Good fat, bad fat, low fat, no fat!
At one time, saturated fat was lorded as the best source of health promoting nutrients a person could consume. Oh how times have changed. Since then we have learnt an incredible amount about the different types of fats, and how they each interact in unique ways with our biochemistry. And although there is still some work to be done, science has determined a few truths about certain types of fat. We now know that eating too much of the wrong kinds of fat can seriously harm our health. Meat, cheese, butter, and ice cream have all gotten a bad rap on account of their saturated fat content, while vegetable oils have become the universal good guys. Unfortunately, this idea that vegetable fats can do no wrong has lead to one of the worst misunderstandings about fat and our health. I’m talking about ‘trans fat’ made from vegetable oils and their unopposed rise in the manufacture of packaged and fast foods.
What is trans fat?
Trans fat is produced through two main industrial processes.
- Partial hydrogenation, a process that adds hydrogen to liquid oils transforming them into semi-solid and solid fats.
- Deep-fat frying can create trans fat if oils are not used properly. This can be kept to a minimum if frying oil is used at appropriate temperatures and within its lifespan.
Why does the food industry use trans fat?
Food companies like trans fat because it is easy to produce, inexpensive and because it lasts a long time. Packaged foods get a longer shelf life and frying oils in restaurants and fast food joints can be re-used more often.
What’s wrong with trans fat?
Trans fats have been dubbed supercharged fats or fats on steroids for their detrimental effect on health. Because of the way they interact in the body, trans fat increases the risk of heart disease and stroke more than any other dietary fat. Not only does it raise your LDL (bad) cholesterol, it also lowers your HDL (good) cholesterol in the body. It also increases your risk of type 2 diabetes, which has been steadily on the rise for decades.
Where will I find trans fat?
Check food labels, but unfortunately they wont all state the trans fat content, so you can also spot trans fats by looking for “partially hydrogenated” vegetable oil. This really means the same thing. Foods likely to contain trans fats include fried foods like french fries and doughnuts, baked goods including pastries, pie crusts, biscuits, pizza dough, cookies, crackers, margarines and shortenings…All foods we should be avoiding or eating in moderation anyway. So what fats should you be eating?
It seems that minimal animal fat is ok, while plenty of deep sea oily fish and uncooked nut and vegetable oils are wonderful health promoters. The most important of the ‘good fats’ are the omegas.
The 3 Omegas!
One of the most common questions I hear is “what’s the difference between omega 3, 6, and 9, and which one do I need to take?”
The difference lies in the position of the first double bond from the methyl end, or the omega end of the carbon chain. Omega 3 has it’s double bond at the 3rd position, omega 6 at the 6th position and omega 9 at the 9th……still reading? Ok, I’ll try to keep this short and sweet! The three omegas are also made up of different essential fatty acids and it is those fatty acids that determine what therapeutic properties each omega exerts. All of them are good for us, in fact they are essential, hence the name essential fatty acids.
Main components of Omega 3, 6, 9
|Omega 3||Omega 6||Omega 9|
|Alpha-linolenic acid ALA||Linolenic acid LA||Oleic acid OA|
|Eicosapentaenoic acid EPA||Dihomogamma linolenic acid DLA|
|Docosahexaenoic acid DHA||Gamma-linolenic acid GLA|
|Arachidonic acid AA|
Are you and your family getting enough Omegas?
If you are eating 3 serves of fish weekly, plenty of nuts and seeds, vegetable oils like olive and flaxseed, then yes, you may be getting enough from your diet. The other important question is are you getting the right ratio of omega 3, 6 and 9? Without the balance of omega 3, omega 6 and 9 actually fuel inflammation, making arthritis, heart disease, skin conditions, menstrual cramping, and generalised pain worse. For ideal health we need an Omega 3 to Omega 6/9 ratio of 1:2. Unfortunately today’s western diets provide abundant omega 6 and 9 in red meat, convenience and packaged foods, giving the average person a whopping ratio of 1:10! For that reason anyone with a condition made worse by inflammation needs to boost their omega 3 significantly with a fish oil supplement (as well as working on their diet!).
Cod Liver oil
Grandma was right! The absolute best way to get Omega 3 is the old fashioned way. As well as the fatty acids ALA, DHA and EPA , cod liver oil contains the vitamins A and D which are often lacking in our diets. I prefer clients to take it in liquid form, which often leads to stories about gagging on the stuff as kids! I reckon a lot of the oil used in years gone by wasn’t particularly pure and perhaps even rancid – Yuk! We know a lot more about the importance of refrigeration of these oils and the manufacturing processes are amazingly advanced too. Good quality fresh oil tastes fine – I promise!
A great balance of omega 3, 6 and 9, flaxseed oil is naturally the right ratio for health. I encourage people to add it to their diets as a culinary oil rather than using it as a medicine. It is great in salad dressings, in smoothies and you can even mix it up with the same amount of butter for a healthier spread. It is a good source of the omegas for vegetarians and vegans.
If you want to supplement with an omega, which one should you take?
Pregnancy and breastfeeding
This is a time of increased need and studies have concluded that particularly DHA is required in higher amounts. Supplements with a higher proportion of DHA to EPA are now available for this reason.
Heart disease, arthritis, menstrual pain, joint pain, skin inflammation
EPA and DHA are both very important for the above conditions. It seems that a higher proportion of EPA is best though. Cod liver oil would be best in this situation as it is naturally higher in EPA. Add evening primrose oil for menstrual pain.
ADHD, depression, memory, learning disorders, alzheimer’s
A higher proportion of DHA is important here. This can be found in many supplement forms.
Maybe you don’t have any health problems but want to delay a family propensity to arthritis, depression, heart disease, or an age related degenerative disease? My advice is to modify your diet to include fish 3 times a week, add a handful of nuts and a tablespoon of olive, or flax oil daily. To top it off, and if you feel inclined to supplementing as well, you could add cod liver oil at a dose of 2,000 mg daily. The liquid is best (more economical) and trust me, it is palatable!
So why not give the fats in your diet an overhaul and see how much better you feel.