The Science of Fats, Fatty Acids and Edible Oils.
This time we get into more detail about Unsaturated Fatty Acids and how they affect us.
It is now time to turn our attention to what I consider to be the most important component of our diet. The essence of the Hamptons diet is to become monounsaturated rich. Here is why it is critical to make this switch.
Barry was a man in his early 50’s who reluctantly started the Hamptons program at the insistence of his wife about six months after he suffered a heart attack. His heart attack was not serious enough to warrant bypass surgery, but it was a clear indication that Barry had to do something to change his lifestyle. Barry was 60 pounds overweight and was a trader on Wall Street. He was definitely not going to give up his incredibly lucrative profession, so stress reduction was out of the question. Therefore, he needed to change his way of eating.
When he was released from the hospital, he was sent home with the typical low-fat 1600 calorie diet plan. Barry religiously followed this program because he was scared and gained another 10 pounds in four months, while following his diet religiously. He couldn’t understand why he couldn’t lose the weight. His wife had heard me speak about the benefits of a monounsaturated rich lifestyle and was convinced so she dragged her husband into my office.
I explained the concept of eating a lower carbohydrate diet but with the enhanced benefit of monounsaturated fats as the main fat source. Barry was quite reluctant as he was indoctrinated into the belief that he had to avoid fat at all costs. When I told him that when substituted for saturated fats or carbohydrates, monounsaturated fats would lower his cholesterol, he would lose weight and he would have the energy of a 30 year old – he was in. Six months later, he admitted that the only reason he signed up was because of the monounsaturated rich component. He had been on other low carbohydrate diets in the past and found they just did not work for him. His cholesterol went up each time. He mentioned this at a visit to my office three months into the program where we reviewed his blood work which showed a cholesterol of 170 (from 240), HDL level of 80 (from 33) and a triglyceride level of 44 (from 202). His homocysteine level improved to 8 from 11 and his c-reactive protein level improved to 0.8 from 2.1. Oh, and he lost 60 pounds.
Monounsaturated fats have one double bond as I explained previously. These tend to be liquid at room temperature and most of them are stable, some more than others. They may become cloudy or semi-solid in the refrigerator, depending on the particular product, its moisture content and how it was processed. They do not turn rancid easily when cooking and they are the main component of Macadamia oil. Other oils which contain significantly less oleic acid are: olive, almond, peanut, and cashew and avocado oils. Oleic acid is an important fatty acid since it is an 18 carbon neutral, or omega-9 acid. There are no serious detriments to the body when it consumedl.
Macadamia nut oil and olive oil contain the highest amount of these types of fat, around 85% and 70% respectively. I say around, because there are always going to be ranges in the amounts of these different types of fat found in a natural product. For example, Macadamia oil may be 79-89%; whereas olive oil may be 65-75%, depending on the crop in any particular year and region of origin of the olive or nut. So you may see a different number range depending on which book or guide you use to compare things like fatty acid contents. The main reason for this is that the oils are made from natural sources which have natural variations in them due to the nature of the growing conditions, climate, amount of rainfall, etc. This is natural and okay.
Two additional oils that are high in monounsaturated fats are high-oleic safflower and high-oleic sunflower oils. These have been chemically and artificially manipulated into having this property. For that reason, I never recommend you use these. Part of the Hamptons diet is to encourage the use of natural, not man-made sources of foods, and that includes oils. Use those products at your own risk as they have other properties that make them potentially hazardous to your health.
Polyunsaturated fatty acids are those that have two or more double bonds. Because of these double bonds, all polyunsaturated oils are liquid at room temperature and remain liquid even in the refrigerator. The extra double bonds make these oils more chemically unstable and more prone to attack by free radicals. They go rancid easily and should never be heated or used for cooking.
To make this more confusing, there are some polyunsaturated fats that are essential, meaning we can not make them and they must be consumed in the diet. These are healthy. But, many science writers are telling us that we should substitute the saturated fats in our diet with these polyunsaturated fats. This is only partially true. Some of the polyunsaturated fats tend to decrease total cholesterol and HDL cholesterol. So, not only are we decreasing total cholesterol, but we are lowering the good, protective HDL’s. According to Dr. Walter Willett of the Harvard Medical School, by not raising, and lowering HDL, “you see about twice the adverse effect.” Therefore it is critical for you to understand which polyunsaturated fats you need in your diet and which ones you don’t. The short answer if that the Omega-3 fatty acids are the ones you need coupled with a minimal amount of the omega-6 fatty acids.
The Truth behind Polyunsaturated Fats
Polyunsaturated fatty acids were the darlings of the medical community for years based on the antiquated notion that they had to be good for you because they are low in saturated fats. They were correct about the saturated fat content, but, how wrong they were and how poor our health has become because of this belief system. Even someone as knowledgeable as Jane Brody, one of the science writers for the New York Times, still got it wrong in a recent primer on fats that she wrote in that newspaper. She implied that all polyunsaturated fats are created equal and they just are not. New research shows that the various polyunsaturated oils can have dramatically different effects on one’s health depending on their ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids.
The two polyunsaturated fatty acids found most frequently in our foods are omega-6 fatty acids known as linoleic acid and omega-3 fatty acids known as linolenic acid. Our bodies can not make these and they must be consumed in the foods we eat. They are therefore known as “essential.”
Oils that contain a high percentage of polyunsaturated fatty acids include: corn, safflower, sunflower, peanut, cottonseed, grapeseed, soybean, (the most common oils on the market today) fish, walnut, and flaxseed oil. Brazil nuts, pistachios, pumpkin seeds, and sesame seeds are all high in polyunsaturated omega-6 fats. Flaxseed and fish oil are the most highly unsaturated oils of them all and for our purposes, they are excluded from the unhealthy discussions on polyunsaturated fats. Fish oil is predominantly omega-3 fats and flaxseed oil is the richest source of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA); another omega-3 fatty acid.
Essential Fatty Acids
Monounsaturated fats, polyunsaturated fats, saturated fats, and trans-fatty acids, are not the only issues to keep in mind when deciding which fats and oils to use. In order to be really healthy, an understanding of essential fatty acids is critical.
The essential fatty acids are necessary for normal growth and development and they can not be manufactured in the body; they must be consumed in the diet. There are a total of eight different ones which fall into the two classes of omega – 6 and omega- 3 fatty acids. Omega-6 fatty acids are most abundant in common vegetable oils such as corn, safflower, cottonseed, and sunflower oils. Omega-3 fatty acids are found most abundantly in seafood, green leafy vegetables, fish, and walnuts.
The primary fatty acid on the omega-6 side of the family is linoleic acid (LA). The primary fatty acid on the omega-3 side of the family is alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). These are further converted into other, more unsaturated fatty acids that again, are critical for bodily functions.
LA is converted to gamma-linolenic acid (GLA) which is found in borage and primrose oil, and then to arachidonic acid (AA) which is also found in red meat. ALA is converted into eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) which is found in fish oils and then to docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) which is also naturally found in fish oils. High carbohydrate diets have been shown to interfere with the conversion of some of these fatty acid pathways by blocking one or more enzyme, leading the body to increased production and storage of the pro-inflammatory omega-6 fatty acids.
It is critical to know that our bodies function best when there is a prefect balance between these two types of essential fatty acids – just the way Mother Nature intended it and much closer to how we were genetically programmed to eat. Yet, in modern society, this ratio has become lopsided with approximately 20 times more omega-6 fatty acids than omega-3’s. This imbalance has been linked to a long list of very serious medical conditions and if you look closely enough, you can see that each one of these diseases can be considered a disease of civilization:
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADD/ADHD)