The Paleo Diet and Lifestyle shuns the use of vegetable and seed oils for good reason. The oils which are extracted from vegetable sources such as peanut, soy, sunflower and canola all contain a high proportion of polyunsaturated fat (PUFA) and large amounts of the Omega 6 fatty acid, both of which promote inflammation.
WHAT DO WE NEED TO KNOW ABOUT FAT?
Fats can be divided into 3 categories, and of these, Unsaturated Fats have further important sub-categories.
- Saturated Fats are solid at room temperature. They are found in animal proteins, dairy products, coconut products, palm oil and palm kernel oil. We’ll look at Saturated Fats in an upcoming post.
- Unsaturated Fats are liquid at room temperature. They are found in plants, nuts and seeds. They include:
- Monounsaturated fats Sources include olive, peanut and canola oils, avocados, nuts and seeds.
- Polyunsaturated fats Sources include sunflower, safflower, corn, soybean, flaxseed and walnut oils. PUFA is the main fat found in seafood. Two important types of Polyunsaturated Fats are known as Essential Fatty Acids. The body cannot manufacture them, so they must assimilated through food sources. These essential fatty acids are
- Omega-3 Sources include salmon, sardines, linseeds (flaxseeds), walnuts, and beef.
- Omega-6 Sources include vegetable oils such as soy, corn, sunflower and safflower.
- Trans Fats are really nasty, so let’s get them over and done with right now.
Trans Fats are also known as Hydrogenated Fats or Partially Hydrogenated Fats. They are vegetable oils which have been heated with hydrogen gas. Scary, huh? – and about as far removed from the concept of ‘real food’ as you can get. This industrial heating-with-hydrogen process converts the fats from a liquid state to a solid form. It allows them to be reheated without breaking down, and gives them a long shelf life. They are found in processed foods such as cookies and chips, in margerine and dairy-free ‘butters’. That Trans Fats are implicated in heart disease, insulin resistance, obesity, high colesterol, diabetes, stroke, immunity disorders and other chronic illness cannot be argued. In June 2015 the American Food and Drug Administration decided to ban all trans fats from the food supply, giving food manufacturers three years to comply.
Polyunsaturated Fats, like the Trans Fats, withstand being reheated and also last a long time on supermarket shelves. They are fantastic for frying, they turn potatoes and corn into irresistable crisps, they give cookies their crunch and make pastries flaky and light. And they are, as you can imagine, cheap to produce in large quantites. All of this means that Polyunsaturated Fats are the darling of the food industry. From high class restaurants to fast food chains, from your favorite fish ’n’ chips shop to your to-die-for icecream, from breakfast pastries to that after-dinner specialty tart – you can bet your bottom dollar that Polyunsaturated Fats are somewhere on the ingredient list.
There is a problem with this.
Polyunsaturated Fats are heavy in Omega-6 Fatty Acids.
OMEGA-3 AND OMEGA-6
Omega-6 is important for the brain, for the metabolism, and for growth, healing, and development – but too much Omega-6 promotes inflammation.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids are important for metabolic and structural functions in the brain. Two types of Omega-3, EPA and DHA, have been shown to reduce inflammation and help lower the risk of heart disease, cancer and arthritis. Most health advisors recommend that women increase their Omega-3 intake with menopause.
Research suggests that our ancestors consumed the Omega’s in a ratio of 1:1. Omega-3 was obtained through fresh fish, and through seasonal nuts and seeds consumed in moderation. Omega 6 was also obtained through seasonal nuts and seeds, but in very small doses. With the Industrial Revolution, the consumption of Omega-6 began increasing, and the ratio has risen steadily to the point that the contemporary Western diet has an Omega-6 to Omega-3 ratio anywhere from 10:1 to 25:1. This article by Chris Kressner is fantastic if you want to read more.
The idea that Americans receive almost 10% of their daily calories from the Omega-6 found in soybean oil is astounding. Consuming 10 -25 times more Omega 6 than our ancestors means that our cells and membranes are stuffed full of the stuff. To the question of how such a radical shift in both the composition of our fats and the quantity of Omega-6 in our diet affects our health, Kressner states,
‘The short answer is that elevated Omega-6 intakes are associated with an increase in all inflammatory diseases – which is to say virtually all diseases.’
But wait. There’s more.
OXIDATION AND RANCID OILS
Oxidation is what happens when the Polyunsaturated Fats in seed oils are exposed to air, light and heat. Which includes artificial light, such as supermarket and household light. When molecules in the seed’s oils react with oxygen, they form free radicals and go rancid.
Remember the post on Grains and Legumes? Remember how the entire structure of a seed has evolved to guaratee it’s own survival and reproduction against all odds? Part of that tiny miracle includes the presence of antioxidants, which, as the name suggests, protects the oils in the seeds from going rancid through oxidation. Unfortunately, the whole process of stripping the oils from the seeds and refining them for the food industry largely eliminates the antioxidants.
The Seed Oils that we buy and consume are thus overloaded with Omega-6, have next to no antioxidants, and are in the high risk category for oxidisation. It’s probable that the oils are already rancid by the time you get them home, especially if they are packaged in clear glass or plastic. When we then raise their temperature through cooking, the oxidation process goes all out, resulting in toxic by-products.
Our bodies need fat, and so our cell membranes have no choice but to assimilate these rancid PUFA’s. Completely in alignment with the Omega-6 story above, the more toxic oils we have in our system, the more we are prone to systemmic inflammation. And systemic inflammation can rear it’s ugly head in so many different ways.
WHY THE PALEO DIET AVOIDS INDUSTRIAL SEED AND VEGETABLE OILS
The Paleo Diet encourages you to get Industrial Seed and Vegetable Oils well out of the picture. To recap:
- Industrial Seed and Vegetable Oils are Polyunsaturated Fats.
- They are high in Omega-6 and low in Omega-3.
- They are unstable and are prone to going rancid.
- They are assimilated by the body even though they are toxic.
- They promote sistemic inflammation, which causes all kinds (if not most) of disease.
WHAT’S THE POSITIVE PALEO ALTERNATIVE TO SEED OIL?
Living the Paleo Diet and Lifestyle means we choose healthy fats that are low in Omega-6 and high in Omega-3 as much as possible. We use a lot of olive oil, especially extra-virgin which has been cold-pressed. We keep our oils in dark coloured glass, or in tins. We eat a lot of avocado, coconut in all its forms, olives, and fish. We eat seeds and nuts in moderation.
The results? We feel the difference, and the change is positive. We have less inflammation, we lose excess weight, we are less prone to colds and ‘flu, we have fewer aches and pains, and we have more energy. We feel good!
There’s loads of great information about this out there in Internet Land. The article quoted above by Chris Kressner is fantastic, and has lots of useful links. I haven’t covered Saturated Fat in this post, because it deserves a post of it’s own, so stay tuned, and sign up if you’d like to receive the updates in your in-box.
If you have more that you’d like to add on this topic, leave your comments – I look forward to reading them! Please share this post with anyone who you think might be interested, or who might benefit from the knowledge.
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Best wishes, Good Health