Understanding fats. Does your heart need an ‘oil change’?
When it comes to health there is no topic that has been received more press than fats and cholesterol. We all have heard of fats that kill, but are you aware that fats can heal? The truth of the matter is that fats are absolutely necessary for life. What determines whether a fat is a killer or a healer? In this blog and in subsequent blogs we will go into detail into this topic. We will hopefully answer all your questions about fats like, which is better, margarine or butter? What exactly are trans-fats? What are essential fatty acids? How much do I need?
To delve deep into all of this we will focus on Udo Erasmus‘ book “Fats that heal, fats that kill”. Udo Erasmus is an internationally recognized authority on the topic of fats and cholesterol. He has a degree in genetics, biochemistry and a PhD in Nutrition and is passionate about his job. He pioneered technology for pressing and packaging healthy oils and travels the world educating people and health professionals about the importance of good fats. According to him, “fats continue to be cause of much debate, controversy and confusion, coming mainly from half-truths that have been used for advertising purposes…Doctors are rarely trained on nutrition and the processing of oils to know how this affects our health and we often entrust our health to them, not knowing we can gain the knowledge to take care of our own bodies. Lots of new research information have yielded a great deal of evidence on the role of nutrients on healing and health, despite this the medical body remains skeptical.”
From fatty generation to fatty degeneration.
Fat related diseases ultimately kill 2/3 of the population living in industrialized nations. This comprises cardiovascular disease, cancer and diabetes. Since the 1900s when cardiovascular disease and cancer were rare much has changed: processed foods becoming a mega-industry, use of pesticides, rise of pharmaceutical drugs, pollution of soil, water and air, chlorination of water, etc. Of importance has been the kind of fats we consume and how we process them. When it comes to fat, there is what he calls the ‘goldilocks effect’, there is either too little (deficiency), just right (optimum) or too much (excess), all determined by age, sex, physical , mental and environmental conditions, etc. . Too little will bring about physical degeneration, too much can bring about toxicity. Both of which can cause disease. Malnutrition results mainly from deficiencies but also from imbalances, poor digestion or absorption.
Other factors determine how fats affect our health, like what kind of fat is it, how the fat has been treated: is it fresh or old?, has it been exposed to light, oxygen, heat , hydrogen, water, acid, base or metals like copper and iron? what is the ratio of different oils. Only the right kinds of fats, prepared with the right methods, in the right amount and with the right ratio build our health, otherwise they become ‘killer fats’. Large US government sponsored surveys show that over 60% of the population is deficient in one or more essential nutrients. Deficiencies, excesses or imbalances in fats lead to degeneration and are involved in 70% or more of all US deaths.
Another aspect that determines how an oil affects our health are co-factors. Fats don’t act alone, they require certain vitamins and minerals to do their job. Research has found there are 50 essential factors for health: essential nutrients (20-1 minerals, 13 vitamins, 8 amino acids and 2 essential fatty acids), a source of energy (starch or glucose), water, oxygen and light. These are essential because our body doesnt make them so we must obtain it from our environment. In addition, also required for good health are fiber, friendly bacteria, hydrochloric acid, bile and digestive enzymes. Herbs will also help to bring the body to peak performance.
Let’s face fats.
The word ‘lipids’ is a general word that is used to refer to fats, oils, cholesterol and other fat-like substances, fatty acids (the main building block of fats and oils), phospholipids from which our cells’ membrane is made and alkylglycerols. Fats are solid while oils are liquid.
Fatty acids deserve especial attention because they are essential for the health of our cells. There are different families of fatty acids. The main two are saturated fatty acids and unsaturated fatty acids. Saturated and unsaturated fatty acids differ in melting point and stability. Saturated fatty acids are relatively stable and inert. Unsaturated are less stable and more active chemically. Plants and animal cells can modify saturated fatty acids and produce unsaturated fatty acids that are known as omega 3 fatty acids and omega 6 which are both essential because they cannot be made in the body.
All fatty acids produce 9 calories of energy per gram, the body prefers to save the important omega 3 and omega 6 essential fatty acids for vital hormone-like functions. In particular, our body uses saturated fatty acids to generate energy, build membranes or make unsaturated fatty acids and can also store them in fat tissues for future use. Our body uses unsaturated fatty acids to construct membranes, create electrical potentials and move electrical currents. It can also burn them to produce energy if the more vital roles these fatty acids play have been properly fulfilled.
