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By Julene Tripp Weaver


This column will address the difference between healthy and unhealthy fats and oils. Why do we need them, and because we need them what is the best way to use them, and which ones are the best to use? This subject is big, I will address a narrow range of this big topic.

You've all probably heard a mix of things about fats. There is the whole mystery of saturated vs. unsaturated fats and which is which? Then there is the process of hydrogenation, two types of cholesterol in the body, and the essential fatty acids. How can we sort this out without a science degree? What is good for us anyway? One year we are being told use margarine, the next year we are told this is wrong and to go back to butter. Will someone please just lay it out real simple, what do I do?

One thing I have learned from herbalist Susun Weed is that women's bodies do need fat. As women when we go into hormone production we put on an extra ten pounds of fat. When I think back to my early teenage years I remember my bewilderment of putting on these extra pounds. Now as I'm looking toward menopause I realize this is likely to happen again. Healthy fat for women is important because it helps in our hormone production. Not only does ingesting healthy fat help with hormone production, it is vital to make vitamin D, and cell membranes. So it is important to keep our bodies in a good healthy supply. But the million dollar question, what is healthy fat?

Healthy fat means considering the type and quality of fats ingested. The major components of all fats are fatty acids. Of the hundreds of different fatty acid about twenty are common in human foods, and two are essential to human health. These two essential fatty acids (EFA's) are Omega-3 and Omega-6. Essential means you absolutely have to have it to live and be healthy. It also means our body cannot produce this type of fatty acid, it must come from our diet. Flax seed and some fish oils are an excellent source of these two fatty acids.

EFA's are required for normal development of the brain and for continuing brain functioning in adults, meaning visual function, brain and nerve function, and adrenal function (dealing with stress). They are required in the structure of the membranes that surround each cell in our body. This is vital to those of us dealing with HIV/AIDS because if we lack EFA's we wind up with leaky membranes; it makes it easier for the virus to replicate. Vitality is lowered, gastrointestinal problems arise, skin afflictions occur and allergic reactions take place because foreign substances get into our body and our immune system has to deal with them, thus getting overtaxed. EFA's also stimulate metabolism, increase metabolic rate, increase oxygen uptake, and increase energy production. EFA's, especially Omega-3's, slow down growth of cancer cells, candida, and other anaerobic organisms which do not like oxygen. Another function of EFA's is to produce hormones, the prostagladins produced are a hormone like substance that regulate immune function, particularly B cells and T cells, and control inflammation. This is the main reason its especially important to women. Immune function requires EFA's to kill infectious organisms.

The EFA's are the good fats required by our bodies, what about the Non-Essential Fatty Acids? These are all but the EFA's. They are found in beef, pork and lamb fats, dairy fats: butter, cream, sour cream, cheese and cream cheese, coconut fat and palm kernel fat. These are high in non-essential fatty acids of the saturated type. All oils contain some non-essential fatty acids both saturated and monounsaturated. All calories that are in excess of what the body uses up in its moment-to-moment activity are sources for non-essential fatty acids. Excess sugar absorbed by the cells, and excess calories from any source (such as protein, or fats, or refined carbohydrates), are converted into non-essential fatty acids and into cholesterol.

Another group of non-essential fatty acids are the trans-fatty acids produced by frying, deodorizing, and hydrogenation of oils. They are in large quantities in margarine, shortenings, shortening oils, partially hydrogenated vegetable oils and fried and deep fried oils. Most of these processes transform the oil's natural molecular structure (a horseshoe shape) into a straight line shape that is destructive in the cells of our body. Because of this processing it is safer to use organic butter than margarine and expellor pressed virgin olive oil rather than processed vegetable oils (buy olive oil or sesame oil which are stable oils that resist rancidity and are almost free of pesticides).

