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Mainely Tipping Points 14: Good Fats, Bad Fats

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Mainely Tipping Points 14

Good Fats, Bad Fats


Since the late 1970s, Americans have been encouraged by nutritionists, doctors, the government, and industry to eat less fats, especially the saturated fats once traditional in the American diet.  Yet, according to Dr. Mary Enig, an expert in the chemistry of fats, and Sally Fallon, both of the Weston A. Price Foundation, saturated fatty acids constitute at least 50 percent of our cell membranes and are what give our cells necessary stiffness and integrity.  Saturated fats play such an important role in the health of our bones that at least 50 percent of our dietary fats should be saturated.  And among their many other benefits, saturated fats enhance our immune systems (“The Skinny on Fats,” http://www.westonaprice.org/know-your-fats/526-skinny-on-fats.html). 

Today, Americans are deficient in the healthy fatty acids which support the healthy functioning of their bodies.

Beginning in 1980, the government recommended a diet which substituted carbohydrates for healthy fats and which has resulted in national obesity and chronic disease problems—as many scientists of that era feared.  The fats Americans now consume most often are denatured, highly refined, highly unstable, and are too rich in omega-6 fatty acids. 

So, what kinds of fats are healthy and necessary for humans?  Caroline Barringer, writing in the current July/August 2010 issue of WELL BEING JOURNAL and drawing on the work of Enig and Fallon, walks readers through the healthy fats terrain in a few short pages  (“Fats:  Safer Choices for  Your Frying Pan & Your Health,” 30-38).  You can buy a copy at Good Tern, Fresh Off the Farm, or online.  Enig and Fallon’s fully comprehensive information is available on-line.  See, especially, “The Skinny on Fats” and “The Oiling of America” at http://www.westonaprice.org

Understanding the chemical structures of fats and what industrial processing does to those structures helps one begin to understand which fats are dangerous and why.  Remember, Barringer reminds, that all fats are combinations of the following fatty acids.  For instance, beef tallow (which most of us use only to feed our birds in winter) is very safe for cooking and frying and is 50 to 55 percent saturated fat, 40 percent monounsaturated fat, and only 3 percent polyunsaturated fat.

Saturated fatty acid (SFAs) molecules are straight so can stack together tightly, which is why they are solid or semi-solid at room temperature.  The straight nature of SFA molecules makes them very stable, even at high temperatures, and they do not turn rancid easily.

Monounsaturated fatty acid (MUFAs) molecules have a slight bend.  They can still stack closely, but not as tightly as saturated fatty acid molecules, which is why they are liquid at room temperature, but semi-solid when refrigerated.  MUFAs are relatively stable and do not turn rancid easily.

Polyunsaturated fatty acid (PUFAs) molecules have two bends.  They cannot stack together well.  They are unstable, even at room temperature, and are easily damaged by heat, light, moisture, and exposure to oxygen.  They require refrigeration and turn rancid quickly and easily.  Omega 3 and 6 essential fatty acids are in the PUFA category.  But, consume only small amounts of some PUFAs and only if they are organic, unrefined, first cold-pressed or cold pressed, or expeller pressed, or extra virgin. 

 Industrial processing methods affect radically the structure of fats.  Traditionally, Barringer notes, seed and nut oils were extracted by pressing.  Industry crushes the seed/nuts; heats them to 230 degrees or more; presses them using high-pressures to squeeze out all fats, which generates further heat; and uses hexane (a solvent) to extract the last bits of oil.  (Hexane, a petroleum derivative, may cause infertility and central nervous system depression.)  Industry attempts to “boil off” the hexane, but some remains.  If the seeds/nuts are not organic, the hexane acts as a magnet for the chemicals sprayed on the nuts/seeds.  So, the final product is rancid, refined so no nutrients remain, and poisoned. 

Further, Enig and Fallon explain that the damaged molecules form “free radicals” with edges like razor blades.  Barringer notes that these free radicals “wreak havoc on the body, attacking and damaging DNA/RNA, cell membranes, vascular walls, and red blood cells,” which, in turn, leads to further problems.”  