Also, our body can turn unsaturated and essential fatty acids into highly unsaturated molecules, which serve functions in all cells especially in the most active tissues in the body: brain, sense organs, adrenal glands and testes. Highly unsaturated fatty acids have important jobs such as attracting oxygen, helping generate electrical currents and helping transform light energy into electrical energy and then into nerve impulses.
Food sources of fatty acids.
Unsaturated fatty acids.
In our fat phobia driven world, we forget fats can heal. Not only they heal, they are essential which means our body cannot make them so we have to obtain them from the diet. When these two essential fatty acids are missing our cells deteriorate and disease starts.
The unsaturated fatty acids are a big family of fats that include the essential fatty acids that are necessary for life. These are the omega 3 essential fatty acids and the omega 6 fatty acids (EFAs). Both omega 3 and 6s are polyunsaturated, but the author prefers to call the omega 3 fatty acids superunsaturated to distinguish them from the omega 6 fatty acids. This is important because omega 3 and omega 6 have opposite effects in the body, affecting our health greatly. (Market use of the term polyunsaturated refers to omega 6s found in safflower, sunflower, corn and sesame) Our body uses these two for important functions in brain cells, nerve endings, sense organs, adrenal glands, sex glands and all cells also to make prostaglandins, which have hormone-like regulating and communicating functions in our cells.
Unsaturated fatty acids aggregate poorly (less sticky) and melt at lower temperature than saturated fats. They have a negative charge. This is important because like charges repel one another so they tend to spread out over surfaces, which means they are less sticky and more fluid. In a cell membrane this fluidity allows molecules within cells the freedom to swim and dive and to better transport substances.
Omega 3 and omega 6 have a man-made toxic form that are obtained through processing and interfere with the body’s biological functions.
The unsaturated fatty acids are a big family of fats with sub-groups as follows:
- Super-unsaturated fatty acids omega 3 (SUFAs):
- 1a. A member of this family is alpha-linoleic acid (LNA), improperly called linoleic acid, but can also be called ALA or ALENA. It is found in flax seed (50%), chia and kukui (30%), hemp seed (20%), pumpkin seed oil (15%) maximum, canola up to 10%, soybean 5-7%, walnut and dark-green leaves between 3% and 11%. Symptoms of alpha linoleic acids deficiency are: growth retardation, weakness, impairment of vision and learning ability, motor incoordination, tingling sensations in arms and legs, high triglycerides, high blood pressure, sticky platelets, tissue inflammation, edema, dry skin, mental deterioration, low metabolic rate and some kinds of immune dysfunction.
- 1.b. Stearidonic acid (SDA), which is found in black currant seeds.
- 1.c. EPA (eicosapentaenoic ) and DHA (docosahexaenoic) in cold water fish, salmon, trout, mackerel, sardines, etc. These are really important for health, in the body these oils are found in great quantities in the brain, eyeballs, adrenal glands and testes.
- Poly-unsaturated fatty acids omega 6 (PUFAs).
2.a. Linoleic acid (LA) found in safflower, sunflower, hemp, soybean, walnut, pumpkin, sesame, flax, corn and sesame. Linoleic acid deficiency symptoms are: eczema, loss of hair, liver degeneration, kidney degeneration, excessive loss of water and thirst, drying up of glands, failure of wounds to heal, sterility in males, miscarriage in women, growth retardation and heart and circulatory. Deficiency is fatal.
2.b. Gamma-linoleic acid (GLA) is absent from mother’s milk contrary to advertising claims. Borage is the richest source followed by black currant seed oil. Evening primrose oil contains 9%
2.c. DGLA (Dihomogamma-linoleic acid) found in mother’s milk, very important for health.
2.d. Arachidonic acid (AA) found in meats and other animal products, from which our body makes some substances important for survival and disease functions.
- Mono-unsaturated fatty acid omega 9 (MUFAs).
