Oils just aint oils. There are several types, which play different roles in the body, and each has a different ability to stay fresh under heat, light and air conditions. Today I’ll discuss the essential fatty acid’s (EFA’s), Omega 3 and Omega 6. These are called essential, because our body cannot make them individually, or from other fats in the diet. They instead need to be supplied through our diet in order to use for their many functions.
Essential fatty acids play important roles in the body, particularly nurturing for the nervous, immune, reproductive and cardiovascular system. They allow cells to form and function properly, are powerful antioxidants, have anti-inflammatory properties (omega 3’s only) and allow adequate detoxification to occur in the body.
HOW CAN I GET ESSENTIAL OMEGA 3 AND OMEGA 6 FATS THROUGH MY DIET?
The healthier sources of Omega 3 fatty acids are from cold water fish and marine animals such as salmon, trout, mackerel, krill, sardines and the oil made from them, hemp seeds, chia seeds, pumpkin seeds, walnuts and a small amount in dark green leafy vegetables and grass fed beef. Omega 6’s on the other hand are mainly sourced from grains, nuts, seeds and their oils.
For good health, it is very important for you to keep the Omega 3: Omega 6 dietary intake in a ratio of around 1:1. Unfortunately most westernised diets are very Omega 6 dominant. Think of all the grain-based products on the market- breads, pasta, pastries, biscuits, not to mention the vegetable based oils used in packaged foods and to prepare meals. As most people consume an abundance of Omega 6’s, deficiency rarely occurs, instead the problems occur due to the over consumption of Omega 6 fatty acid and inadequate Omega 3 fatty acid intake.
CAN THESE ESSENTIAL FATS BE DANGEROUS TO MY HEALTH?
Too many Omega 6 fatty acids can actually lead to a state of inflammation within the body. This is a big reason why I am an advocate of a grain free diet. Not only is it important to include enough Omega 3’s in ratio to Omega 6’s, but it is also crucial to keep these oils fresh.
Unlike saturated fats (coconut oil, lard, ghee and butter), essential fatty acids are very unstable, meaning they can go off and turn rancid with exposure to heat and air. The essential omega 3 and omega 6 oils extracted from fish, vegetables, grains, nuts and seeds, are also unstable to light.
WHAT HAPPENS WHEN THE OILS GO OFF?
When the oils, or foods that contains these oils are exposed to these conditions and become unstable, it produces an altered chemical structure of the essential fat. These are more commonly recognised as trans-fatty acids and have known toxic affects on our systems. Our body does not recognise and process trans-fats and their consumption leads to many health conditions, such as heart disease, obesity, diabetes, age-related macular degeneration, alzheimer’s, compromised immune systems, cancer and other degenerative diseases. Fertility problems with both men and women, along with low birth weight babies have also been linked with trans fat consumption.
WHAT ARE DIETARY SOURCES OF TRANS-FATS?
You may be consuming trans-fat through:
- Foods that have been prepared in vegetable, grain, nut and seed oils (with exception to the stable coconut oil, lard, ghee and some butter).
- Foods that contain oils that have been heated through the manufacturing process (such as packaged foods and margarine).
- Oils that have already turned rancid before use (those in a clear container, that have been left in the heat and light and those with the lid left off and exposed to air).
SO HOW DO I KEEP MY ESSENTIAL FATTY ACIDS FRESH?
Here are some practical tips to ensure you are consuming healthy, stable essential fats through your diet:
- Always buy cold pressed/ unrefined oils, in an airtight, dark coloured, glass bottle or jar.
- Store oil in the fridge and with the lid on tightly (with exception to coconut oil).
- Cook only with coconut oil, or small amounts of lard or ghee (this is a stable saturated fat).
- Instead of purchasing bulk nuts and seeds, source them in sealed packages and store them in airtight containers, in the fridge.
- If you must use spread, use coconut oil, cold pressed refrigerated oils, nut and seed butters. Never margarine– it is full of trans-fats!
Keep your oils from going ‘off’ and enjoy the benefits the essential Omega’s bring to your health.