Life Herbs Blog

Good Fats, Bad Fats

Avocado half with nuts on a plate

In the West over 40% of our calories come from processed and hard fats. This high intake of potentially harmful fats leads to cardiovascular disease, elevated cholesterol, cancer, diabetes, multiple sclerosis, arthritis, pre-menstrual syndrome and other degenerative diseases.

However a low fat diet also produces health problems such as stunted growth in children, dry skin, low energy, high serum triglyceride in the blood and high cholesterol. Sometimes the immune system is weakened leading to a greater incidence of allergies, leaky gut syndrome and lowered testosterone production.

When low fat foods are manufactured they are often high in sugar to compensate for their tasteless nature. This sugar similarly is converted into harmful fat.

How fats are rendered harmful

1. Hydrogenation

Look at the labels and check that any oil present in a food is not hydrogenated. Hydrogenation is a commercial process, which turns liquid oils into cheap spreadable shelf-stable fats. However this process changes the essential fatty acids found in oil into trans-fatty acids. This may be great for the food industry but is bad news for our health. Trans-fatty acids lead to cardiovascular disease, lowered immunity, decreased testosterone, increased abnormal sperm They interfere with pregnancy, are correlated with low birth weight, interfere with blood insulin and liver enzymes. Cell membranes are affected, cholesterol increased, platelets in the blood are stickier, making blood more likely to clot
Hydrogenated fats are found in margarine, breads, cakes, biscuits, instant soups, chocolate bars, deserts, crisps, convenience foods and peanut butter.

2. Frying

Research is constantly showing that fried fats cause cancer and arteriosclerosis (Hardening of the arteries). Ironically the oils which are the healthiest, i.e. are richest in fatty acids are the ones which are most damaged by frying, rendering them toxic to health. If you get a cloud of smoke when you open the oven you can be sure the oils or fats in the foods you are baking have broken down to form carcinogenic substances.

3. Refining and deodorising

This process produces colourless, odourless oils, which are devoid of virtually all nutritional benefit. When buying oil check it is unrefined green oil.
The problem with sugar

Any excess sugar in the diet is changed into the harmful form of fat. It also interferes with the essential fatty acids, (EFA’s) from healthy fats. It inhibits Vitamin C uptake, interferes with insulin function, and makes platelets in the blood stickier. Immunity is affected; calcium, chromium and other minerals are removed from the body and adrenaline production can increase by up to four times.

Why are essential fatty acids – essential?

The word ‘essential’ is used because the body cannot produce these EFA’s and so they have to be obtained from food or supplementation. EFA’s rank alongside protein in the body – the two working alongside each other.

What do essential fatty acids do for us?

1. They assist brain development and function. Research has shown considerable improvement in mental illness when essential fatty acids are included in the diet.

2. They are required for protein production.

3. Essential fatty acids strengthen the immune system and protect against cell mutation, acting similarly to anti-oxidants.

4. They also benefit the liver, kidney and adrenal glands. They are required to regulate heart beat, lower high blood pressure, protect from heart attacks and strokes and to improve reproductive function.

5. Essential fatty acids in the diet keep the skin smooth and supple, strengthen hair and assist wound healing. Eczema, acne, psoriasis and other skin problems often improve once they are introduced into the diet. Fungal infections like athletes foot and yeast overgrowth (Candida) also respond.

6. They prevent food allergies and auto-immune syndromes and tissue inflammation by preventing gut inflammation and leaky gut syndrome.

7. Omega 3 fatty acids help the body obtain more oxygen and raise the metabolic rate; therefore actually assisting weight loss, as well as building energy levels and stamina.

8. Omega 6 and 3 also help clear excess water; stored in the tissues, which often contributes to excess weight.

9. They decrease cravings and addictions to foods, which often results when we gain insufficient nutrients from foods. In fact they are essential for mineral transport and metabolism.
10. Omega 3 reduces the clotting tendency of blood and reduces cholesterol and triglyceride levels in blood.

11. They relieve auto-immune symptoms and tissue inflammation.

12. They help stabilise and elevate mood.

13. They assist detoxification, since oil soluble toxins leave the body with sweat.

14. They also inhibit tumour growth.

‘Minor’ ingredients in oils

So called because they are present in very small quantities in seeds, nuts and unrefined oils (about 2%). They include phytosterols, antioxidants, lecithin, chlorophyll and many other vitally important ingredients.

They improve cardiovascular, liver and gall bladder function, protect visual and brain function, stimulate pancreatic enzyme production, lower cholesterol levels in the blood, act as anti-inflammatory agents and stabilise against rancidity. These ingredients also impart its pleasant flavour and odour.
The reason extra virgin, cold pressed olive oil is so healthy for our liver, digestion and heart is because it still contains these minor ingredients.

Which oils contain essential fatty acids?

Omega 6 (linoleic acid) and Omega 3 (alpha linolenic acid) and are both essential fatty acids.
Only hemp seed oil of all the vegetable oils has the 3:1 ratio of Omega 6. to Omega 3 which ideally matches our nutritional needs. Another advantage of hemp oil is that it contain GLA (Gamma linoleic acid), another very useful essential fatty acid.

The disadvantage of Hemp seed oil is that it is very unstable and needs to be refrigerated.
Linseed (flaxseed) has a 1:4 ratio, soya has 7:1, Olive 11:1 and Maize 25:1 ratio. Sunflower has no Omega 3 at all. With fish oils Herring has a 1:3 ratio, cod liver oil is 1:4. Animal fat contains Omega 6 but no Omega 3 at all. Cows and Sheep’s milk has a 2:1 ratio.

Interestingly human milk contains a wide range of essential fatty acids so very essential to proper brain development in infants. Though it is very dependant on the EFA intake of the mother. If her diet is rich in EFA’s her breast milk levels can increase by up to twelve times.

How much unrefined oils do we need in our diet?

An adult usually requires three dessertspoons per day, although this can vary from individual to individual, and whether they are also consuming nuts and seeds. It is best to take them earlier rather than later in the day when the liver is active and can deal with them. Cold pressed oils can be poured over a stew as it is being served or used in a salad dressing.

Oils, particularly hemp seed oil; must be stored in the fridge and protected from light and air. It also needs to be used quickly once the container is opened.