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Everything You (Actually) Need To Know About Fatty Acids

12/16/2016 07:51 EST | Updated 12/16/2016 07:51 EST
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Collection of foods high in fatty acids omega 3 including seafood, vegetables and seeds

By now you know that Extra Virgin Olive Oil is very good for your health. However, there are a lot of oils out there that are far better for you than olive oil and many come with health claims on the label. There are also oils that are downright detrimental to your health and should be avoided. Beyond the cooking oils, there exists a labyrinth of oils manufactured to supplement the diet. These are not stable enough to withstand the heat of your frying pan and also have far-reaching health benefits compared to those produced for culinary inclusion.

To make including the best oils into your routine an easy choice, my criteria for the best oils are as follows: healthfulness, temperature-sensitivity (aka "smoke point" when it comes to cooking oil), purity, and environmental sustainability. Some oils are best used for salad dressing, others are optimal to include in your next stir-fry, where still others you will want to take in pill or liquid form as a daily supplement, while some oils you need to avoid altogether. Lets start with those!

Partially hydrogenated oils (aka "trans fats") are the worst type of oil you can consume. If this oil shows up on any package label, avoid it! It contributes to heart disease as well as all sorts of other diseases.

Oils high in the polyunsaturated omega-6 fatty acids should also be significantly reduced because our present omega-6 to omega-3 ratio is completely off-balance. Where our caveman ancestors consumed an omega-6:omega-3 ratio of 1:1 in their diet, the agricultural revolution brought with it a diet that had a 4:1 ratio, then the industrial revolution diet skewed further still, coming in at a 10:1 ratio, and now finally the convenience or fast food diet in our North American society has anywhere between a 14:1 to 25:1 ratio! This is way out of balance with what our natural human physiology expects.

Translating that into total grams, our omega-6 fatty acid intake has doubled since even as recently as 1970 -- to approximately 18 grams a day. With each of the four major dietary shifts that have taken place over time, the daily amount of omega-6 fats consumed has increased and the amount of omega-3 fats has significantly decreased. This off-balance omega-6 to omega-3 ratio is due in part to highly processed diets that contain significant amounts of oils high in omega-6 fatty acids.

To be clear, omega-6 fatty acids are not in and of themselves unhealthy. We need to consume a certain amount every day for optimal health. Gamma linolenic acid (GLA), for example, is the omega-6 fatty acid recognized for its role in improving skin health, joint health, mood, and women's reproductive health. However, excess consumption of diets high in omega-6 fatty acids relative to omega-3 fatty acids alters the body's harmony and promotes inflammation, which is considered a root cause or major factor in many chronic diseases afflicting society today.

There are some obvious contributing reasons for our over consumption. For example, since the omega-6 heavy soy is a subsidized crop, soybean oil is an inexpensive by-product commonly used in low-nutrition, low-cost snack foods. Corn and cottonseed oils are also very high in omega-6, while offering negligible amounts of omega-3 fatty acids.

Monounsaturated fats -- like oleic acid -- are heart-healthy because they are known to increase HDL cholesterol. "High-oleic" versions of an oil are significantly higher in monounsaturated fats and thereby also lower in polyunsaturated omega-6 fatty acids.

As healthful as some oils can be, aim to consume whole foods as often as possible. Avocados are a perfect example. They offer much more than just their monounsaturated fats. They are also a wonderful source of vitamin C, potassium, vitamin K, as well as soluble fiber. All of these nutrients are absent in the extracted oil.

When you think of an oil that solidifies at room temperature, you've got saturated fat. For years, these saturated fats got a bad rap -- scientists believing that they were the evil behind plugged arteries. But that is no longer the case. The latest research now reveals that saturated fats are neutral and don't contribute to heart disease. In fact, unrefined coconut oil is a perfect example. Its saturated fatty acids actually provide cardiovascular benefits.

Many pesticides are fat-soluble, which means they are stored in a plant's fatty acids. Many oils like canola, corn, soy, and cottonseed are genetically modified. When oils are refined, they may undergo a variety of chemical processes, including deodorizing, bleaching, and anti-foaming. Not surprisingly, the worst highly-refined oils are ubiquitous in many processed foods. So one very important consideration: whenever possible, purchase certified organic oils.

In the end, what you really want to stay healthy are more -- many more -- of the omega-3 fatty acid rich oils! Unfortunately, oils high in polyunsaturated omega-3 fatty acids are very heat-sensitive, so highly-refined varieties are best avoided, as the processing exposes them to very high temperatures. For the most part, supplementing the diet with them is what we must do.

The omega-3 fatty acid family includes (but is not limited to) docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), stearidonic acid (SDA), and alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). Omega-3 fatty acids have been studied clinically for important cardiovascular, joint health, cognitive, ocular, and anti-inflammatory health benefits. Like olive oil, by now we have all heard of the health benefits of supplementing the diet with fish oil rich in omega-3s. EPA and DHA are found predominantly in algae-consuming marine forage fish (sardines, anchovy, mackerel), which are wild-caught and rendered into fish oil. However, environmental toxicity and sustainability issues are linked with fish oil and overfishing our oceans -- and if you're a vegetarian, you need a different omega-3 source.

Although the good omega-3s reside in the fatty tissue of fish, that is also the very place where certain contaminants will accumulate. Heavy metals such as arsenic, cadmium, lead, and mercury as well as PCB's, dioxins, and furans come to us by way of industry and are not easily broken down. Adverse effects from ingesting fatty tissues with these toxins include but are not limited to cognitive impairments, nervous system dysfunction, lack of coordination, development of certain cancers, as well as liver and kidney damage. So, perhaps it's time to revisit vegan and non-GMO options.

In my "spare" time, I work with the medical team at the Dr. Oz show -- often bringing the latest and greatest new finds from the world of natural medicine. I also often join the show as a guest expert. Not too long ago, I joined Dr. Oz to discuss my latest find in omega-3. It's called Ahiflower.

Ahiflower seed oil is a nutritional supplement and food ingredient that delivers a unique and unparalleled combination of essential omega 3, 6, 9 fatty acids -- essential for health, vitality and wellness. Ahiflower has a naturally-balanced fatty acid ratio that we want -- its omega-3 content is about 4 times its omega-6 content! It is pure, vegetarian / vegan, non-GMO, and extremely sustainable. Each batch is traceable to small independent farms in the UK where Ahiflower seed is exclusively grown. In fact, a single acre of Ahiflower produces as much omega-rich oil as 40,000 sardines!

Not to mention that being plant-derived, there is no fishy taste, no fishy smell, and no fishy after effects. Ahiflower is the most complete and most optimally balanced single source of healthy plant-based omegas available. Plus, it naturally contains beneficial levels of anti-inflammatory GLA, which neither fish oil, algal oils, nor flax seed oil contain.

Ahiflower oil may be the healthiest, cleanest-tasting, most sustainable, and scientifically-proven plant seed oil that delivers all your essential fatty acid needs. Simply put, it's better than flax and it's not from fish.

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