid. Don't be fooled by labels on bread, eggs, cereals and margarines. There are not many sources of omega 3 in our natural environment. The omega 3 fatty acids contain ALA, EPA and DHA all of which play a key role in our health. The 5 best and natural ways to get omega 3 essential fatty acids into your diet are outlined below:
Flaxseed or Linseed Oil
This form of omega 3 comes as ALA. It is the least broken down form of omega 3 oil and so can be tricky for many people to really break down into EPA and DHA and utilise. Many vegans and vegetarians incorrectly believe they can attain their omega 3 requirements from flax oil. If the liver struggles with this process, often because the enzyme delta 6 desaturase; D6D is entirely missing or deficient, then it can actually contribute to greater health problems than resolve them. Poor blood sugar levels and high insulin also impair the function of D6D. In such cases animal forms of omega 3 like fish oil or krill oil are preferable in their more broken down EPA and DHA form. Due to the very delicate nature of this oil if it is in liquid form it should be stored in the fridge and not processed at all before using (i.e. heated or blended).
Chia Seed & Hemp Seed
Chia is also a good source of omega 3, but like flaxseed for many is a difficult form for the body to breakdown and utilise. Hemp seed is much lower in omega 3 than other choices mentioned here but much higher in protein. Hemp is also much higher in omega 6 so in terms of getting the omega 6:3 balance correct both chia and flaxseed are better choices.
Micro green algae
Fish obtain EPA and DHA from eating algae so it would make sense that this would be a good form of omega 3 for vegans and vegetarians. There is mixed research on its effectiveness compared to animal based forms and as I haven't personally tried it, then I would recommend as with most new foods or supplements I test, try it and see how you feel.
This includes fresh tuna, sea bass, mackerel, wild salmon, herrings, sardines, and anchovies. There are a couple of things to consider here. Firstly, consuming too much fish is really going to increase your exposure to heavy metal toxins with the seas now being so polluted. Mercury, cadmium and lead are now found in high levels in seafood. You can limit your exposure by choosing smaller fish like herrings, sardines and anchovies that haven't had a chance to accumulate these heavy metals in their tissue. It would be wise to avoid canned tuna, not only because canned foods themselves pose a problem to health but also canned tuna has been found to have very high levels of mercury.
Farmed fish should also be avoided. It is really no different to factory-farmed food in terms of its danger to health. You still have the problem with mercury but added to that are higher levels of PCB's than would be found in a more natural environment for the fish. Farm raised salmon, unlike wild salmon, is naturally grey in colour and so is fed additives to make them pink. The fish are also treated with drugs, hormones, chemicals to deal with parasites and diseases and are sometimes genetically modified.
Fish Oil Supplement
Although high quality fish oil is an excellent source of omega 3, our over-fished seas make this source of omega 3 not the best choice for our environment. The quality of the supplement is also paramount as fish have become big carriers of toxins. Fish oil is far lower in antioxidant content than krill oil and the more omega 3 oil you take the more this raises your need for antioxidants. As the fish oil is so delicate, you really don't want it oxidising in the body as then it contributes to free radicals in the body, which are a recipe for poor health.
Krill Oil Supplement
Research over recent years really has shown that high quality krill oil is the absolute best form of omega 3 that you can provide for your body. As previously mentioned the majority of people have difficulty converting plant-based forms of omega 3 due to lacking enzymes.
Estimations of krill supplies have demonstrated this is a food source that will never run out and because it has a phospholipid attached to it this ensures the fatty acids are delivered directly into your body's cells, making it the easiest to absorb into the body along with having an extremely high antioxidant level. As a very small organism, krill is lower down the food chain so there is also less of a problem with toxic build up. This is a supplement I take everyday.
Omega 6 Oils:
These include all the vegetable oils, and frighteningly make up around 20% of the calories of most modern diets. Amongst the most common these oils include soybean oil, sunflower oil and rapeseed oil and are quite literally in every processed food. Because they have been processed the delicate unsaturated structure of the oil results in them becoming 'damaged' and therefore unrecognisable to our bodies as a food type and cause inflammation.
Omega 9 Oils:
Olive oil is another staple in my food preparation alongside my ghee and coconut oil. Olive oil became the trendy oil to cook with thanks to the proliferation of celebrity cooking shows. I do use it, the difference is I don't heat it. I use olive oil for making dressings. It is not the best oil to cook with especially at high temperatures. Even though it is not as delicate as the polyunsaturated oils its chemical structure still makes it susceptible to oxidisation from heating and processing.
When choosing an olive oil make sure it is cold pressed, non-chemically processed and therefore often cloudy, organic and in a dark glass bottle or it will have oxidised before it has even been rung through the till.
To sum it up....
Your best strategy is to use a small amount of saturated fat for cooking. Supplement your Omega 3 DHA and EPA requirements with krill oil and ditch the processed foods that are full of the damaged fats like sunflower oil, rapeseed oil, soybean oil etc.
Time to recollect what really makes sense here. For decades now we have been told that saturated fat causes high cholesterol and heart disease and yet with so many people consuming margarine and vegetable oils for the last umpteen years the problem is bigger than ever and heart disease is set to rise by 25% by 2020. Stop being fooled by media and marketing, it is UNSATURATED fats that contribute to heart disease.
The Technical Bit
If, like me, you want to gain a complete understanding of the complexity of different oils then this section is for you. If we look at the molecular structure that makes up each of these different types of fats and oils then you will understand why they function differently so differently in the body and why they have differing roles in contributing to a healthy body.
Short Chain Fatty Acids (CFA's)
They have less than 6 carbons in their molecular structure ands so are called 'short'. Examples include butter.
Medium Chain Fatty Acids (MCFA's)
They have between 6 and 12 carbons in their molecular structure ands so are called 'medium'. Examples include coconut oil and breast milk.
Long Chain Fatty Acids (LCFA's)
They have more than 12 carbons in their molecular structure ands so are called 'long'. Examples include seeds, nuts, vegetable oils (within which are the very delicate omega oils).
PCB - otherwise known as polychlorinated biphenyl. PCB's were widely used as coolant fluids for electrical equipment. It's toxicity, capacity to cause endocrine disruption and potential to cause cancer has now rendered it banned in the USA since 1979 and the UK since 1981. Unfortunately its legacy lives on with traces of it still found worldwide in the environment and the food chain.
ALA - otherwise known as alpha-linolenic acid. The parent oil and least broken down form of the omega 3 fatty acid found in vegetable form. Most commonly known sources include chia and flaxseed.
DHA - otherwise known as docosahexaenoic acid. Another form of omega 3 fatty acid, in a more broken down form than ALA and most commonly found in oily fish and krill. DHA is a major component of the human brain and the retina. Low DHA levels have been linked to Alzheimer's, cancer and ADHD.
EPA - otherwise known as eicosapentaenoic acid. Another form of omega 3 fatty acid, also in a more broken down form than ALA and most commonly found in oily fish and krill.
How to work with me:
If you feel you need further help adjusting the fats and oils in your diet and ensuring you are absorbing the correct balance of essential fatty acids for optimum health then I am available for one on one nutritional consultations in person, by telephone or Skype.
I offer a free 20 minute Skype consultation to potential clients to discuss their needs or if you just want to get a better a feel for how I work and to see if we connect well.
You can book consultations by calling me 07786 687444 or ypu can email me firstname.lastname@example.org
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References and related articles you may find of interest:
What are PCB's?
Coconut Oil - What Dr Mercola has to say:
Omega-3 Fatty Acids Increase Brain Volume While Reversing Many Aspects of Neurologic Aging:
Oily fish makes 'babies brainier':
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