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Fats and Oils

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There are two kinds of fats: the bad fats we must avoid because they make us sick, and the good fats and oils, which we need for our bodies to function properly and stay healthy until we die at an old age.

There are two kinds of fats: the bad fats we must avoid because they make us sick, and the good fats and oils, which we need for our bodies to function properly and stay healthy until we die at an old age.

The problem is, most of us know very little about the good fats, and what we read and hear about the bad fats is often contradictory or confusing.

Bear with me, you are not alone. Even until 1949 scientists didn't know much about good fats and bad fats, either. It was not possible to distinguish between the fatty acids found in lard, butter, olive oil, sunflower or flax oil, nor did anyone know about the inherent health benefits of the different types of fats and oils, whether saturated,unsaturated or polyunsaturated. What they did know was that saturated fats such as coconut butter, palm oil, suet, lard and tally, which are hard at room temperature (or, more correctly, at body temperature), so they could not absorb oxygen and get rancid. Liquid unsaturated fats are hungry to absorb oxygen, so they tend to go rancid and not last long, while polyunsaturated oils like flax oil rapidly satisfy themselves with oxygen to a point where they even dry out. For that very reason linseed oil (flax) is used as a natural base for paints. All the great paintings since Michelangelo were done with rapid-drying linseed oil.

Since the early 1900s, scientists used their limited knowledge of fats to create a new food product called margarine, of which two types were available. One was made by blending naturally hard saturated fat like stearine from whale fat with oils from sunflower or rape seeds. The other was made with artificially hardened (hydrogenated) vegetable oils. Discovered in 1896, this hydrogenation process involves filling unsaturated fatty acids with hydrogen molecules at extremely high temperatures. alive has often reported about hydrogenation and how it changes friendly fat molecules into trans fatty acids. These killer fats are responsible for most of today's fat-related degenerative diseases, including cancer, heart and cholesterol problems, high blood pressure and arthritis.

Before the Second World War, my father, a merchant in natural fats and oils, repackaged a natural spread made from coconut and clarified hazelnut butter blended with sunflower seed oil. As a five-year-old, I used to dip my finger into the wooden tubs and scrape out the remnants. I still remember the delicious nutty flavour. It was considered a healthy nutritional margarine compared to the commercial ones made with hydrogenated oils, though no one really knew anything about essential fatty acids.

New Discoveries

After the war, Germany lost its sources for hard tropical oils and its whale fishing rights along the Norwegian coast. This caused a shortage of stearine, coconut and palm oils for margarine production, so manufacturers replaced them with paraffin, a tasteless fat made from mineral oils. Fighting a patent war in 1949 with the Dutch manufactures of hydrogenated margarine, the German government hired Dr. Johanna Budwig, an MD with a doctorate in chemistry, to shed light on the situation and capture those culprits using paraffin, which isn't even a food product.

It was she who, with the help of the new invention of paper chromatography, found a way to separate the different fatty acids. She detected trans fatty acids and found they were detrimental to humans. But by far her greatest discoveries were the health benefits of linolenic (omega-3) and linoleic (omega-6) fatty acids. This is how Dr Budwig explains the enormous action of living, unheated natural polyunsaturated fat: "The moment two unsaturated double links occur together in a chain of the linoleic and linolenic fatty acids, a field of electrons is generated and is quickly multiplied, sending a veritable electrical charge into the body, thereby recharging the living cells especially of the brain and nerves." Wow! This is a fundamental regeneration process created in our bodies exclusively by oils of the omega-3 and omega-6 families. That's why they are called essential. The body needs these fats to sustain all life functions. It cannot make them; they need to come from food.

But here is the crux of the matter: essential fatty acids are not only used for energy. They perform a lot of healthy functions and can also be transformed in our bodies to gamma-linoleic acid (GLA), which is the precursor for hormone-like substances called prostaglandins. They were first discovered in 1976. With the discovery of prostaglandins and their connection to essential fatty acids, especially to GLA, which was first found in the seeds of evening primrose, a whole new vista opened. Discoveries snowballed and the floodgates opened with announcements of new health benefits for essential fatty acids. Dr. Udo Erasmus, researcher and health writer, was definitely instrumental to the better understanding of healing fats with his book, Fats that Heal Fats that Kill, published by alive Books.

You will find all health benefits detailed in my book, Good Fats and Oils (alive Natural Health Guide #17). Also listed as the best sources for essential fatty acids are seed and nut oils, among others: flax oil (58 percent omega-3 and 19 percent omega-6), hemp oil (19 percent omega-3 and 57 percent omega-6), walnut oil (16 percent omega-3 and 59 percent omega-6), pumpkin seed oil (12 percent omega-3 and 40 per cent omega-6) and, of course, the cold water fish oils. It is most important that these oils are cold pressed, unrefined and kept in a cold, dark place. You will find these oils at health food stores in the cooler. Once opened, they should be consumed within three to four weeks, as they will go rancid. (One warning: Trans fatty acids in your diet suppress the good work of essential fatty acids. Learn more about them and avoid them.)

Looking back to Dr. Budwig's work, one would assume the general public may have learned a lot about dietary fats in the last 53 years. On the contrary, margarine manufacturers have been fighting her in 28 court cases to suppress her bad news about trans fatty acids. It kept Dr. Budwig busy defending herself. But she did win all 28 cases. In the long run, the truth was not suppressed by the power of money. But to this day trans fatty acids are still omitted from food labelling.

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