Fats for Life
by Henry Wolfe
August 6, 2003
For years, many experts argued
that the only good fatty foods were the ones you didn't eat.
That was a big, fat mistake. Overwhelming evidence now shows
that certain fats are not only necessary for optimal health,
but that the quality of the fat you eat is probably much
more important than the quantity.
Threatening Trans Fats
"The biggest thing wrong with the fats Americans eat
today is that they are eating too many trans fatty acids,"
says Fred Pescatore, MD, author of The Allergy and Asthma
Cure (John Wiley). "About 42,000 foods contain trans fats.
These fats are linked to a higher risk of heart disease,
stroke and cancer."
Trans fatty acids are fats that form when food
manufacturers add hydrogen to fat molecules, a process
called hydrogenation that makes fats stay fresh longer
without growing rancid. Trans fats also form when foods are
Hydrogenation extends the shelf life of refined foods
like cakes, donuts, and crackers. Unfortunately, it also
creates fats that many experts believe can compromise your
health. In a study of the health effects of trans fats, 26
people agreed to eat a diet that changed every five weeks,
continually shifting the types of fats in their meals
(American Heart Association's Scientific Sessions 2000). All
of the diets in the study provided 30% of calories from fat.
One fifth of the fat came from either soybean oil,
semi-liquid margarine, tub margarine, shortening, stick
margarine or butter.
"We were interested in assessing what would happen when
we substituted one fat for another," notes researcher Alice
H. Lichtenstein, DSc, professor of human nutrition at Tufts
The study showed that as people ate more trans fatty
acids (in the more solid margarines) and fewer
polyunsaturated fats (in the liquid oils), their
triglycerides increased after each meal. Triglycerides are
blood fats that boost heart disease risk.
For instance, when these folks ate stick margarine, which
is high in trans fats, their triglycerides climbed an
average 18% higher than when they ate semi-liquid squeeze
bottle margarine, a type of margarine that is softer because
it is less hydrogenated. Stick margarine raised heart
disease risk by causing a drop in HDL, or "good"
cholesterol. Although butter increased HDL, it also caused a
significant increase in LDL, the "bad" cholesterol that
raises heart disease risk.
"The best dietary advice we can give people is to
minimize their intake of animal and hydrogenated fats in
order to reach the American Heart Association's target of
10% or less of total calories from saturated fat and trans
fatty acids," Dr. Lichtenstein says. "That would mean
consumers choosing low-fat and non-fat dairy products and
lean cuts of meat, and the food industry decreasing the
amount of hydrogenated fats used in their products."
According to a study at Johns Hopkins University (Amer Coll
of Card, 52nd Scientific Session, 3/30/03, Chicago), people
who eat saturated fat have more visceral fat, fat
surrounding their internal organs. This fat around the waist
is now seen as a risk factor for heart disease and other
Another hidden problem in our fat consumption, according
to Dr. Pescatore, hides within canola oil. Dr. Pescatore
says that although many consumers believe canola oil is
beneficial to health, the refined canola oil sold in the US
has had its potential health benefits removed during
"People still think canola oil is healthy and eat too
much of it," he says. "The problem with canola is that it is
highly processed and refined....Processors hydrogenate
canola oil to keep it from getting rancid."
According to Fred Ottoboni, PhD, coauthor of The Modern
Nutritional Diseases (Vincente Books), "Canola oil is
lightly hydrogenated to take out the omega-3 fatty acids
(the healthiest, but most unstable, fats) and then the food
manufacturers filter the trans fats out. I don't worry about
the trans fats in canola, but the problem is the huge ratio
of omega-6 fatty acids to omega-3s."
To get more of the omega-3 fatty acids, which are lacking
in most Americans' diets, Dr. Pescatore advocates using
macadamia nut oil. "Macadamia nut oil is higher in
monounsaturated fats than olive oil; it is the healthiest
fat with an omega-3 to -6 ratio of one to one."
The Omega-3 Difference
Omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids are basic forms of fat
found in oils. Fish oil, hempseed and flax oil are high in
what are called omega-3s. Certain plant-derived oils like
corn and soy are richer in omega-6 fatty acids.
"Primitive humans ate a diet that contained a one-to-one
ratio of omega-3s and omega-6s," says Dr. Pescatore. "Today
we (Americans) eat 20 times more omega-6 than -3; that's why
we suffer so much chronic disease and chronic inflammation.
For instance, the Japanese eat a (much better) diet that
contains a two-to-one ratio of omega-6 fatty acids to
omega-3." "Not all omega-6s are bad," he adds, "we just eat
too many of them."
Switching to healthier fat isn't hard. Eat more fish.
When cooking, stick to oils like olive oil and macadamia
oil. The quality of your oil and your health may improve in
a big, fat way.