Many of us were brought up with the idea that we should avoid fat as much as possible. Fat is unhealthy, making you obese and heightening the risk of cardiovascular disease. All of this is true – that is, if you are talking about an excess of saturated fats.
But there are also Mono-unsaturated(MUFA) and Polyunsaturated (PUFA) fats.
The latter are, by contrast, especially valuable for our health; even indispensable. For this reason, the Polyunsaturated fats are called ‘essential fats’.
There is yet another category of fats, the so called Trans fat. They are formed when fluid oils are turned into solid fats by various man-made methods. These synthetic fats are extremely harmful for our health.
It is therefore important to distinguish between vital fats and fatal fats.
Types of fat
The type of fat is determined by the composition of the fatty acids that make it up. A fatty acid chain may be long (saturated) or short (unsaturated) consisting of carbon atoms and coupled to it hydrogen atoms and an acid group. Among the carbon atom, double bonds may appear.
If there are no double bonds, we speak of saturated fats (SF). If there is a double bond, we speak of an unsaturated fat (UF). With 2 or more double bonds between the carbon atoms we have polyunsaturated fat (PUF).
It is not true that saturated fats are only present in animal fats (i.e Meat, Milk and Cheese) and that unsaturated fatty acids are exclusively derived from plants. Coconut oil and palm oil contain many saturated fatty acids (SFA) and at the same time animal fats consist of unsaturated fats for a large part. Completely saturated fats are as hard as wax and indigestible. Completely unsaturated fats are virtually non existent in natural foods.
Monounsaturated fatty acids, such as oleic acid are present in high concentrations in olive oil, avocado and hazelnuts for example. The Polyunsaturated fatty acids are present in flaxseed oil, fish, nuts and seeds amongst others. Two of the PUFA’s linolenic acid and alpha linolenic acid are also called essential fatty acids (EFA’s) because the body needs them, but is unable to synthesize them itself. We must ingest PUFA’s via our food.
The man-made trans fatty acids (TFA’s) form a special category and are called hydrogenated fats on food labels. These fatty acids are formed by a certain method of processing fluid oils – Hydrogenation. During hydrogenation of oils, the degree of saturation of the oil is increased (hydrogenation means adding hydrogen atoms and therefore increasing the number of single or saturated bonds) and more straight chains are created. Most animal fats also contain a small amount of trans fatty acid.
ENORMOUS DIFFERENCES BETWEEN FATS
The chemical make-up of fats does not say much about the differences between SF and PUFA’s. When we look at the function of the various fats in the body, differences are enormous. We can assume that the polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA’s) are indispensable, having a positive effect on our health, whereas the trans fatty acids (TFA’s) and an excess of saturated fatty acids are detrimental to our health.
|TFAS and/ or Excess SFA’s Increase cancer risk
Increases stickiness of blood platelets
Heighten risk of cardiac failure or stroke
Raise blood pressure
Affect insulin function
Make skin greasy
Raise Lp risk factor *
Raise fat quantity in the blood
Impede brain function
Impair eye sight
Adversely affect kidney function
Cause fat to collect around liver
Impede adrenal gland function
Damage immune system
Diminish reproductive function
May cause cell mutations
Cause or aggravate depression
Worsens inflammations, Eczema etc
|Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids – containing EFA’s Make blood platelets less sticky
Protect against cardiac failure or stroke
Lower blood pressure
Are needed for insulin to be effective
Help to keep you slim
Give more energy to the body
Make skin smooth and supple
Lower Lp risk factor *
Lower fat quantity in blood
Prevent and diminish ateriosclerosis
Improve brain function
Improve kidney function
Prevent liver fattening
Needed for proper functioning of adrenals
Help maintain or improve immunity
Improve reproductive cycle
protect DNA against mutations
Relieve depression/heighten mood
*Lp = Lipoprotein. A high lipoprotein content increases the risk of cardiac and vascular disorders.
