Fats and Oils are a complicated subject. We have saturated fats and unsaturated ones. Of the unsaturated, there are monounsaturated and polyunsaturated. With the polyunsaturated, there are trans fats and cis fats. If that was not enough, omega six and omega 3 fats jump in to complicate the picture. Many people get a partial understanding and sling these words around like magic bullets. We don’t need to now everything, but some understanding is needed. The main question is; “are any of these fats healthy?”
It used to be that people bought lard or kept the bacon drippings (lard) to cook with. As with most animal fats, they are high in saturated fats. We then discovered that saturated fats were very unhealthy. As a result, people switched to vegetable oils, with an emphasis for high smoke points, that is oils that did not burn at high cooking temps. Then we discovered that trans fats were bad and many foods trumpet: “no trans fats.”
Then newer studies came out that omega 6 polyunsaturated fats were still not completely healthy. The omega 3 fats were much better. People soon started clamoring for cold water fishes high in omega 3s. Then people wanted krill supplements or omega 3 pills. Still, they didn’t seem to do what they hoped.
Along with these developments, there were the olive oil proponents. People focused on the Mediterranean diet’s use of olive oil. Many were reluctant to use it because of its stronger flavor and the low smoke point. Olive oil seemed to violate most of what we had learned. It was not omega 3, and not even omega 6, but omega 9, totally the wrong way. As a monounsaturated fat, it seemed closer than polyunsaturated to the unhealthy saturated fat. Though some studies showed that it was healthy, others had mixed reviews. What was going on?
It turns out that there is olive oil, virgin olive oil, and extra virgin cold pressed olive oil.
The final method, the extra virgin cold pressed kept many of the plants associated chemicals, that the plant uses to keep the oil from going rancid. Chemical extraction methods that most people use result in pure oil without the associated chemicals. Without these beneficial chemical, the fat is more harmful, but cold pressing preserves them. So which way do we go, high omega 3 polyunsaturated or monounsaturated? The featured picture shows bottles of olive oil. Some are mild but some have a significantly spicy bite to them.
Another study came out, but to confuse the issue, it compared oleic acid to linoleic acid. To clarify, oleic acid is the monounsaturated majority component of olive oil. Linoleic acid is the polyunsaturated majority component of most vegetable oils. The study showed that when rats were given unlimited food, the ones given the monounsaturated oil (oliec acid) ate less and gained less than the other rats. Then they decided to give both sets of rats the same limited amount of calories. Surprisingly, the rats given the monounsaturated fats still gained less weight that the others. In addition, they looked healthier and lived longer.
Still, there are 3 omega 3 fatty acids, ALA, EPA, and DHA. EPA and DHA are found in fish oils, but ALA is one of the two essential fatty acids (meaning we need it in our foods) Flaxseed, soybean and canola are the three oils with ALA. Nuts and seeds are also a source of ALA.
Therefore it is not surprising that the Blue Zones that used the cold pressed extra virgin olive oil lived long and healthy lives. Even the ones who ate what is considered an unhealthy amount of oil still lived just as long. Though most studies focused on olive oil, cold pressed avocado oil (naturally high in momounsaturated) is similarly beneficial. Recently, using old fashioned breeding methods, high monounsaturated (oleic acid) cold pressed sunflower oil has been put on the market. Avocado and sunflower oils have a higher smoke point and milder taste than olive oil. Any of the three oils are your best choices for monounsaturated. Canola oil is also high in the oleic acid plus it has the high ALA omega 3 fatty acid. Canola is a great compromise if you just want one oil.
Our tendency to take scientific results and rip them out of their natural settings has been shown to be a failure. No wonder that taking pure omega 3 capsules has been shown to not be beneficial. A diet high in omega 3 oils is better than the other polyunsaturated and saturated oils, but still we need the extra virgin olive oils and similar oils. The extra virgin (cold pressed) is the best and follows the mantra of eating the least processed food.
As always, I want to include recipes:
Whole wheat tortilla
tofu, tuna, or chicken
a little low cal dressing
or another style
Whole wheat tortilla
beans, tuna, or chicken
a little low cal dressing