EHS Corporate Care
Conflicting dietary advice seems to bombard us daily. Over the years, the pendulum has swung on fats – and even more confounding for the busy executive, industry has weighed in with a great deal of conflicting information.
One of the more confusing aspects is the health difference between saturated and unsaturated fats.
Most people consider saturated fats “bad” – and avoid eating fried foods, cakes, crackers, and margarines. We do know that eating foods that contain saturated fats raises the level of cholesterol in your blood. We also know that high levels of blood cholesterol increase your risk of heart disease and stroke.
However, saturated fats occur naturally in many foods, and are critical to good health. Saturated fatty acids constitute at least 50 percent of cell membranes and give our cells necessary firmness and integrity. They are critical to bone health given that at least 50 percent of our dietary fats need to be saturated for calcium to be effectively incorporated into our skeletal structure. Saturated fats also enhance our immune systems, and lower Lp(a), a substance in the blood that when elevated indicates a risk factor for heart disease.
So which is best? Chemically, when oil is saturated, it means the molecule has all the hydrogen atoms it can hold. Unsaturated means that some hydrogen atoms have been removed and this opens the structure of the molecule that makes it susceptible to attack by free radicals. When unsaturated oils are exposed to free radicals they create chain reactions that spread the damage in the cell, and contribute to the cell’s aging.
The best way to look at the health of the oil in your pantry is to consider how it reacts to oxygen exposure – most become rancid. Oxidation occurs not just in the bottle, but in your body, too. This also means that vegetable oils become more toxic when heated. And because our bodies heat up these oils, they are actually hazardous to our health. A study by a plastic surgeon found that women who consumed mostly vegetable oils including soybean, corn, safflower, canola, sesame, sunflower seed, palm, and any others that are labeled as “unsaturated” or “polyunsaturated ” had far more wrinkles than those who consumed traditional animal fats.
Another study printed in the Lancet in 1994 showed that almost three quarters of the fat clogging arteries is unsaturated and these fats are not animal fats, but vegetable oils. “Whatever is the cause of heart disease,” said the eminent biochemist Michael Gurr, “it is not primarily the consumption of saturated fats”
So what oil to use? Coconut and olive oil are the only vegetable oils that are really safe, but butter and lamb fat, which are highly saturated, are generally considered quite safe. Pure virgin coconut oil is unique in its ability to prevent weight-gain or cure obesity by stimulating metabolism, and because it is quickly metabolized, it functions in some ways as an antioxidant. Olive oil, though somewhat fattening, contains an antioxidant that makes it protective against heart disease and cancer.
If you are interested in refining your diet with accurate nutritional information, set an appointment with your doctor at EHS Corporate Care for a comprehensive discussion of proper dietary balance.
John P Mamana, M.D.
Reston, VA 20191