3.a. Oleic acid (OA.) The most important monounsaturated fat is called oleic acid, found in olives, almonds, peanuts, pistachios, pecans, canola, avocado, hazelnut, cashew and macadamia oils. Oleic acid melts at 55F and is fairly stable which means it is not easily oxidized and it helps keep our arteries supple. This kind of fat is the one found in our skin glands. Land animal fats and butter are also a source of oleic acid. Oleic Acid and other members of this family are produced in our body.
- Mono-unsaturated omega 7:
4.a. Palmitoleic acid (POA) is found in milk and tropical oils, especially coconut and palm kernel. An excess can interfere with the body’s conversion of essential fatty acids into hormone like prostaglandins. Our body converts palmitoleic acid into several other members of the omega 7 family.
Chemical nature of essential fatty acids. Why are EFAs so important?
Fats are not all the same. Different types of fatty acids take part in different kinds of reactions. EFAs take part in so many biological functions that it would be hard to list them all. What follows is a list of the most important roles EFAs have in the body.
- EFAs are used to make phospholipids, the main structural compounds of cell membranes. This is especially important for the most active of body tissues: brain, nerve cells, synapses, retinas, adrenals and testes.
- Most importantly, EFAs interact with proteins in the transfer of electrons and energy. Life is movement of energy.
- EFAs attract oxygen into our body.
- EFAs transfer and carry oxygen from our red blood cells to precise locations in our mitochondria which use it to produce energy.
- EFAs absorb sunlight energy which increases their ability to react with oxygen by a thousand fold, this makes them very active.
- Because EFAs carry negative electrical charges they repel one another, when we eat these fats they get incorporated into our cells’ membranes and this keeps them from clumping together (clotting).
- EFAs keep our membranes fluid, this allows substances such as toxins to move to the surface of the skin, intestinal tract, kidneys or lungs where these can be discarded.
- The chemical reactions on which life depends require a one-way movement of electrons and energy in molecules. This is made possible by EFAs.
- EFAs can create charges of static electricity that are caught between the water within (positive charge) and the membrane outside the cells (negative charge) creating electrical currents very important for nerve, muscle, heart and membrane functions.
- EFAs also hold oxygen in our cell membranes where oxygen acts as a barrier to viruses, fungi, bacteria, etc. which cannot survive in the presence of oxygen.
- Hemoglobin production. EFAs produce red blood pigment (hemoglobin) and make oxygen available to our tissues.
- Membrane components. EFAs are part of all cell membranes. They help hold proteins in the membrane thus they are involved in the traffic of substances in and out of our cells. They also help create electrical potentials across membranes which when stimulated, generate bioelectric currents that travel along cell membranes to other cells, transmitting messages.
- EFAs are also structural parts of the membranes of subcellular organelles or small organs within our cells among which is the mitochondria, which is like a little factory inside our cell that burns food molecules to release the sunlight stored in them for use as energy. Another one is the nucleus which contains the chromosomes that carry the master plan according to which our whole body is constructed. This is why these oils are found especially concentrated in membranes of the brain, nerve cells and synapses, retina, inner ear, adrenal glands and sex glands.
- Recovery from fatigue. EFAs shorten the time required for fatigued muscles to recover after exercise by facilitating the conversion of lactic acid to water and carbon dioxide.
- EFAs are precursors of prostaglandins, three families of short-lived hormone like substances that regulate many functions of the cells in all tissues. Some prostaglandins affect the tone of involuntary muscles in our blood vessels, some lower blood pressure, some relax coronary arteries and some inhibit platelet stickiness. EFAs are also precursors of some unsaturated fatty acids needed by the most active oxygen requiring energy and electron exchanging tissues: brain, retina, adrenal, and testicular tissues and ensure oxygen is available.
- Growth. They increase the rate of the metabolic reactions in our body, this increased rate burns more fat into carbon dioxide, water and energy (heat) resulting in fat burn off and loss of excess weight.
- They are also involved in electron and energy transport.
- LNA can lower elevated blood fats by up to 65%.
- They help to keep the blood fats fluid, so they help generate the electrical currents that help our heart beat in an orderly sequence.
- Cell division. EFAs are part of the new cell membranes after they divide.
- They help our immune system fight infections.
- EFAs govern every single life process in our body. Life without them is impossible.
- Brain development. In fetuses and growing babies, EFAs are essential for brain development. Pregnant women should be supplementing with EFAs.