From the above list it is possible to see that essential fatty acids are not only needed for the proper functioning of all cells, tissues, glands and organs. But they can also contribute to recovery. Not surprisingly, we need spoonfuls of these fresh oils every day as much as vitamins, minerals and amino acids. The body itself is capable of making unsaturated fatty acids and saturated acids from PUFA’s. That is the reason why other fats are not essential nutrients. The other way round, however, it is not possible, so PUFA’s need to be ingested as part of our diets. There are two kinds of essential PUFA’s: Omega 3 (alpha-linolenic acid) and omega 6 (linoleic acid)
Functions of Essential Fatty Acids (EFA’s)
Essential fatty acids (EFA’s) perform many important functions
EFA’s make prostaglandins
Perhaps the most crucial function of essential fatty acids is their role in the production of prostaglandins. Prostoglandins are hormone like compounds that affect the cholesterol balance, the production of hormones, the immune system and blood pressure. Blood coagulation and cell division are also regulated by prostaglandins. They ensure less sticky blood palatelets, thus reducing the likelihood of a clot forming. This helps to explain the protective effect of essential fatty acids in relationship to heart attacks and strokes.
Prostaglandins lower high blood pressure, help the kidneys to get rid of excess water and lessen inflammation in tissues. There are 3 types of Prostaglandins which need to be present in proper balance to function well, 2 out of the 3 can only be synthesized from EFA’s.
EFA’s give more energy
Most sportsmen avoid fats, mistakenly. EFA’s are known to raise energy production by assisting the body in the assimilation of oxygen. The affect is clearly discernable in athletes: both in strength sports and endurance sports.
Athletes using the right fatty acids, are in a better shape and recover faster after exertion.
Non-sporting people too may notice that EFA’s give more energy; for example they may need less sleep and become keen to engage in exercise. EFA’s do not provide a boost like a cup of coffee does, but provide a long lasting stable form of energy. The effect was found to be the strongest in the elderly and overweight.
EFA’s combat obesity
EFA’s accelerate the metabolism and raise the energy level, which means that more calories are consumed. Moreover, they help the kidneys drain off excess fluid. For many people, fluid retention is a major cause of their obesity. Fatty acids are also mood improving. The average person taking EFA’s will not only feel better, but becomes more energetic and activity levels will increase.
EFA’s lower high cholesterol
Cholesterol has acquired a bad name because a high cholesterol content is associated with the risk of cardiovascular disease. But cholesterol is also important for every cell. It is an indispensable part of every cell membrane and it is important for brain development in young children. It is especially important for the part of the brain responsible for the development of the eyes. Moreover, cholesterol plays a role in wound healing and it has an important structural function. However, an increased level of cholesterol in the blood has been associated with cardiovascular disease. With regard to this we need to distinguish between the two types of cholesterol: HDL-cholesterol (High Density cholesterol – the so called “Good Cholesterol”) and LDL-cholesterol (the “bad” cholesterol).
Essential fatty acids have a beneficial effect on the blood cholesterol level; they increase HDL-cholesterol slightly and have been shown to lower LDL-cholesterol and the total fat content of the blood (triglycerides). Omega-3 EFA’s lower triglycerides by up to 65%, which is a greater reduction than most medication gives.
EFA’s improve brain function
As the brain consists of more than 50% EFA’s, the brain function and brain development are, for a considerable part, dependent on them.
A growing body of research results is available showing that EFA’s may be used as a remedy for all kinds of learning disabilities, i.e Dyslexia and concentration problem, A.D.D and behavioral hyperactivity. If our food does not satisfy the biological requirements of our brain, our behavior will will predictably suffer. EFA’s are expected to to be playing an even bigger part in correcting criminal, antisocial and violent behavior and in so have been recognized by government institutions. They are also very helpful in relieving depression.
EFA’s are good for hair, skin and nails
The skin is a reliable indicator of the need for essential fatty acids. A dry skin indicates that additional EFA’s are needed. They prevent dehydration, not only of the skin, but also of the brain and liver. These organs are given priority by the body. Only when they are sufficiently hydrated does the skin receive moisture.
Fatty acids provide a form of internal cosmetic care. An adult needs about 1-2 tablespoons of EFA’s daily to keep the skin soft and supple. EFA’s protect against sunburn and help to promote an even tan. They also help skin ailments such as eczema and psoriasis.
