Living Healthfully with Healing Fats and Oils
Many of Nature’s whole foods are abundant in healing fats and oils. Quality oils are rich sources of essential fatty acids. There are several kinds of naturally occurring fatty acids. When gently extracted from healthy, pure sources and gently prepared, they are all beneficial to health.
Fatty acids are important for all aspects of health - from hormonal balance, mood and immune strength, to skin and brain health. Contrary to the scary stories about fat increasing cancer risk, many of the healthy fats from healthy sources, actually boost our body’s ability to fight cancer.
Types of Fatty Acids
Polyunsaturated oils are essential to immune, intestinal, liver, and cardiovascular health and are particularly important during times of intense healing. They can be sourced from raw fish and nuts and seeds. Dietary oils expressed from these foods are especially rich sources of Omega three (alpha-linolenic), six (linoleic) and occasionally some nine (oleic acid) fatty acids.
Monounsaturated oils are slightly more oxygen and heat stable and is also beneficial for cardiovascular health, skin, and hair. Olive oil is the best know natural source of oleic acid. Another healthy type of fatty acids are the medium chain fatty acids (e.g. lauric acid, caprylic acid), These come from the more saturated coconut oil or from ghee from grass fed animals. Lauric acid can help improve improve levels of “good” HDL cholesterol. There are proponents and health studies that support it’s benefits, recommending it to help Diabetes, Alzheimers and obesity. However, there are also cautious critics. Basically, it’s not recommended to consume coconut oil in excess due to some uncertainty about how coconut oil affects heart disease.
Finally, we have Conjugated Linoleic Acid, a fatty acid found in abundance in healthy animal products like meat, eggs and mild from pasture raised animals. CLA is best known as a health product that can help with weight reduction by reducing fat mass. It has also been studied for it’s support to cardiovascular, bone and immune health.
Nature’s most healing oils are also her most sensitive to being damaged by common extraction and production methods. Heat, light, oxygen and solvents turn them from health-supporting foods into health-damaging foods though some of the saturated fats are more tolerant of heat and light.
Conventional mass production methods of oil means that the majority of the foods available in our grocery and health food stores contain mostly adulterated fatty acids. Most of the oils have been oxidized or converted to trans-fatty acids.
Fragile and Healing- Polyunsaturated Oils
Most vegetable oils belong to a class of fragile oils called polyunsaturated oils.
The less saturated an oil is, the less prone to solidifying it is, even in the freezer. Most polyunsaturates stay somewhat liquid even in the freezer. An interesting health related side note is that the lower freezing point of an oil is - the more effective it is as an anti-coagulant in our blood to prevent the aggregation that causes cardiovascular disease.
Polyunsaturated Omega Three
Foods high in omega three fatty acids include fish, whole flax, chia, and hemp seeds. Most of us are more deficient in omega three than in any other fatty acid so try to eat these food and oils in their raw form.
Fish oil, contains two special sub-types of omega three called EPA and DHA. These fatty acids can be produced by the body from vegetarian sources of omega three but certain liver conditions or illnesses prevent efficient conversion. EPA and DHA are particularly important for brain health, mood and inflammation control.
Of the sensitive plant based oils, those high in omega three fatty acids are the most sensitive to heat damage. Because of this, we need to eat omega three type oils raw as much as possible, and only use the more saturated oils for cooking. Omega Three-rich fish is generally cooked and thus has reduced therapeutic benefit so supplementing with the raw oil can also be helpful.
Polyunsaturated Omega Six
Corn, canola, safflower, walnut, and pumpkin oils are polyunsaturated oils high in omega six fatty acids (with some omega three.) Though each fatty acid has special health benefits and our bodies’ need them in varying amounts, the omega six EFA is abundant in Nature so our needs for this fatty acid can be met through a diet rich in raw veggies and seeds without including omega six oils or supplements in our diet.
Shopping for Polyunsaturates
Healthy, polyunsaturated oils are labeled as unrefined and their gentle manufacturing process is described on the bottle. These oils are kept in the fridge with expiry dates. A well-stocked supply to rotate for ingredients for salad dressings and smoothies would include the following
Flax (mostly omega three fatty acids)
Hemp (mostly omega three and six fatty acids)
Pumpkin (mostly omega six fatty acids)
Sesame (mostly omega three fatty acids)
Look for the these oils in dark glass or specialized, leach proof dark plastic bottles. They should also be hexane (solvent) free, and produced usign a small batch, oxygen free (nitrogen flushed), low heat processing method and tested to confirm they are contaminant free.
Oils for Cooking
Healthy oils need to be chosen according to their fatty acid content and for their heat stability. This is because saturation levels indicate how heat stable an oil is and thus, how suitable it is for cooking. Unlike a polyunsaturated oil (like corn or flax oil), when a saturated fat is heated, it is not damaged and so these fats are the best for cooking. Coconut oil, organic palm oil, macadamia nut oil and butter or ghee are good choices for highly saturated oils that have a high heat tolerance, or “high smoke point.”
