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Healthy Habits: Cut Down on Harmful Fats and Oils

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Polyunsaturated Fats
Polyunsaturated fats are better. These include oils like safflower, sunflower, corn, and soy. They have a couple of things going for them.

Low in saturated fat – Polyunsaturated fats are low in saturated fatty acids. Of these, safflower oil is lowest, with sunflower oil a close second.

High EFAs – Polyunsaturates as a group contain the most "essential fatty acids" (EFA) of any of the fats. EFAs are fats our bodies must have in order to maintain health, but cannot make, so they must get them from outside sources. There are two: linoleic acid (LA), otherwise known as Omega-6 fatty acid; and linolenic acid (LNA), referred to as Omega-3 fatty acid. Most polyunsaturates contain only the Omega-6. By the way, saturated fats contain no EFAs.

The "superunsaturates," which are part of the polyunsaturate family, contain the very most EFAs. These are oils that are used strictly as dietary supplements. The star among them is flax oil, home to good supplies of both Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids.

Drawback – The major concern with the polyunsaturated fats is that the more unsaturated an oil is, the more sensitive it is to the effects of light, heat, and oxygen. One needs to be very careful in their use and storage. They should not be used in cooking. In fact, once opened and exposed to oxygen or light, they begin a process that will eventually turn them rancid if not used up within a few weeks. Rancid (spoiled) oils can set off a chemical reaction in the body that is severely damaging to otherwise healthy tissue.

Andrew Weil, M.D., observes, "The products resulting from these oxidation reactions are highly reactive molecules that can damage DNA and other vital components of cells. Diets high in polyunsaturated fats increase the risk of cancer, speed up aging and degeneration of tissues, and may aggravate inflammatory diseases and immune-system disorders."9

Another unfortunate reality about these fats is that they are usually sold in transparent containers. "Light is the greatest enemy of the essential fatty acids," writes Udo Erasmus, Ph.D., author of the highly regarded book Fats and Oils. "Light is worse than oxygen. It destroys oil 1000 times faster. . . . Any oil sold in a clear glass bottle is subject to light deterioration, and contains health-destroying" components. 10 Unless, of course, they were highly refined before being bottled. If so, they shouldn't be used for anything, anyhow. The more refined an oil, the more useless and damaging to the body.

"Oil should be fresh, unrefined (extra virgin), mechanically pressed (no chemical leaching involved), organically grown, and stored in dark containers," continues Dr. Erasmus. "Only the health food stores carry acceptable oils, and not all oils in health food stores are acceptable." (Special note: After opening a bottle of oil, it is best to put a drop or two of vitamin E in it and keep it refrigerated. This will keep the oil fresh for long periods of time.)

Monounsaturated Fats
All the literature seems to point toward the monounsaturates as good, all-purpose oils to use in your kitchen. These are the olive and canola oils.

Canola oil, in particular, is the newest star in the world of fats. It is made from the rapeseed plant from the mustard family, and is the traditional cooking oil of China, Japan, and India. Canadian scientists are responsible for breeding a form of rapeseed plant in their own country. The name "canola" comes from the words "Canadian oil."

Both canola and olive oil are less susceptible to the negative effects of light, heat, and oxygen than are the polyunsaturates. Canola oil can be used in cooking with temperatures up to 375 degrees Fahrenheit (baking, stir-frying in a wok), while olive oil is stable up to 320 degrees Fahrenheit. It also adds flavor to salads and other cold foods.

Besides being the oil that has the least saturated fat, canola oil is a source for both Omega-6 and Omega-3 essential fatty acids. "If you use any oil, canola oil should be your choice." 11 So writes Dean Ornish, M.D., author of the best-selling book Dr. Dean Ornish's Program for Reversing Heart Disease.

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From HEALTHY HABITS: 20 Simple Ways to Improve Your Health by David J. Frahm as used by arrangement with Jeremy P. Tarcher, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc. Copyright © 2003 by David and Anne Frahm. All rights reserved.

To order this book visit www.penguin.com. Get a 15% discount with the coupon code FENPARENT.


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