Oils are popular topics. Some are loved, some despised. Some are healthy, some unhealthy, and some are in vogue like fine wines. Even though oil manufacturers rarely make bogus claims about their products there are many myths out there. It’s primarily because of the health food and healthcare industries. They have effectively created most of the oil and fat myths to the point where the myths are entrenched in food lore. The myths are used by marketers when they promote the supposedly “healthy” characteristics of their favorite oils. Of course the bogus claims are aimed at health-conscience consumers and that's why most discussions about oils are based on myths further cementing their acceptance.
A few generations back people knew very little about fat and ate a lot of it. They weren’t very particular about which fats either, yet they had fewer chronic diseases. Is there an association there for why there are more chronic ailments today?
All processed oils are nearly 100% fat with usually a small natural inclusion of vitamin E. Other than color they offer virtually no other “ingredients.” All fats are simply various combinations of carbon and hydrogen atoms and their molecular structures define them and their function. Researchers have identified more than 600 different fats that have a bearing on body functions and there are thousands of fats!
When oils and fats are discussed the technical jargon often causes confusion. Most explanations include PUFAs, MUFAs, saturated fats, LDL, HDL, trans fats, essential fats, hydrogenated oils, water soluble, fat soluble, and more until the discussion becomes unintelligible.
In spite of the confusion, the healthcare industry has convinced nearly everyone about one thing--saturated fats are supposed to clog arteries because they are solid at room temperature. Therefore the oils/fats that aren’t saturated are better for you. But this doesn’t jive with anecdotal evidence.
A couple hundred years ago the Intuit Eskimos of Greenland ate a lot of animal fats, seafood, and virtually no carbohydrates. Heart disease was unheard of in their population. But in the early 1900s food imports by the Royal Greenland Trading Company started changing the traditional Eskimo diet of fatty fish and wild meats toward a modern western diet containing far more refined carbohydrates and sugar. After WWII the trend accelerated and today the Intuits have the same chronic disease issues ubiquitous to all Americans.
Healthy animal bodies are very efficient at regulating their fats including saturated fats. But they can’t regulate their Omega-6 and Omega-3 essential fatty acids (EFAs). Those fats come unregulated from food. Since animals evolved with the green leaf at the bottom of their food chain, for optimal body function their EFA balances must replicate that of the green leaf which is around 1:1. Unfortunately, 10,000 years ago man started eating grains with EFA ratios of 15:1. Then he fed them to his livestock. We now know this change was not a good one.
More than 50 years ago scientists in nutrition and biology begin to notice that the balance of essential fats played a very important role in the functions of the nervous system, immune system, and the brain. As the EFA balance rose from 1:1 and crossed above 4:1 they noticed that bodies failed to perform properly. The failures were chronic diseases! This explains why grain-fed meats with 15:1 EFA ratios earned the reputation for being health risks.
So, when it comes to selecting an oil/fat for salads or cooking, the primary concern for health must focus on the balance of EFAs. All other aspects, excepting a smoke point, are far less important. In fact, they may not be important at all.
So let’s compare the EFA balances of some oils and grass-fed fats and more importantly their Omega-3 deficits. A 2:1 ratio is very good compared to Americans’ with ratios between 10:1 and 15:1. But real foods, such as the grass-fed meats and spinach, can’t offset large Omega-3 deficits. The data is based on a two-tablespoon serving. If the goal is a 1:1 EFA balance, an Omega-3 (n-3) deficit can only be addressed with an Omega-3 supplement.
An example of deception used by some avocado oil marketers illustrates how oil myths develop. They correctly state that avocados are high in monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFA) and polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA). Then they claim they are the “healthy fats.” Then they point to the many nutrients found in fresh avocados and give consumers the impression those same nutrients are in avocado oil. They never mention the EFA balance nor explain that oils are just fats.
A major avocado oil producer sent me the following note: Avocado oil doesn’t retain any of the water soluble vitamins from avocados after they are pressed. Any claim that avocado oil retains all of the avocado’s nutrients is false, or written by an uneducated marketer.
Review the fats and oils in the table. If oil is for cooking, I want grass-fed animal fats (including grass-fed butters and cheeses). For salad dressings and supplements I like flaxseed and fish oils. Coconut and macadamia nut oils can also play a minor role in cooking.
To your health.
Ted Slanker has been reporting on the fundamentals of nutritional research in publications, television and radio appearances, and at conferences since 1999. He condenses complex studies into the basics required for health and well-being. His eBook, The Real Diet of Man, is available online.
Don’t miss these links for additional reading:
What is MUFA? from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
What is PUFA? from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Greenland Eskimos, Diet and Heart Disease by Axel F. Sigurdsson MD
Increase in the Intake of Refined Carbohydrates and Sugar May Have Led to the Health Decline of the Greenland Eskimos by Dr. James J DiNicolantonio
The Critical Role Played by Animal Source Foods in Human (Homo) Evolution by Katharine Milton
Royal Greenland Trading Company from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
It All Began in the Sea . . . by Ted Slanker
The Importance of the Ratio of Omega 6 Omega 3 Essential Fatty Acids by Dr. Artemis P Simopoulos
Omega-3 Blood Test and use slanker as a code for a discount