- Other benefits: EFAs produce smooth wrinkle free skin, speed healing, increase stamina, help with premenstrual syndrome, reduce inflammation, water retention, platelet stickiness and blood pressure.
Co-factors to EFA functions
We need to remember that fats do not work alone. All their functions are only possible when EFAs are part of a complete nutritional supplement program that includes all 50 essential factors: 2 essential fatty acids, 8 essential amino acids, 13 vitamins, 20 minerals, water, oxygen and light. Apart from this we need fiber, friendly bacteria, hydrochloric acid, digestive enzymes and bile. Herbs will also help tone the human body to peak condition. Despite living in industrialized nations most of us are deficient in most essential nutrients, many of these are missing from the foods we eat because of soil depletion. Other factors contributing to this are poor digestion, poor absorption, food allergies, imbalances of bowel flora, drug interferences with metabolic processes, etc. What is more, processed foods have lost most of their nutrition when they are processed. Success also requires removal of junk foods and toxic substances. EFAs should account for 1/3 of the total amount of fats we consume. To perform their functions, linoleic acid (LA) and alpha linoleic acid (LNA) must first be converted to EFA derivatives or into prostaglandins. These conversions require vitamins B3, B6, C, magnesium and zinc. A deficiency in any of these will mimic the effects of EFAs deficiencies.
Daily requirements of EFAs.
Linoleic acid is the essential fatty acid with the highest requirement. The exact amount is still being debated and it changes according to physical activity, stress, etc. A good dose could be around 1 tablespoon a day. Obese people might need even more. Safflower is the richest source of LA while hemp seed contains both omega 6 and omega 3 in an ideal ratio of 3 to 1.
Alpha-Linoleic Acid dose is around 1-2 teaspoons a day, together with the vitamins and minerals mentioned above. The richest source of alpha linoleic acid is flax oil.
While omega 3 consumption has decreased since 1850s, omega 6 has doubled drastically changing the ratio in our food supply. This has had a bearing in our health.
Long term exclusive use of flax oil can result in omega 6 deficiency because flax seed contains four times more omega 3 than 6. Deficiency symptoms can show up within 16 to 24 months.
Caring for EFAs
Both LA and LNA are very susceptible to light, air and heat. In their natural state, the seeds isolate these elements so the oil inside the seeds can stay fresh for years. When oils are extracted, packaged and stored, especial care needs to be taken not to destroy these oils. This makes them expensive.
Light can produce free radicals and oxygen turns the oil rancid. They can then turn into toxic compounds and their properties altered. Heat like in frying or hydrogenation (to make margarines or shortenings) will change the molecular structure of the oils. This is why capsules are usually kept in dark bottles and with a shelf-date, they can be frozen to keep them fresh.
Fat metabolism and absorption
When it comes to health, digestion and absorption of fats is of extreme importance. If the body is not able to metabolize and absorb the nutrients in fats, the end result will be disease, even if we are eating the right fats. Fat metabolism cannot take place without the help of enzymes, minerals and vitamins.
Enzymes. Enzymes are facilitators between molecules that allow life to carry on. Each step in every chemical reaction in metabolism requires the presence of a specific enzyme without which that chemical reaction cannot take place.
Minerals. Enzymes work with minerals. An example is zinc, with which 80 enzymes ally themselves. Without zinc these enzymes cannot do their work.
Vitamins. 13 vitamin cofactors are essential to human health, without these many enzyme catalyzed interactions between molecules cannot take place.
EFAs and weight loss.
An excess of EFA (upwards of 3 tablespoons a day) increases the speed at which our body burns fat and glucose so this can be used to burn off excess fats and help the person stay slim. Since fats are digested slower, they suppress appetite longer than carbs. Fats also produce ketones, which reduce hunger even more.
Relationship of oil with protein
Proteins and oils are the two most abundant substances in our cells, they are found together in cell membranes, lipoproteins that carry fat and cholesterol in our blood and in membranes at the subcellular level. They form the main structures and functional components of our entire body.
We can get too much oil or too much protein if either is taken by itself over the long term. Oil and protein belong together, work together and protect each other, so both should be eaten together. This is the basis of the Budwig’s program for treating terminal cancer.
