I recently attended a talk at my local Whole Foods Market given by natural health author Udo Erasmus, PhD where he discussed the properties of fat and, more specifically, the values of omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3’s have received an enormous amount of attention lately, due to the fact that they have the ability to improve heart health, brain function, mood, and conditions of inflammation such as arthritis. Another reason omega-3’s are getting so much press? Most Americans don’t consume nearly enough of them.
To make matters worse, while the Standard American Diet is severely lacking in omega-3’s, it consists of an overabundance of omega-6’s. Although omega-6’s are also an essential fatty acid—meaning a person must consume them since the body does not produce them—the imbalanced ratio of omega-3’s to omega-6’s is being blamed for many of the health problems Americans face today (link).
“Life knows exactly what needs to be done, as long as you bring enough of what it needs to do it,” Erasmus told his audience. In other words, providing the body with the proper building blocks—in this case, healthy fats—will ensure it runs the way it should. To determine a healthy fat from an unhealthy one, Erasmus outlined these three properties:
- Essential or non-essential? Omega-3’s and 6’s are essential fatty acids because our bodies do not create them. All other fats are non-essential, and therefore not necessary to proper health function. Unfortunately, omega-3’s and 6’s are extremely sensitive to light, oxygen, and heat, and can easily be damaged. This leads in to Erasmus’ next point, which says…
- Natural or damaged? This is largely a processing issue, where non-organic cooking oils being chemically treated during manufacturing. According to Erasmus, this process results in the damage of around 1% of the oil’s natural molecules, and these damaged molecules interfere with normal body function. “One tablespoon of damaged oil has 1.5 million damaged molecules per cell,” Erasmus explained, pointing out that, “you only need two damaged molecules to change genetic expression.” The result? Cancer, heart disease, and inflammation.
- Foundation or supplement? Erasmus says that while flax oil is a foundation (food), fish oil is a supplement—and you can’t survive on supplements alone. While many experts tout fish oil as a cure-all, Erasmus says that this source of omega-3’s is processed, and thus suspect to molecule damage. He cited studies that found that because of this molecular damage, more than 5.1g of fish oil daily can actually increase inflammation in the body.
Erasmus’ bottom line? Dump the processed cooking oils and get unprocessed oils that are actually good for you. This means cooking your food in water rather than frying or sautéing, as well as eating lots of raw foods. Instead of adding the oil during the cooking process, where heat will cause molecular damage, add oil after cooking. “If you take care of the oils, they’ll take care of you,” Erasmus says, in the form of lower rates of cancer, heart disease, and inflammation, as well as improved skin and higher stamina and recovery rates for athletes.
Don’t want to give up cooking with fats? I can’t say I blame you. While Erasmus advocates eliminating fat-based cooking entirely, he does cite butter and coconut oil as the “least worst” to use in such cases. And though I certainly enjoy the taste of steamed vegetables drizzled with healthy flax oil, I’m not willing to give up roasting, sautéing, or frying entirely. However, I do plan to incorporate more of what he suggests into my diet. What about you? Have you eliminated unhealthy fats from your diet and seen an improvement in health?