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Eating Right for Moms

Ingredient #3: Unrefined Oils and Essential Fatty Acids instead of Refined or Hydropenated Oils, or Trans-fatty Acids
The process of refining oils uses toxic chemicals to strip away good nutrients while often leaving behind potentially harmful, altered oils. When oils are hydrogenated - as they are to make margarine - or kept at high temperatures for long periods of time (as in deep fat frying), trans-fatty acids are formed, and these "bad fats" have been implicated in cardiovascular disease and other health conditions.

Essential fatty acids (EFAs) are "good fats" needed for the membranes of your cells and a healthy heart, and they comprise sixty percent of your brain. These oils are called essential because they cannot be synthesized by the body and must be consumed through foods or supplements. Unfortunately, they are often deficient in mothers since they are drawn on heavily to grow a baby during pregnancy and breast milk is loaded with them, and most women don't have anywhere near enough to start with. Increasing your intake of one type of EFAs - omega-3 oils found in fish and flax - can help prevent cardiovascular disease, rheumatoid arthritis, asthma, diabetes, and depression. It can also make your hair and skin more moist; dryness, including dandruff, is a potential sign of omega-3 deficiency. In general, Jan has found that a typical mom is likely to have a stronger response to supplementing omega-3 oils than to any other nutrient, probably because they are both so important and so commonly deficient in mothers.


  • Make virgin olive oil your everyday oil.
  • Avoid trans-fatty acids. These are found in deep-fried foods, as in the hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated fats used in margarine, and in most baked or packaged foods. At home, use judicious amounts of butter or olive oil instead of margarine. At the store, check the labels and try not to get products with these oils.
  • Balance the two main types of essential fatty acids, omega-3 and omega-6 oils. Most people are deficient in omega-3 oils yet have an oversupply of omega-6s. To put this point in perspective, throughout most of human history, people ate these oils in a ratio of approximately 1:1. But today, the average is about 20:1 omega-6s to omega-3s! That's completely out of balance with the way our bodies are built, and one of the results is a greater tendency toward inflammation - to which mothers are already vulnerable.

    The simple solution is to decrease the omega-6 oils in your diet and increase the omega-3s. The easiest way to eat less omega-6s is to stop using the oils that contain them: safflower, sunflower, soybean, and sesame oils. Extra virgin olive oil is a tasty and versatile alternative. You can get more omega-3 oils by:

    • Eating omega-3 rich fish (salmon, mackerel, trout, or sardines); do not overcook, or the oils will be compromised.
    • Using flax oil in salad dressings and other nonfrying oil uses (essential fatty acids are degraded or destroyed at the temperatures oils reach during frying). You might like to mix it with olive oil for flavor. You can meet your daily needs with about 1 tablespoon of flax oil, which you can add to blended or juiced drinks, or simply take in a quick gulp; flax oil is also available in capsules at health food stores.
    • Grinding whole flax seeds in a coffee grinder and sprinkling them on cereals and vegetables, or adding to pancakes and baked goods. Make sure to drink one to two cups of water when you eat flax seeds since they are a major source of fiber. (It would take about five tablespoons of flax seeds to meet your daily needs for omega-3 oils, which is out of the question for most people, so you'll probably need other sources, too.)
    • Taking about 1000 milligrams of a fish oil supplement* that has been checked for purity, since fish (especially those at the top of the food chain) may have contaminants; usually, there will be someone at the health food store who knows about the purity of their supplements. For most mothers, this is the simplest way to consume adequate omega-3s. (Some people prefer flax oil to fish oil due to being a vegetarian. Unfortunately, a depleted person often lacks some of the enzymes or co-factors needed to convert flax oil into the long-chain fatty acids your body needs, which already exist in fish oil. If you do choose to use flax oil, make sure you're taking a good multi-vitamin/multi-mineral supplement as well, for the co-factors it contains.)
    • Using a gamma-linolenic acid (GLA) supplement if you have symptoms that suggest a deficiency, such as premenstrual tension, eczema, or arthritis. Even though GLA is an omega-6 oil, it's an exception to the general rule of minimizing omega-6 oils. The reason is that a person -especially if she's at all depleted - may lack the enzymes or nutrients needed to build GLA within her body. You can find GLA in supplements of primrose, borage, or black currant oil. Daily suggested doses are given on the labels.
  • Do not use refined oils. Unless an oil specifically says "unrefined" (with the exception of virgin olive oil), it has been refined.
*The blood-thinning effect of fish oils is usually good for the cardiovascular system, much like an aspirin a day. But if you are on a blood-thinning medication, or have a bleeding disorder, please consult with your doctor before supplementing fish oils.

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From Mother Nurture: A Mother's Guide to Health in Body, Mind, and Intimate Relationships by Rick Hansen, Jan Hansen, and Ricki Pollycove. Copyright © 2002 by Rick Hanson. Jan Hanson, and Ricki Pollycove. Used by arrangement with Viking Penguin, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

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