Fats and stress
Just like a battery has a positive and a negative that allow a flow of current, fats and protein become a battery in our body. Oils are negatively charged, and proteins are positively charged. Between these two poles life currents flow when the circuit of essential nutrients is complete. The more we are stressed, the more these fats and proteins are used up and the sooner this battery is run down. Oils and proteins must be continually replaced with foods that recharge our batteries. More stress requires more oils and proteins and vitamins and minerals. A deficiency becomes weakness first, then it becomes sickness, the severity of which depends on the severity of the deficiency.
Vitamins and minerals are supporting the work that fats and protein do, all of them are important and deficiencies in one can create internal nutritional stress. The fast pace at which we live our lives runs down our battery.
Antioxidants are also essential to preserve the oil from oxidizing and turning rancid. Vitamin E is essential to keep EFAs intact in our body to protect them from destruction from free radical and oxygen. Vitamin C recharges vitamin E so that it can be reused.
In nature vitamin E and other antioxidants is always present in fresh oil bearing seeds and nuts. The more EFAs an oils contains, the richer it is in anti-oxidants. Fresh nuts and seeds are a good source of anti-oxidants. When oils are pressed, vitamin E and other anti-oxidants stay in the oil if they are mechanically pressed under protection from light and air. These anti-oxidants protect our cells and tissues from free radical damage, prevent abnormal clotting of blood, protect from heart attacks, strokes and cancer by inactivating free radicals that might get out of control and start free radical chain reactions.
After processing oils, they are refined, bleached, deodorized and the anti-oxidants are removed from them. Manufacturers don’t throw away the vitamin E, they separate the sludge, concentrate the vitamin E and sell it. Without the antioxidants, the oils are unprotected. If our diet consists mainly of refined foods then uncontrolled free radical chain reactions will occur in our body, causing degeneration and aging. Transparent bottles and frying oils are all destructive. Consuming these unprotected and refined oils produce dark spots on the skin which are a sign of fatty degeneration, they are also found in the cells of heart muscle and brain of older people. They indicate a deficiency in anti-oxidants, vitamin E and selenium. Consuming unrefined oils is then the best way to obtain these important antioxidants.
Saturated fatty acids.
Hard fats and saturated fatty acids (SaFAs). Saturated fatty acids are found in all food fats and oils, especially in hard fats. An excess of saturated fatty acids can cause health problems for our heart and arteries. The harder they are the higher the melting point is and the more they will tend to aggregate and be ‘stickier’. Saturated fatty acids decrease oxygen supply to tissues (hypoxia) chocking them by making the red blood cells stick together, less mobile (sludgy) and less able to deliver oxygen to cells.
To this family belong the following:
- Stearic acid (SA) found in beef, mutton, pork, butter, cocoa butter, and shea nut butter.
- Palmitic acid (PA) found in tropical oils coconut, palm and palm kernel.
- Butyric acid (BA) found in butter.
- Arachidic acid found in peanuts.
We can divide saturated fatty acids into:
- Short-chain saturated fatty acids.
Short chain saturated fatty acids make up less than 10% of the total fatty acids found in butter and milk fat, some short chain saturated fatty acids are also found in coconut and palm kernel oils. Butyric acid (butter) helps feed the friendly bacteria that keep our colon clean.
- Medium-chain saturated fatty acids. The body uses these to produce energy. They are not stored as fat.
- Long-chain saturated fatty acids. They are solid at body temperature and insoluble in water. They stick together to form drops, this tendency to aggregate involves these saturated fatty acids in sticky platelets that can form blood clots in an artery. This is the case of beef, mutton, pork and dairy products. They can be deposited within cells, organs and arteries along with proteins, minerals and cholesterol. Diets high in refined sugars can create this same health problem, mainly because our body converts excess sugar into saturated fatty acids.
We can end our discussion by stressing the importance of fats for life and health. Everything that lives has fats and oils because everything that lives is made up of cells with a fatty membrane. The sub-units inside cells are also surrounded by membranes containing phospholipids and fatty acids. Red blood cells, nerve cells, liver cells, etc. all depend on fats for health. Plants also contains fats, seaweeds are the highest source. Oils in the green parts of plants are EFAs-rich, they take part in processes by which plants capture sunlight energy and store it, this is the energy we need to live.
To find out more about the author, you can visit his website www.udoerasmus.com.