The Skinny On Fats & Oils

According to surveys by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, total fat consumption decreased from approximately 41 percent of calories in the late 1970s to 37 percent in the mid 1980s and down to 37 percent by 1990. But are we where we need to be?

The 1995 dietary guidelines for total fat, in a diet of 2000 calories per day, is 67 grams, or 30 percent of the daily caloric intake. Unfortunately many of us are still choosing the wrong kinds of fats essential to good health.

The topic of fats and oils in our diet remains a very confusing one. Words like polyunsaturated, saturated and partially hydrogenated have become household words but do we really know what they mean?

Let's back up a little bit here and not be confused by what many of the manufacturers want us to think are the facts. To fully embrace fats involves a little knowledge about the diverse and important roles they perform in our bodies. Fats are the body's primary internal source of energy; they transport and absorb vitamins A, D, E, and K. They help insulate the body and provide support and protection of body organs. When fatty foods are digested, essential fatty acids are produced. Research developed in the mid-80s on these compounds, now known as essential fatty acids, or EFAs, reveals that they are necessary to good health. Key to the dramatic impact of EFAs on our health is their role in strengthening and stabilizing cell membranes, thereby increasing membrane fluidity and flexibility. The more fluid and flexible membranes are, the more effectively they can exchange nutrients and other materials between the inner and outer cell membrane layer, resulting in healthier cells.

So diets that severely restrict fat or eliminate fat from the diet­­ such as the Pritikin plan­­ may not be in our best interest. Studies implicate a deficiency of EFAs in a myriad of disorders such as Alzheimer's, attention deficit hyperactivity, depression, high cholesterol and blood pressure, as well as stroke and heart attack, rheumatoid arthritis and MS.

So what constitutes a good fat? A good fat is a fat that is either plant, seed or fish-based and has been cold pressed. Cold pressed means the fat has been extracted from its source without applying extreme heat or chemicals. This would include butter­­ a saturated fat­­ which is still better than margarine. Margarine is so highly processed­­ plus being partially hydrogenated (meaning water has been added) the molecules of the oil are disrupted causing free radical damage in the body.

Your best choice for high quality cold pressed oils here in town is Cornucopia.

I recently purchased a pint of Bertollis extra virgin olive oil at the grocery store for $3.85. The label said extra virgin high quality. I thought it would be a good oil. When I got home and tasted it, it tasted very old instead of sweet, like olives. I'll use it as bath oil. Nothing improves the quality of dishes like the fresh taste of good oils.

Eliminating bad fats from our diets is not easy. Start by reading all food labels. Don't be fooled into thinking that if it's polyunsaturated it's okay. I could go on and on about the bad fats, what they are, and how poorly they're manufactured, but that would take pages and it's very confusing.

If you're looking to add some EFAs to your diet through supplementation try cold-pressed flax seed, primrose, fish oil or borage oil. Many of my clients find there cholesterol levels normalize by adding the appropriate good fats to their diet.

Till next time, Rebecca.

This article posted to Zephyr online October 17, 1997
Back to the Zephyr home
page.Send us e