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Fats, the Good, the Bad and the Ugly

I know I go on about this topic, but it is one that is critically important to our health, and as I stated in previous tips, it is one the nutrition pundits have got wrong. They are suggesting we use polyunsaturated vegetable oils for cooking. Now think back to high school chemistry and remember what, by definition, a "polyunsaturated molecule" means.  It means that the molecule is unstable - that it has more than one double bond, and would prefer to share those electrons with other atoms to help the molecule become saturated and stable.  Oxygen is missing two electrons in its outer shell, and so it is fairly reactive and would be happy to bind with the extra electrons in the polyunsaturated molecule. The more unsaturated the molecule is, the less stable the molecule, and the more reactive it is.  So, when polyunsaturated vegetable oils are heated, they react with oxygen, and oxidize, which makes them rancid.  This is why a monounsaturated oil like olive oil is more stable and okay for low temperature cooking, and saturated fats are the most stable and therefore the best for cooking.

The kicker is that most of the vegetable oils on the market are heated in the processing in order to get the oil out of the seed. (Can you imagine how difficult it would be to squeeze oil out of a grape seed?) Therefore they are already rancid before they even make it onto the store shelves. They are then deodorized so they don't smell bad and will fool the consumer.

Polyunsaturated oils like canola oil, sunflower oil, safflower oil, corn oil, etc. can be used for salad dressings as long as the bottle says "unrefined" on it. Make sure the bottles are dark, and keep them in the fridge. Be aware that there are no labeling requirements for GMO in North America, and pretty much all canola, soy and corn oil on the market is genetically modified, unless you choose organic. Polyunsaturated oils are high in omega 6, and most of us consume far too much omega 6 in relation to omega 3 in our diet, which can cause a lot of inflammation in the body, so in my opinion, it simply is not necessary to use omega 6 vegetable oils at all for any reason. Olive oil which is a monounsaturated oil, and/or flax oil which is an omega 3 oil, make delicious salad dressings. To summarize, if you insist on using polyunsaturated oils, only choose organic, unrefined, and DO NOT cook with them.

Trans fats are known to be very devastating to the body, and are implicated in heart disease, so avoid margarine and shortening. Don't be fooled by the fake buttery spreads that are touted as healthy, even if they say "no trans fats" on the label. They are still manufactured fats, and are dangerous. Use real butter instead. Be suspect of any food that has vegetable oils listed on the label, and yet the product is solid (like ice cream) or dry (like crackers or spices). That is a give-away that the fats inside should not be consumed. 

For cooking, saturated fats are the way to go. They are stable and contrary to popular belief, healthy for the body. So use extra virgin coconut oil, pasture-fed butter or ghee, or free-range organic chicken or beef fat, and don't worry about clogging your arteries. These fats are not the problem. Remember that heart disease was non-existent in the late 1800s when everything was cooked with these saturated fats and had been for centuries. The first heart attack on record happened in 1921, just as the vegetable oil industry was picking up steam, and sugar was becoming more plentiful.  Since then saturated fat consumption has plummeted while heart disease has skyrocketed, so it is illogical to blame saturated fat for this.  Much of the research on heart disease does not distinguish between quality saturated fats and trans fats, which is a huge mistake.

If you really want to understand fats, oils and lipids so that you can accurately wade through the misinformation, consider reading Mary Enig's book Know Your Fats: The Complete Primer For Understanding the Nutrition of Fats, Oils, and Cholesterol. She was a lipid researcher at the University of Maryland, and was not funded by the food or drug industry. Her book is probably the best book out there on lipid chemistry in nutrition geared for the non-scientist.

Related tips:
Saturated fat - the misunderstood nutrient
Vegetable oils - friend or foe?
Essential fats, omega 3 to omega 6 ratio
How to avoid trans fats
GMO - Crossing the species barrier
Food Guide Fallacy

Enig, Mary; Know Your Fats: The Complete Primer For Understanding the Nutrition of Fats, Oils, and Cholesterol Bethesda Press, Silver Spring, MD, 2003
Fallon, Sally and Enig, Mary; Nourishing Traditions, Revised 2nd Edition NewTrends Publishing Inc., Washington, D.C., 2001.
Chek, Paul; You Are What You Eat CD Series  Chek Institute, San Diego, CA, 2002. 
Price, Weston Nutrition and Physical Degeneration Pottenger Price Foundation, 1945.
Soriquer F. et al. Hypertension is related to the degradation of dietary frying oils Am J Clin Nutr Dec;78(6):1092-7, 2003.
de Roos NM et al. Replacement of dietary saturated fatty acids by trans fatty acids lowers serum HDL cholesterol and impairs endothelial function in healthy men and women Arterioscler Thromb Vasc Biol, Jul; 21(7):1233-7, 2001
de Roos NM et al. Consumption of a solid fat rich in lauric acid results in a more favorable serum lipid profile in healthy men and women than consumption of a solid fat rich in trans fatty acids Journal of Nutrition Feb:131(2):242-5, 2001.
de Roos et al. Replacement of dietary saturated fat with trans fat reduces serum paraoxonase activity in healthy men and women Metabolism Dec;51(12):1534-7, 2002.
Temme EH. et al. Individual saturated fatty acids and effects on whole blood aggregation in vitro Eur J Clin Nut Oct:52(10):697-702, 1998.
Online by Mary Enig, PhD, fats, oils and lipids researcher The importance of saturated fats for biological functions
Online by Mary Enig, PhD, fats, oils and lipids researcher Fats and Oils and their impact on health
Online by Mary Enig, PhD, fats, oils and lipids researcher An Example of Junk Science
Online by Mary Enig, PhD, fats, oils and lipids researcher Trans Fatty Acids are not formed by heating vegetable oils

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Copyright 2006 Vreni Gurd