EFA’s act as antioxidants
Antioxidants, as the name implies, block detrimental oxidation processes in the body. By taking in antioxidants via our food – vegetables, fruits and EFA’s – we can protect ourselves against free radicals. Omega 3 works against the fat soluble free radicals, just as vitamin C works against water-soluble ones.
The list of EFA functions is extensive, they also:
-Aid in production of haemoglobin,
-Play a part in cellular growth and division,
-Help prevent leaky gut syndrome,
-Are needed for the proper function of the liver, kidneys, adrenal glands, pancreas and other glands,
-Are needed for healthy semen production,
-May help prevent PMT,
-Help detoxify the body,
-Provide for a smooth intestinal lining, thus help to prevent constipation,
-Are required for the transport and metabolism of minerals and fat soluble vitamins,
-Are utilized by the cells of the immune system against infections.
Balance of Omega 3 and Omega 6
It will now be clear that EFA’s are of vital importance for our health. A deficiency affects all cells and organs of our body. Conversely, all symptoms caused by the deficiency can be improved by adding EFA’s to the diet. The two types of EFA, Omega 3 and Omega 6, must be in balance with the body.
The food we routinely eat in the Western world is deficient in omega 3 (and Zinc). Therefore many people have turned to flaxseed oil, which has three times as much omega 3 and 6 to redress the balance.
They’ve forgotten Omega 9!!!
A rich source of Omega 9 is oleic acid. This is a mono-unsaturated fatty acid with a stabilizing function. Omega 9 neither raises, nor lowers cholesterol. Sufficient amounts of mono-unsaturated fats, such as oleic acid in Olive oil, combined with adequate amounts of saturated and un saturated fats, keep cholesterol at a healthy level. If oleic acid is unrefined it contains phytosterols and antioxidants, such as vitamin E which help prevent the oil from becoming rancid. Omega 9 being an indispensable fatty acid for the skin cells, has a beneficial effect on the skin.
Long chain saturated fats in our diet are bad for our health. They increase the risk of all sorts of degenerative disorders. PUFA fats (derived from vegetable oils, fish, nuts and seed among others) are high in essential fatty acids and are necessary for the proper functioning of every cell, gland, tissue and organ. We need to obtain PUFA’s from our food because the body cannot make them itself. If we take supplemental in the form of oils, we need to ensure that the product has been cold pressed, carefully and minimally processed and organic wherever possible.
FAT CONTENT AND FATTY ACID COMOPSITION OF SEED OILS
Fatty Acid Composition (% of total oil)
name Fat Omega3 – Omega6 Omega9 Stearic acid Palmitic acid
Content Polyunsaturated Monounsaturated Saturated Saturated
In many instances, the processing of oils removes precisely those ingredients that are healthful. These are the so-called ‘Secondary ingredients’, such as phytosterols, octaconasol, vitamin E, cartenoids, lignans and specific kinds of wax. These are molecules of plant origin possessing important health-promoting properties. These secondary ingredients have been removed from refined oils. Nuts and seeds are naturally rich in secondary ingredients.
Hundreds of scondary ingredients may be identified in a vegetable oil – only recently have these substances started to be studied. Even though most vegetable oils contain only 2% secondary ingredients, these substances are, nevertheless, capable of exercising a highly beneficial impact. Olive oil is a good example. It consists of PUFA’s at 10% and mono-unsaturated fats at 70%. For health purposes, the composition of the fatty acids in olive oil is not the most ineresting, but it is the secondary ingredients that lend oilve oil its healthful properties.
Extra virgin olive oil (unrefined) contains all of the above mentioned secondary ingredients.
These secondary ingredients may:
– Lower a high cholesterol level and block the absorptionof cholesterol from foods,
– Enhance the function of the heart and blood vessels,
– Improve digestion and pancreatic enzyme production,
– Stimulate the owrking of the liver and gall bladder, increasing bile flow,
– Act as antioxidants to stabilize the essential fatty acids in the oil/seeds, preventing rancidity,
– Helpt to prevent inflammation,
– Protect the eyes and improve brain function.
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