“Let food be thy medicine”. When we think of food in his context we begin to understand that everything we put in our mouth is either making us healthier or killing us slowly. With that in mind, we are going to examine one of the most common mistakes made in the kitchen, the use of oils.
Despite the overwhelming number of choices in the supermarket, understanding the differences in oils is not as complicated as you might think. With just a little bit of knowledge, you will be health warrior for you and your family. So here we go…
Before we talk about the different oil options, it is important to understand the health benefits oils can give.
Oils contain Essential Fatty Acids (EFAs). They are called essential because the body can not produce them and they are essential for life. EFAs are perhaps the most overlooked nutrient in diets today. Most people have heard o f Omega-3 fatty acids and are vaguely familiar with its almost legendary status with improvements in such diseases as cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes, multiple sclerosis, skin problems, PMS, poor wound healing, arthritis, lung function, detoxification and improving the immune system and calcium absorption. Now you can understand why these fatty acids are truly are essential.
Oils can be broken down into 4 categories:
and trans-fats (AKA hydrogenated oil)
Saturated fats: The first thing that comes to mind when most people think of saturated fats is that they are unhealthy and should be avoided.
Saturated fats have gotten a bad rap over the years. The truth is that they play essential roles in the body and are necessary for health and vitality.
“Saturated” fats simply means that the fatty acid chain (think of this as the spine of a book) is loaded (Saturated) with Hydrogen molecules (these would be the pages in the book). This makes the structure rigid, providing a sturdy foundation for the cell membrane, of which saturated fats make up about half.
Additionally saturated fats provide an anchor for proteins to attach. Saturated fats are normally solid at room temperatures and will last longer than other oils before it turns rancid (spoils). They have a high melting point due to their rigidity, therefor can withstand being heated better than other oils. Coconut oil, Kern oil and Fats made from animal products like butter (link to milk article) are all sources of saturated fats. The health benefits associated with saturated fats include an increase in the healthy cholesterol, (HDL), and convert the LDL “bad” cholesterol into good cholesterols. This leaves your body happy and healthy with a lowered risk of cardiovascular disease.
Mono-unsaturated fats: While saturated fat have their framework loaded with hydrogens, monounsaturated fats are missing 2 hydrogen atoms.
In our book example, think of ripping out a few pages. What happens to the book? It gets weaker. The spine does not have those pages for stability. Think of oils the same way.
In a monounsaturated fat, a few pages have been ripped out. Now that the oil is less stable, it begins to become more vulnerable to becoming rancid (spoiling). Mono-unsaturated fats do not last as long as saturated fats and breakdown more easily when heated. Oils that contain monounsaturated fats are typically liquid at room temperature but start to turn solid when chilled. Olive oil is everyones favorite example of a monounsaturated fat, containing about 70%. Other oils would include avacado oil, sunflower oil, canola oil, peanut oil, safflower oil and sesame oil.
Poly-unsaturated fat: In our earlier example, a polyunsaturated fat would be a book with multiple pages at different sections of the book torn out. Your book is not even ore unstable than the earlier two examples. At this point you might be asking yourself how can this be a good thing?
The health advantages of the weakened structure of the polyunsaturated fat is that it gives the cell membrane more fluidity to get nutrients and waste products back and fourth across the cell membrane. Think of windows in a house. If you want to let fresh air in or clear out an oder or dust in the room, you open the window. If a storm is coming (this would be a toxin), you close the window and dont let it in.
Trans fats/hydrogenated; trans fats are the #1 killer in our diet. I will go one step further and say that It is my opinion that they are the #1 killer, period. Let me repeat that , it is my opinion that TRANS FATS ARE THE PRIMARY KILLER OF THE HUMAN RACE!!!
If you learn nothing else from me, learn this fact. ???Trans fats are not natural???. They are made to increase shelf life and texture of food at the expense of the consumers health. Many people confuse hydrogenated fat with saturated fat. They are not the same thing.
So what is so dangerous about trans fats?
The first problem with trans fats is that they will block normal Essential Fatty Acid (EFA) metabolism. This basically means your ability to burn fat. So if you are spending hours on a treadmill with no results, you might want to assess whether or not you are eating trans fats.
Another problem with trans-fats is that transits greatly restrict the cells ability to transfer nutrients and waste products across the cell membrane. If you are eating trans fats, you are building a house with no windows and no doors.
And finally, they promote the production of an inflammatory molecule called aracadonic acid and it inhibits the production of 2 anti-inflammatory substances called PG1 and PG2. Inflammation is linked to just about every major chronic disease process. Why? Because inflammation is the body’s band-aid. It is the first and fastest line of defense agains damage in the body. The problem has become that we have been taught to believe inflammation is the problem. I am telling you that inflammation is a warning signal that you need examine. Your body is screaming at you, STOP EATING TRANS FATS!!!
Trans fats are easily identified by reading the food label. Remember that sometimes food labels like to use the words “hydrogenated” or “partially hydrogonated” to hid the fact that they contain trans fats. A good rule of thumb is that if your food comes in a box or has a unnaturally long expiration date, chances are, it contains trans fats.
One important fact to keep in mind is the lifespan of the molecule. This is referred to as a “half-life”. The half-life of a normal healthy fatty acid is 18 days. This basically means that every 18 days, about half the fatty acids are replaced. Conversly, The half-life of trans fats are 51 days. That means, the foods you ate 2 months ago are just now starting to clear your body. Keep this in mind the next time you want to “treat yourself” every once in awhile. Periodically in our modern times, “treat yourself” has become synonymous with poison yourself.
So what oils should you use and when?
If you are cooking, you want to use saturated fats. Remember these fats are a bit more sturdy than the fragile unsaturated alternatives. What this means is that it will not breakdown (oxidize, once a fat oxidizes, its healthful benefits are gone) under high temperatures. Coconut oil is probably your best choice when considering cost, health benefits and availability. Butter would be a good option if you can find it in its natural unprocessed form. Unfortunately the current commercial practices are focused solely on profit and not quality of product. Once you learn of the shocking ways the dairy industry tries to manipulate nature to increase profit, you will avoid it like the plague. The laundry list of health risks associated with commercial dairy is long.
Mono and Poly unsaturated fats are best consumed raw. Use in salad dressing, dipping sauces and other recipes that do not require heating. A word of caution here, regular olive oil is different than EVOO. This oil is typically a blend of virgin olive oil and refined olive oil. In order to produce this oil, heat and/or chemicals are used in the process of extracting oil and removing flaws from the olives. Pure olive oil is a lower-quality oil than extra-virgin or virgin olive oil, with a lighter color, and more neutral in flavor. It is best to buy EVOO when shopping.
A little tip, when you buy your oil and get it home, get a good quality vitamin E gel cap. poke a hole in it and squeeze it into the bottle of oil. Vitamin E is what is known as an anti-oxidant. It will protect your oil from going bad.
Another important thing to keep in mind is the fact that reheating oil of any kind is a big no-no. Reheating oils causes them to turn rancid, producing a toxin called 4-hydroxy-trans-2-nonenal (HNE). HNE forms when oils like canola, corn, soybean and sunflower oils are reheated. Consumption of foods has been associated with increased risks of cardiovascular disease, stroke, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, liver disorders, and cancer. (1). This is one of the main reasons we have been told of the horrors of fried foods. It is because restaurants want to cut corners and save money. They will often use an inferior oil not made to withstand heat, and to make matters worse, they will reuse and reheat the oil, sometimes for weeks before changing it.
If you love your fried foods, it is best to prepare them at home where you can limit the health risks.