We enjoyed this recent blog by natural health leader Dr. Joseph Mercola, New York Times best-selling author. An osteopathic physician who is also board certified in family medicine, Dr. Mercola’s website gets more than 12 million page views each month.
As Dr. Mercola points out, it’s time to stop thinking of all dietary fats as evil. Once you understand how our bodies use fat for such necessary functions as producing hormones – and not so incidentally how they can actually help to manage your appetite – you will have more control over your health.
Surprising acts you might not know about dietary fats
If you are watching your cholesterol levels and concerned about your heart health, chances are that you are trying to avoid foods loaded with animal (saturated) fats and trans-fats. But experts say that what you don’t know about the basic nature of fats could be undermining your efforts. Even many dietitians are not fully aware of how certain types of dietary fats can actually help your body to naturally correct and maintain its blood cholesterol balance.
Surprising Fact #1: All fats are composed of molecules that are a combination of polyunsaturated, monounsaturated and saturated fatty acids (three fatty acids in each molecule)
“Think of a fat molecule like a half a six-pack of cola, with three cans of cola hanging from the plastic rings. Theoretically, you could replace one of the rings with a lemon-lime soda and it would still be 2/3 cola. Animal fat molecules contain mostly saturated fatty acids among the three fatty acid units, but inserting one polyunsaturated fatty acid among them now and then makes a big difference how the body processes the fat. This is what makes Malaysian palm fruit oil somewhat unique because it contains the highest number of polyunsaturated fatty acids of all the saturated fats, e.g. about five times more than coconut oil or butter fat.
Surprising Fact #2: Saturated fats are not necessarily bad for you.
Your body does best with the right balance of all three types of fatty acids. With the right balance, saturated fatty acids maintain your HDL (good cholesterol) while polyunsaturated fatty acids decrease your LDL (bad cholesterol). Monounsaturated fatty acids have a neutral effect on cholesterol levels.
If you have a high blood cholesterol, then you need more polyunsaturates and fewer saturates, but much fewer polys are needed if your cholesterol is low. So your consumption of saturated fat is not an issue per se, as long as you have an adequate intake of polyunsaturated fatty acids simultaneously to balance the need at that moment.
Surprising Fact #3: If you have elevated blood cholesterol levels, olive oil is not the answer.
Soybean and canola oils are 40-50 percent polyunsaturated fatty acids and the rest are monounsaturated, with a low level of saturated fatty acids. Olive oil is mostly monounsaturated fatty acids. And since monounsaturated fatty acids are neutral, they won’t cause trouble with your cholesterol but they also can’t get you out of trouble if your body is desperately needing more polyunsaturated fatty acids.
If your cholesterol is in the healthy range, consuming olive oil is fine. But if it’s elevated, you’ll want to choose an oil rich in polyunsaturates, or even one of the more liquid fractions of palm fruit oil (i.e. such as pressed red palm oil) which contains a healthy balance of polyunsaturated and saturated fatty acids as well as antioxidant-rich carotenoids an vitamin E.
Surprising Fact #4: Not all tropical oils are the same.
They aren’t all created equal! Most people don’t know that Malaysian palm fruit oil comes from the flesh of the palm oil fruit, much like olive oil comes from the flesh of the olive. Not only is Malaysian palm fruit oil a cholesterol-free vegetable oil, but it contains more polyunsaturated fatty acids than coconut oil, for example, and thus it is better at lowering your LDL cholesterol. By contrast, palm kernel oil (like coconut oil) comes from the fruit’s seeds and contains 85 percent saturated fatty acids and only two percent polyunsaturated fatty acids.
Surprising Fact #5 Polyunsaturated oils are not healthy when they are fully hydrogenated.
Food producers, especially those who market baked goods such as pre-packaged cookies and cakes, need an oil that does not break down at high temperatures, and that is shelf stable for long periods of time. Polyunsaturated fatty acids are unstable in that regard, so liquid oils do not work well.
For years, trans-fats were used for this purpose until the public became aware of their health hazards. Many food producers have now switched to soybean oil that has been loaded with hydrogen (a process called hydrogenation to make them ‘fully saturated’ with hydrogen) to stabilize the molecules. Fully hydrogenated soybean oil has the consistency of candle wax – which is not handled normally by the body, even if stable on the shelf. It is legally fat but it is not natural or normal.
The more health-conscious food producers are using palm fruit oil, which is naturally relatively solid at room temperature, yet contains sufficient polyunsaturates and monounsaturates to melt naturally into a liquid form when consumed. It simply doesn’t need to be hydrogenated to work well in most processed food applications.
Experts hope is that Americans will learn more about the importance of various fats, including the type of fatty acids they are consuming, in order to be smarter and more aware of the fats they ingest daily.
Robin Miller is a health and nutrition editor with more than 30 years of industry experience. She researches and writes about the nutritional benefits of palm fruit oil, with the goal of giving readers factual, science-based information that will be useful in their daily lives.