Some of these highly processed oils, which are mostly PUFAs,  then undergo hydrogenation, which transforms oils that are liquid at room temperature to solids, which extends shelf life.  Margarine and shortening, for instance, are hydrogenated PUFA oils.  (MUFAs and some SFAs can be hydrogenated.)  Tiny particles of nickel oxide are added to the oil, then the mixture is exposed to hydrogen gas in a high-heat, high-pressure reactor which chemically straightens any bends in the molecule.  These altered molecules are trans fats.  Now, the oil is thin, watery, and smells foul as it is rancid.  Multiple thickeners and fillers are added, and the oil is steam cleaned (more heat) to remove the odor.  The grey-colored oil is bleached.  The resulting substance is vegetable shortening.  Artificial colors and flavors can be added to produce margarine. 

Our bodies, Barringer explains, do not recognize these kinds of fats as foods.  If we consume them regularly, “we lose the ability to utilize healthy fats properly.”   Further, when healthy fatty acids are displaced by these highly processed fake fats, our bodies become subject to cascading, serious health problems, like cancer, diabetes, birth defects, sexual dysfunction, heart disease, and poor bone health. 

So, Barringer warns, avoid trans fats “like the plague”—which is not easy because the FDA allows industry to claim “zero trans fats” when trans fats are present.  Read labels and look for hydrogenated oils, which are trans fats.  Do not buy products where the following words appear on the label:  refined, hydrogenated, partially hydrogenated, or cold-processed (which is not cold- pressed.)

The safest fats for cooking are lard (pork fat); ghee (melted butter with the milky solids skimmed); tallow (beef and lamb fat); chicken, duck, and goose fat; coconut oil (organic and virgin); and red palm oil or palm kernel oil (organic and virgin).  You can, also, combine these fats.  Barringer likes coconut oil (92 percent saturated fat with powerful antimicrobial and antifungal properties and lauric acid–a medium chain fatty acid found in breast milk) combined with ghee or lard.  (I buy coconut oil by the case online from Wilderness Family Naturals.)  Barringer says red palm oil has a “pungent, paprika-like flavor” that is “best suited for roasting root vegetables,” like roasting red and white potatoes; red, yellow, and orange peppers; fresh garlic, and herbs.

Properly pressed olive oil, peanut oil, avocado oil, macadamia nut oil, and sesame oil are good for stir-frying.  Peanut oil should have limited use as it has a high percentage of omega-6 fatty acid. 

The following oils are unsafe for any kind of heat exposure:  vegetable/soybean oil, corn oil, flax oil, hemp oil, pine nut oil, pumpkin oil (roasted or raw), safflower oil, sunflower oil, and grapeseed oil.  These oils are almost 50 percent omega-6 fatty acids and should be consumed in moderation.  It is hard to find unprocessed versions.  Also, corn and soybean oil should be avoided as they are likely to be genetically modified and are grown with heavy pesticide levels.

Barringer, like Enig and Fallon, concludes that canola and cottonseed oil are unsafe to consume under any circumstances.  Canola is a highly processed industrial oil and does not belong in the human digestive tract.  Plus it is almost entirely a genetically modified crop.  Cotton is “one of the most genetically modified, pesticide-laden crops in America.”  And, asks Barringer, “when did cotton and its seed become a food?” 

Butter, especially real butter, is practically a medicine.  Butter, Barringer explains, is a cofactor that allows our bodies to utilize effectively calcium and other minerals we consume.  Butter contains omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids in small amounts in a healthful ratio.  Butter contains conjugated linoleic fatty acids (CLA) for better weight management, muscle growth, and protection from cancer.  Butter contains the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K that help us absorb the trace minerals it also contains, among them zinc, selenium, iodine, chromium, and manganese.  Butter contains butyric fatty acids that provide “proper inflammatory and anti-inflammatory responses to help us heal effectively.”  And, the fat in butter “enhances brain function and increases cell membrane integrity.”    

Eat organic butter!  Eat lots of it every day, especially if you can find raw butter.  (But, not with a lot of bread, which is a carbohydrate.)