Our ancestors had an abundance supply of healthy oil, now with food processing the average American has one fifth the amount of omega-3 in our daily diet. Alpha-linoleic, the EFA that is omega-3, is a highly volatile and active form of fatty acid that is easily denatured by oxygen. Linoleic acid is in everything, this is omega-6, so what is common now is an imbalance, we have more omega-6 than we need and less omega-3. We only get omega-3 if we eat fresh foods or use flax seed oil. It is crucial for your cells; if you don't have omega-3 your immune system will fall apart. Other attributes of omega-3 EFAs: it cleans arteries by melting residues of old oils and fats, it cleans the liver and gall bladder (it melts gall stones) and it melts cancer tumors (cancer is bad quality fats in body). Our brain is formed from these Omega-3's and without them it can atrophy. It is also rich in the sperm and ovum, and in fact the population is less fertile now than in 1950; a typical sperm count is a fraction of what it was in 1950. This is partly due to these processing changes in the Standard American Diet (SAD).

So we need more Omega-3 Essential Fatty Acids, what next? What is the best source to get them since our bodies cannot make them? Intergrating flax seeds into our diet is one way to increase EFS's, using unrefined cold-pressed flax seed oil is also a good source, flax seeds are the richest vegetal source of Omega-3 oils; 57% of its oil is composed of Omega-3 fatty acids also called alpha linolenic acid. In our busy lives it is a very convenient way to get a substantial amount easily. The perfect flax seed oil should be unrefined and cold pressed and you find it in the refrigerator section of your local health food store. It is stored in specially formulated black plastic bottles that protect it from light (light degrades oil fastest), in addition these special bottles do not bleed plasticides into the oil. (Typically oils should not be purchased in plastic containers, plastic is petroleum based and when oils are stored in it toxic plasticides come into the oil). Once opened it is to be used within six weeks.

Other vegetables have lesser amounts of Omega-3, for example pumpkin seeds, dark green vegetables, and soybean products (if you buy tofu do not buy low-fat, it has the good type of oil you need). All green foods contain alpha-linolenic acid in their cells, and this includes the micro-algae foods: spirulina, wild blue-green algae and chlorella.

Fish is another source of Omega-3: salmon, mackerel and sardines have the highest amounts. The advantage of the flax seed oil is that it is less contaminated than fish might be. Fish often had dangerous levels of pesticides and PCBs.

Flax seed oil is not a cooking oil, so what do you do with it, and how much do you use? What is recommended for regular dosage is one tablespoon per day, when the body is having problems two tablespoons per day. It can be added to yogurt smoothies, or mixed into cottage cheese or oatmeal. It can be used in place of butter as a dip for bread, add fresh herbs and crushed garlic into it for additional flavor, use a good crusty bread and it's a treat. Try it in salad dressings or pour it over food at one of your meals and eat it.

Omega Nutrition Certified Organic Flax Seed Oil is rated number one in this country according to Paul Pitchford; another high quality brand is Barlean's (it should be stored in a refrigerator). Your local co-op or health food store carries other brands; look at the freshness date, you want the freshest organic flax seed oil in dark bottles for the best taste.

Organic flax seeds can be used in the same way as the oil, a small coffee grinder is great to grind a weekly supply, store your ground seeds in a dark jar in the freezer to prevent them from turning rancid. Use them sprinkled onto food, in smoothies, or in anything you would use the oil in. This is a cheaper way to get the EFA's than the oil, and with the seeds there is a much longer shelf life until you grind and use them. They can also be used whole by adding them into breads, muffins, pancakes, cereals, or casseroles.


Erasmus, Udo, Fats that Heal Fats that Kill: The complete guide to fats, oils, cholesterol and human health, Second Printing, Vancouver, Canada: Alive Books, 1994
Pitchford, Paul, Healing with Whole Foods: Oriental Traditions and Modern Nutrition, Berkeley, CA: North Atlanta Books, 1993.
Steinman, David, Diet For A Poisoned Planet: How to Choose Safe Foods for You and Your Family, New York, NY: Ballantine Books, 1990.

Disclaimer: Please be advised this is a sharing of information that is not meant to be used to replace medical treatment and your own intuitive sense of your body and what it needs. Please see your medical provider (Dr., Naturopath, Acupuncturist, etc.) to follow up on suggestions.