It’s no secret that oils are 100% fat. We have always presumed that what discerns a “good” oil, as opposed to a “bad” oil, is the ratio of omega 3’s (the good guys) and omega 6’s (the bad guys). Let’s take a look at what these omegas are, examine different oils, and then look at some newer research about all oils.
Omega-3 and omega-6 are types of essential fatty acids – meaning we cannot make them on our own and have to get them from food. Both omega-3 and omega-6 are polyunsaturated fatty acids.
The role of omega-3
In modern diets, there are few sources of omega-3 fatty acids, aside from the fat of cold water fish such as salmon, sardines, and herring. Vegetarian sources, such as walnuts and flaxseeds, contain a precursor omega that the body converts to omega-3.
Omega-3s are the building blocks for hormones that control immune function, blood clotting, and cell growth, as well as components of cell membranes. Consumption of omega-3s improves heart health, increases “good” HDL cholesterol, and reduces triglycerides, blood pressure, and the formation of arterial plaques. These omegas can also support good mental health and reduce the risk of psychotic disorders, and decrease liver fat. In addition, omega-3s are an important part of preventing dementia.
The role of omega-6
Unlike omega-3, omega-6 foods containing these fatty acids are numerous in modern diets. They are found in seeds and nuts, and the oils extracted from them. Refined vegetable oils, such as soy oil, safflower oil, and sunflower oil are used in most of the snack foods, cookies, crackers, and sweets in the American diet as well as in fast food. Soybean oil alone is now so prevalent in fast foods and processed foods that an astounding 20 % of the calories in the American diet are estimated to come from this single source! Omega-6 is also pro inflammatory.
Less of one, more of the other
Our goal is to decrease the 6’s and increase the 3’s. The preferred ratio is less than 4:1 in favor of the 6’s. When the ratio is higher than this, the omega-6s push out the 3’s, don’t let them work properly. This is where many of our common health problems get started. The Western diet is absolutely inundated with omega-6’s. The average ratio in the United States today is 16:1. If we turn the clock back to before World War II, the ratio ranged from 1:1 to 3:1. You have seen me write this before, but I can’t state this enough—a Western diet is harmful to your health! This is just another aspect of it that causes illness and suffering.
Many oils are high in omega-6, and we should try and avoid them. Some of these oils include sunflower, corn, soybean and cottonseed oils.
Olive oil is a key component in the Mediterranean Diet. Olive oil can lower bad cholesterol and blood pressure. It also seems to lower the risk of many cancers, type 2 diabetes, and Alzheimer’s disease. Although it contains omega-6, unlike most other oils, it is high in healthy monounsaturated fat and has more omega-3. Extra virgin olive oil is best.
What about all of the hype about coconut oil? Coconut oil is somewhat lower in omega-6, but is very high in saturated fat. While we have rethought saturated fat’s effect on heart disease, it is not a healthy fat. Coconut oil is not a miracle cure for anything! It can give your food a good taste though. If you are going to use it, keep the amount very minimal.
Canola oil is higher in omega-3s. There is some controversy because it is genetically engineered. However, because it is high in omega-3s, it is still considered a healthier choice of oil.
Keep it to a minimum
Whatever oil you use, they are all high in calories. Use them sparingly! For instance one teaspoon of olive oil is 125 calories. Think about that! As a matter of fact, oil is the most calorically dense food on the planet. At 4000 calories per pound, oil tops all other food for calories per pound. It is 100% fat. All the good stuff (like the fiber, most of the vitamins, phytonutrients) are stripped from it, leaving just the pure fat. And that brings us to the next topic—should we be consuming oils at all?
All oils are highly processed and extremely high in fat and calories. Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn of the Cleveland clinic says the following, “NO OIL! Not even olive oil, which goes against a lot of other advice out there about so-called good fats. The reality is that oils are extremely low in terms of nutritive value. They contain no fiber, no minerals and are 100% fat calories. And above all they contain saturated fat which immediately injures the endothelial lining of the arteries when eaten. It doesn’t matter whether it’s olive oil, corn oil, or any other kind of oil.”
There are many other physicians who are now agreeing with this statement in principle. When Dr. Esselstyn refers to the endothelia, he is talking about the inner lining of your arteries. Why is this so important? When you have good endothelia health, you will not have a heart attack or stroke. When you eat healthy food, especially vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes and lentils, the lining of your arteries will maintain good health, stay flexible and have a good exchange of nitric oxide. With proper nitric oxide exchange, you won’t see plaque buildup, stiffness, and most importantly, blood clots. In more simple words, your chances of heart attack and stroke decrease by about 90%!
Scientific findings show that all oils are unfavorable to good endothelial health. Although olive oil might be a better oil when it comes to omega-3s, it still causes endothelial inefficiency.
In order to get healthy fats, include some nuts, avocado, seeds, ground flax seeds and small amounts of hummus or peanut butter (better with no sugar) to your diet. You can include them as part of your daily eating. As opposed to their oils, you get the whole food, all the nutrition and the all-important fiber.
When we reduce our oil intake, we substantially reduce our odds of disease and illness. We also cut unneeded calories from our diet which helps us maintain normal weight. Using healthier oils, and keeping oil consumption to a bare minimum will “add hours to your day, days to your year, and years to your life.”