Choosing the right fats and oils in your food preparation has a dramatic impact on your health. There is much information and misinformation on what constitutes healthy fats. This chart simplifies the best choices of fats for cooking, fats that should not be heated, and which to avoid altogether.
It took our health community decades to recognize the dangers of trans fats in margarine and other butter replacements. And only recently are the anti-inflammatory and immune enhancing benefits of coconut oil, a saturated fat, being publicized. How long do we need to wait until “heart-healthy” vegetable oils are recognized for its inflammatory effects and as a major contributor to modern disease?
Do what healthy traditional societies free of disease have done for generations, eat fats from foods that nature provides, including the highly stable animal and tropical fats and avoid industrial, factory – made processed fats and oils.
Fats and Oils 101
All fats and oils are made up of a combination of three main kinds of fatty acids; saturated, monounsaturated, and polyunsaturated linoleic (LA) or linolenic acid. These refer to the kind of structure these fatty acids have between their carbon and hydrogen atoms.
Saturated Fatty Acids
The carbon chain in a saturated fatty acid are filled, or saturated, with hydrogen atoms.
This saturation creates a compact and highly stable structure that resist oxidation, even under high temperatures.
Saturated fatty acids are found in animal fats and tropical oils.
Monounsaturated Fatty Acids
The carbon chain is missing two hydrogen atoms and has one (mono) double bond instead between two of its carbons – so it is not saturated (unsaturated) by hydrogen atoms.
Monounsaturated fatty acids are not densely packed and bends at the double bond – why these fats are liquid at room temperature and cannot be exposed to high heat like saturated fatty acids.
They are found in olive oil, avocados, and nuts.
Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids (PUFAs)
The carbon chain is missing several hydrogen atoms and contain two or more (poly) double bonds.
PUFAs are highly unstable and sensitive to heat and light that can cause free radicals which harm your body.
They are found in corn, canola, soy, sunflower, safflower, rice bran, and grapeseed oils.
Vegetable Oils and the Omega ratio
“Back in the MI (myocardial infarction) free days before 1920, the fats were butter and lard and I think that we would all benefit from the kind of diet that we had at a time when no one had ever heard the word corn oil.”
- Dr. Dudley White speaking at an American Heart Association fund raiser in 1956.
Vegetable oils may sound healthy but they are highly processed foods that require industrial processes to extract its oils. Part of the process involves using toxic chemicals like hexane and bleaching agents to help extract and deodorize these oils. Even organic expeller-pressed vegetable oils undergo tremendous processing and are exposed to heat and therefore oxidize easily resulting in a toxic food.
A crucial factor for good health is the proper ratio of omega 3 to omega 6 fatty acids in the diet. (Omega 3 fatty acids are triple unsaturated (3 double bonds) linolenic acid and omega – 6 is a double (2 double bonds) unsaturated linoleic acid). The exponential rise of vegetable oil consumption in our diets (found in all processed foods) and grain feeding of cattle and poultry has altered the ideal healthy omega 3 to omega 6 ratio.
The high omega – 6, polyunsaturated vegetable oils like corn, canola, soy, sunflower, safflower, rice bran, and grapeseed oils, increase inflammation in the body and are associated with;
- cardiaovascular disease
- auto-immunity diseases
- high blood pressure
- weight gain
- blood clots
These polyunsaturated vegetable oils – especially when heated – damage your cells, metabolic function, gene expression, and hormone functions. (Borage, evening primrose, and hemp oil are exceptions, though they are PUFAs they function as anti-inflammatories: are GLA Gamma-linolenic acid). This is why the addition of fish oils and cod liver oil supplements (omega – 3) are so popular in the natural health care industry.
Vegetable oils, if not organic, are likely derived from Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO’s), another important reason to avoid them. Read more about the health dangers of GMO’s and how to avoid them.
Note: It is possible to go the other extreme as well and become deficient in omega – 6 fats, though very uncommon. Read more about Omega – 6 Deficiency at the Agriculture Society website.
What about Saturated Fats?
“The greatest scientific deception of this century, perhaps any century.”
- Geroge Mann, American scientist, criticizing the diet-heart hypothesis; the idea that high cholesterol foods cause heart disease.
The diet-heart hypothesis or lipid hypothesis first proposed by Ancel Keys surprisingly has little evidence to support it. Heart disease was rare in the early 1900′s when our diets were much higher in animal fats. The elevated triglycerides in the blood linked to heart disease do not come from dietary fats, but are produced in the liver from excess sugars from carbohydrates like refined sugars and white flour and from fructose. What is contributing to heart disease is the excess consumption of vegetable oils, hydrogenated fats, and refined sugars in our modern diet.
Essential Roles of Saturated Fatty Acids
- enhance the immune system (needed by the white blood cells)
- needed for strong bones (helps absorb calcium)
- provide energy and structural integrity to the cells
- protect the liver from alcohol and other toxins
- healthy lungs (saturated fatty acids create the surfactant that and protect coat the lungs airspaces)
- building blocks for hormones
- assist in mineral absorption and
- cardiovascular health
- building blocks of a healthy brain and nervous system
Sources and Recommended Reading
The Truth About Saturated Fat – Mary Enig
The Oiling of America – Mary Enig and Sally Fallon
What Should my Blood Cholesterol Be? – Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride
9 Steps to Perfect Health – #1 Don’t Eat Toxins – The Healthy Skeptic
Smart Fuel: Macadamia Oil, and read a well-balance view on Nuts and Omega – 6 Intake -Mark’s Daily Apple
How to Decrease Your Polyunsaturated Fat Intake – Living the Nourished Life
What’s the Truth About Cottonseed Oil? – Agriculture Society
Hemp Oil and Hemp Seeds – Are they Safe? – Food Renegade
Five Fats You Should Be Cooking With But May Not Be -Chris Kresser
Butter Anyone? Defending Fat with Facts – Livin La Vida Low-Carb
Five Fats You MUST Have in Your Kitchen – The Healthy Home Economist
Deep Nutrition: Why Your Genes Need Traditional Food – Catherine Shanahan, MD
Nourishing Traditions: The Cookbook that Challenges Politically Correct Nutrition and the Diet Dictocrats – Sally Fallon
Gut and Psychology Syndrome – Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride
This post is linked to Food Renegade | Fight Back Friday, Real Food Whole Health | Fresh Bites Friday, The Healthy Home Economist | Monday Mania, Kelly the Kitchen Kop | Real Food Wednesday, GNOWFGLINS | Simple Lives Thursday, and Primal Toad | Primal Cave.