Given the fact that fats (oil) make up approximately 30-40% of the North American diet, although the recommendation is usually 10-20%, it is a worthy topic of discussion. When I say “oil” I am not talking about the Edmonton Oilers but of that substance that most of us love to indulge in more than we should. You may think that fat is fat, but that is not the case as you will see.
Role of fats in the body: Fats act as insulation, much needed in our cold climate, although it would appear that our climate is warming up substantially considering our incredible Fall weather. As well as providing insulation, fats act to protect the vital organs and hold them in place. Fats also are necessary for the assimilation of fat-soluble vitamins, namely vitamins A, D, E, and K.
Problems associated with excess fat: A diet high in fat may contribute to the production of tumors, cancers, and obesity, heart disease, gall bladder and liver disorders as well as an acceleration of a diabetic condition. Saturated fats* in the diet contribute to an increase in the cholesterol in the body. Although a moderate amount of cholesterol is essential to the bodily functions, high amounts of cholesterol increase the risk of arterioscelerotic disease. It is interesting to note that twice as many people die of arteriosclerotic disease (heart and blood vessel disease) than from all cancers combined. Other contributing factors to an increase in cholesterol include, stress, smoking, coffee and refined sugar, and consumption of animal products.
Essential fatty acids: Essential fatty acids are just what they say – essential to multiple functions in the body such as promoting healthy hair, supporting thyroid and adrenal activity, bolstering the immune system, promoting healthy blood, nerves and arteries and transporting and breaking down cholesterol. Essential fatty acids are not the fats found in the Macdonald’s hamburger. Essential fatty acids are found in polyunsaturated oils* in the form of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. Omega 3 oil reduces clotting in the blood, whereas omega 6 oil encourages clotting. Ideally one will achieve a balance between the two. Unfortunately, the modern diet is usually lacking in omega 3 and omega 6 is of a poor quality.
Elimination of cholesterol from the body: Nutrients that assist in lowering cholesterol and saturated fat in the blood and arteries are lecithin, vitamins E and C, and niacin. Ideally these nutrients should be ingested as whole foods. Lecithin is found in legumes, especially soybeans, but also in mung beans, peas, and lentils. Grains with a bitter flavor such as rye, quinoa, and oats, are most helpful in cleansing the arteries. Omega-3 fatty acids particularly EPA and DHA, which are plentiful in fish, particularly salmon, mackerel, sardine, anchovies, herring, trout and tuna, help to reduce the blood viscosity, reduce clotting, lower blood pressure, thereby helping to prevent strokes and heart attacks.
Other sources of omega 3: Those of you who are not fish eaters will be glad to know that there are other sources of omega 3’s. Alpha-linolenic acid, another source of omega-3, is found extensively in flax seed oil and also in more moderate quantities in pumpkin seed, rapeseed, tofu, walnuts, and, dark green vegetables. Omega 3 essential fatty acids are also available in superb quality supplement form.
Omega 3 and the inflammatory process: Recently, the effects of omega 3 fatty acids on the inflammatory response have been noted. The inflammatory process is a significant contributing factor in many disorders we encounter including, depression, pain, auto-immune disorders, obesity and coronary heart disease. In essence it is difficult to find a disorder that does not involve the inflammatory process to some degree. The importance of incorporating the omega 3’s into one’s diet cannot be emphasized enough. Omega 3 also contributes significantly to pre-natal and post-natal infant development and is a vital component in breast milk.
*Saturated fat- derived mainly from animal products such as cheese, butter, eggs and meats, peanuts, coconut and palm oil. They are considered heavy and are solid at room temperature, and they maintain their integrity better than other cooking oils but watch out for the effects on the cholesterol.
*Poly-unsaturated fat – In the whole, unprocessed food form, contain an appropriate and effective balance of omega 3 and omega 6. The downside to polyunsaturated oil is the fact that it is temperamental and becomes rancid quickly.
Mono-unsaturated fat – These oils do not cause cholesterol to accumulate as saturated fats do and do not become easily rancid. They are also effective in reducing LDL (bad) while not depleting levels of HDL (good)