01.10.2005

Looking Gorgeous on Good Fats & Oils - by Judy Blereau

Spring and summer, here we come! Time to take off our winter layers and go boldly forth. The first thing that comes to mind when we talk about the delicate issue of loosing a few extra kilograms is fat, but eating fat doesn't necessarily mean being fat. This is important to understand, so let's first look at what fat is and why it's essential, and not something to be scared about.

Our body is made from the same stuff that makes the universe - and at our most minute level, we are atoms and molecules and, indeed, we are electrons. Electrons prefer to be present as a pair - positive and negative, the yin and the yang, the duality that drives the universe and creates energy. When the electron is paired, the atom is stable and has more strength to cope with whatever troubles may come its way. Sound familiar?

Fats are basically all formed from the elements carbon, hydrogen and oxygen. The main part of a fatty acid is made up of carbon atoms to which hydrogen atoms are attached. When the number of hydrogen atoms is optimal, their electrons form stable pairs with those of the carbon atoms. These would be saturated fatty acids. Unsaturated fats are missing hydrogen atoms, mono unsaturated fatty acids are missing two, and polyunsaturated fatty acids, four or more. This is known as a double bond and is notoriously unstable and extremely vulnerable to attack from free radicals (unpaired oxygen molecules). This is why anti-oxidants are so important. Heat, light and oxygen are the enemies and unsaturated and polyunsaturated fats need to be protected from them as much as possible. Just think how nature goes to so much trouble to protect unsaturated fats from these three foes - nuts come in hard, thick shells keeping them cool and dark, seeds are contained within a plant and the valuable oil within the seed.

Because of this bond stability, saturated fats are the best to use for heating - butter, ghee, lard, tallow, goose, chicken or duck fat, and the non-animal sources of coconut and palm kernel which are also saturated. Saturated fats are much maligned fats, with a virtual hysteria around one of their components - cholesterol (not found, by the way, in coconut or palm kernel oil). Saturated fats are responsible for a variety of purposes, one of which is the integrity of the cell membrane. Cholesterol is also an important part of the cell membrane, helping it keep its shape. It's also an essential part of many of the cell receptors, is an antioxidant and the primary tool used by our bodies for repair and healing, often called the body's "St Johns ambulance".

Our hormones are made from cholesterol, and to make war on cholesterol is to not fully understand how it works in body - it is to "shoot the messenger" so to speak. Saturated fat is a key component of our brain, it keeps our organs in place and protects them, it provides fuel, and our body needs it to help absorb the fat soluble vitamins A, D, E and K. As a note, I would add growing children have an extremely large requirement for saturated fats and cholesterol.

Of interest in weight loss, butter and coconut oil are short-medium chain fatty acids that are used immediately by the body for energy, and speed up metabolism (particularly coconut fat). In contrast, the longer chain fatty acids (vegetable oils) will contribute to weight gain.
Monounsaturated fats include olive and avocado oil, and would be your best bet for heating oils. Any oil should only be heated once, then discarded, and never ever heated to smoking point.

Unsaturated fats must be used appropriately - and this does not include heating. Sunflower and safflower oils, in their original forms, are not suitable for heating. But in recent years, they have been bred to contain high levels of Oleic Acid (more stable to high temperatures. They can be identified by the name High Oleic Sunflower or High Oleic Safflower Oil. Expeller pressed High Oleic Safflower oil is now often used to produce the healthier cornchips and popcorn - and would be a far better option than many of the other oils used.

It is of the utmost importance that any unsaturated (and even mono unsaturated oil) you use is in the best of condition. Any oil should be extracted with as little heat as possible. Look for terms "Cold Pressed or Expeller Pressed" when shopping and only ever buy good quality, unrefined, organic oils - and generally, they are not cheap. To get cheap oil, that is refined oil, seeds are subjected to extremely high temperatures, soaked in Hexane (a relative of gasoline), deodorised, steamed and bleached, to name but a few steps in the process. Good oil should be strongly scented, reflecting its source, brightly coloured and contain residue.

Margarine is simply this highly refined and damaged unsaturated oil, which is then hydrogenated - the process of adding hydrogen to the oil. Not only are you eating a highly unstable, oxidised, dangerous oil, but hydrogenation also causes the extremely harmful transfatty acids, which profoundly impair cellular function. Damaged unsaturated and mono unsaturated oils are a major source of cancer-causing free radicals, and there is much interesting research showing a connection with breast cancer. Let me put it this way, unsaturated and poly unsaturated fats are highly reactive, becoming unstable very easily, and this could cause many serious imbalances in your cells.

This brings us to the Essential Fatty Acids - Linoleic (Omega 6) and Alpha-linolenic (Omega 3) acids - essential because we need them and the body doesn't make them. These are required by the body in small portions for a host of critical roles in the body. The point to note here is that as they are highly unsaturated (very polyunsaturated) they must be in pristine condition - not in the least bit rancid. Omega 6 sources include most seeds and nuts (and thus their oils - safflower, sunflower, evening primrose, corn, borage, flax, canola and olive) and tropical fats (cocoa, palm, coconut and shea) with small amounts in legumes and sea vegetables also.

Omega 3 sources include flax (linseed), hemp, walnuts, oily fish and also sea vegetables. (Canola and soy would be included here, but not recommended to use). It is critical when choosing flax and walnuts (and their oils) that they are in pristine condition. The very popular LSA nut and seed mix should never be bought pre ground from a shelf. If you must buy them pre ground, do so from a fridge, or preferably grind the mix yourself in small portions from the whole nut and seed, and store in the fridge. Flax oil should only ever be bought from a fridge, in very dark containers - it is generally extracted in the absence of oxygen and light. As an interesting note, there is broad evidence to suggest that saturated fat is required to convert many of the Omega 3 fatty acids into the very desirable EPA and DHA fatty acids.
Once purchased, any grain (and wholemeal flours), seed, nut or oil should also be kept in a cool dark place. Saturated and even mono saturated fats are fine in a cool, dark pantry, but unsaturated and polyunsaturated fats should be kept in a fridge.

What I would say to you is this - if you want to lose a few kilograms to look gorgeous for summer, eat in balance and moderation, from all food groups, knowing that by simply cutting out all fat will move your body out of balance and rob it of extremely important nutrients. By all means reduce it, but also give attention to other factors like these:

Eat three good meals a day
As the weather is warming up, you no longer need extra calories for warmth. Reduce the amount of calories you eat, and balance those calories between all food groups.
Reduce your reliance on carbohydrates - eat more fruit and vegetables, with small portions of protein and fat
Reduce the vegetable oils and give more attention to saturated, coconut and Essential Fatty Acids
Reduce your reliance on refined sugars
Make each meal count - make sure it has enough fuel to keep you going until the next one. Include a protein source (legumes, fish or meat or egg), with lots and lots of vegetables.
Continue to use good quality fats in small amounts in the diet. Eat smaller portions of full fat products instead of low fat (refined) products.
Increase your anti-oxidants. Eat lots of fresh fruit (especially berries) and vegetables.
Eat lots of fruit and vegetables. Lots and lots!!
I know I haven't mentioned exercise here, but this would go without saying. Exercise means fresh air, movement, and using up the calories you are eating.
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