Shopping for Cooking oils
Organic and unrefined, solvent free oils are still preferable for cooking as they contain intact fatty acids. These oils do not have to be in dark containers.
There is yet another class of oils called monounsaturated. As one might expect from the name, the characteristics of these oils lie somewhere in between polyunsaturated oils and saturated oils. Olive oil, safflower oil and sunflower oils all fall into this category. They each contain some Omega three and Omega six fatty acids but what characterizes them as monounsaturated oils is their high levels of the Omega nine fatty acid.
Monounsaturated oils are more heat stable and solidify in the cold. Though they do not have as low a smoke point as saturated oils, they are more stable than polyunsaturated oils. They are mildly tolerant of brief heating so can be used for brief, low temperature cooking.
Shopping for Monounsaturated
Olive Oil should be labeled as cold pressed extra virgin and is in a dark glass bottle. Unrefined sesame oil is another source of quality mono saturates but safflower and canola are questionable sources of healthy fat.
Medium chain triglycerides as found in butter, ghee, macadamia nut oil, coconut oil and liquid coconut oil are the more saturated MCT’s and they are tolerant of some heat so can be used for cooking.
Shopping for Saturated Oil
Look for Coconut Oil labeled as cold pressed, unrefined, and virgin or extra virgin. It will have a strong coconut flavour and will be free of solvents, especially if it is organic. Ghee is clarified butter and you can purchase it pre-made or make your own from organic butter. Dark containers for coconut oil are not recommended but dark wrapping and refrigeration is important for butter, especially if it is unsalted. Pure ghee, however is highly stable to both light and heat.
Fatty Acid Supplements
Fatty acids can be consumed in pill form offering concentrated doses for therapeutic uses. The oils that are typically used in concentrated form for orthomolecular (or mega-dose nutritional) medicine come in liquid or pill form. They are usually the polyunsaturated oils and come from seed or fish or seaweed sources.
Shopping for Fatty Acid Supplements
Be sure to consider the purity of the food source of the oil and the processing method. Hexane (solvent) free processing, small batch, oxygen free (nitrogen flushed), low heat processing is also important as is testing for contaminants.
Processed Foods Containing Oils
If you have to buy precooked or processed foods, try to choose those made with saturated oils rather than polyunsaturates or even monounsaturated. When possible, avoid processed foods that have added vegetable oils (polyunsaturated oils) – especially if it is hydrogenated (a toxic fat that has been artificially saturated). If we use the saturated fats for the cooked and processed foods and eat the polyunsaturated and monounsaturated oils raw, we get the very best of both. Butter, ghee, and organic coconut, palm or macadamia nut oil are saturated and among the healthiest cooking fats. Any processed food that contains or was fried in vegetable oil in was most likely prepared with a conventional solvent and heat processed vegetable oil. And if the ingredients panel says vegetable oil and does not further specify, chances are high that it is a GMO-sourced corn or soy oil.
Deep Fried Foods
Fryers often use canola oil, which is quickly damaged by high heat. The oil is used over and over again and develops toxic byproducts. This is caused by super-heating of polyunsaturated oils. Some individuals with food allergies and or immune suppression will have a noticeably negative response to deep fried foods though the high and unhealthy oil content makes for a low vitality food for everyone.
Healthy Food Preparation with Oils
Fat is optional for some types of fried food. For example, a stir fry’s can be sautéed cooked in water with a bit of oil added before serving for flavor. If you need to fry in oil, use ghee, coconut oil or macadamia nut oil. Or for a quick sauté, olive oil is fine as well.
Incorporating Oils into Healing Foods
Use the delicious cold pressed unsaturated oils (like flax, pumpkin, olive, sesame) to create healing dressings. Or drizzle them on steamed veggies or porridge. Mix polyunsaturated oils with saturated ghee or coconut oil to make a high EFA spread and store it in the fridge (It will be moderately solid).
A spread blended with added herbs can be delightful for use over steamed veggies or a mix of oils with cinnamon and stevia and sea salt could be used on gluten-free toast. Flax and ghee (half and half) mix very well together as a base for the above. This should still only be used unheated however. Polyunsaturates are also are great in cold puddings, smoothies and more. And finally, don’t forget to put your healthy oils in your smoothies!!!
Oils in Nuts and Seeds
Roasting nuts and seeds destroys the integrity of the natural oils and, as mentioned above, can create some unhealthy by products. Soaking and sprouting seeds/nuts and then dehydrating for crispness is the healthiest way to prepare them. For more information about this, check out the page on the forum (and the recipe book) page about sprouting seeds.
If you would like to further explore the subject of healthy verses unhealthy fats and oils, Michael T Murray ND has written a great little book on fats and oils, called Understanding Fats & Oils: Your Guide to Healing With Essential Fatty Acids.
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