Oils and Essential Fatty Acids

Essential fatty acids are responsible for every metabolic operation in your body. These notes underscore the need to avoid refined and hydrogenated oils to maintain your health. Conclusion: You don't need a low fat diet, you need a good fat diet.

Eric Armstrong

In 30 years of studying the literature on human nutrition, I studied vitamins, minerals, amino acids, enzymes, antioxidants, phytochemicals, and every other thing under the sunlight--including sunlight and oxygen. The last thing I thought to look at were fats. After all, I thought, it just sits there and gets burned. What's there to know? Little did I know that fats are the most critical of all the nutrients--because essential fatty acids are responsible for every metabolic operation in your body.

Here, in bullet form, are the critical things you need to know about the fats in your diet:


You don't need a low fat diet, you need a good fat diet.

Avoiding Refined Oils and Finding Unrefined Varieties

The first and most important change you can make for your health is to avoid hydrogenated and partially hydrogenated oils. They're in nearly everything, so you have to read food labels carefully--and even the FDA's new requirement to list the amount of trans fats on food labels doesn't completely solve the problem. (See Food Labels.)

Partially hydrogenated oils are also in most of the fast foods you eat: French fries, fried chicken, and other such foods are deep fried in partially hydrogenated oil at very high temperatures. That gives you a double whammy. Any fatty acids that were left intact after the oil was hydrogenated are destroyed in the deep frier. The breads are made with partially hydrogenated oils. Even the sauces and salad dressings are likely to contain it. (It's difficult to be sure because there is no law that requires them to list their ingredients and display it in full public view.)

Once you've eliminated hydrogenated oils from your diet, the next important step is to eliminate refined oils. (They're less important, but only because people don't normally consume as much of them.) You then want to replace those oils with healthy, unrefined varieties.

I get unrefined vinegars and oils from the local whole foods store. In the south bay area (around San Jose and the San Francisco peninsula) there are four or five I can go to. Sometimes I have to go to all of them, but I can usually find whatever I want. They carry organic produce and aisles full of healthier-than normal food, so I guess I'm pretty lucky.

The oils I use are way more important than the vinegar. They are the unrefined seed oils, as recommended by Johanna Budwig - sesame and sunflower, primarily--and one called "Udo's Best" that is created by Udo Erasmus, another noted authority in the field of fatty acid chemistry. I've also seen unrefined olive oil. If it doesn't say "unrefined", the next best thing is extra virgin. Anything else doesn't even qualify as good.


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