Natural Oils, Fats and Essential Fatty Acids

Is low-fat or non-fat better for you?

Natural oils and fats are actually good for you despite the fact that these days, many people think of fats as bad. Food labels advertise low-fat or non-fat, helping to reinforce this belief.

To be sure, excess fat intake - like excess anything - is bad for you. However, eliminating all fat from your diet is just as bad. Certain vitamins and nutrients, such as vitamin E and beta-carotene, are fat soluble and therefore are consumed through the fatty component of vegetable and animal foods. Therefore, ensuring a limited fat intake of certain oils and fats is the right solution to achieving good health.

Natural Oils and Fats

Natural oils and fats come in three varieties – monounsaturated, polyunsaturated and saturated. Commercially available food oils are generally processed and refined – in the process losing color, flavor and most importantly nutritional value. Saturated fats tend to be less reactive than unsaturated fats. Therefore, your body has more difficult time breaking them down; and as a result they tend to accumulate, clog arteries, and raise cholesterol level. Keep in mind that unsaturated fats become saturated when heated (as when oil is used for frying).

Hydrogenated oils are polyunsaturated oils - normally liquid at room temperature - altered into a solid form to make them easier to use or more palatable. Margarine or shortening used for cooking are good examples of hydrogenated oils. Hydrogenation converts these monounsaturated and polyunsaturated oils into artificially saturated fats called trans fatty acids. Recent studies have shown that trans fat has little nutritional value and creates an increased risk of heart disease.

In general, the best kinds of oil to use is monounsaturated oils (e.g. extra virgin olive oil). What I do is primarily use extra virgin olive oil and add a little butter, peanut oil, sesame oil or other oil to add a specific desired flavor. Look for cold pressed oils because heat processing generally kills nutrients and can transform the oil into a saturated fat.

Essential Fatty Acids

Natural fats, in reasonable quantities are good for your health. In fact, some fats are so important that they are classified as essential fatty acids. The reason these are called essential is that our bodies do not produce these fats. Therefore, they must be consumed. These fatty acids can be classified as Omega-6 fatty acids, generally found in fresh produce, vegetable oils and meats, and Omega-3 fatty acids found in fish, leafy green vegetables and some nuts and seeds (such as flaxseed and walnut).

Estimates are that 100 years ago, about 60 percent of American polyunsaturated fat consumption was in the form of Omega-6 oils, while the remaining 40 percent consisted of Omega-3 oils. Because of the obsession with polyunsaturated vegetable oils, this balance has changed to 95 percent Omega-6 oils and 5 percent Omega-3 oils. Experts believe that this shift may be contributing to the increased rate of heart disease. Consuming more Omega-3 oils is expected to help reduce your risk of heart disease.

Summary Table of Oils and Fats

Natural Oils and Fats that are Best for You

  • Coconut (non-hydrogenated)
  • Organic butter
  • Extra virgin olive oil - proven to increase phenol (an antioxidant) levels in blood, preventing oxidation damage to arteries.
  • Flax seed oil - good source of Omega-3 fatty acids

Oils and Fats that Can Be Used Occasionally

  • Non-hydrogenated vegetable oils (cold pressed)

Oils and Fats to Avoid

  • Non-organic animal fats (lard, butter, beef tallow
  • Hydrogenated vegetable oils
  • Margarine
  • Shortening
  • Vegetable oils that are not cold pressed
  • Fake fats (Olestra)

Consuming moderate quantities of natural oils and fats,
especially essential fatty acids, is The Natural Path to good health.

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