If you read my last article “How To Include Animal Fat in Your Diet” you know that I am already going to recommend tossing out any beliefs related to fat-free living. Guilty, I also want to bring to light other, less well-known oils that can help you stay healthy.
What we know about fats so far: “Dietary fat [fats found in plants and animals] is one of the three macronutrients, along with protein and carbohydrates, that provide energy for your body,” reports Roger W. Harms, M.D. in “Dietary Fats: Know Which Types to Choose”.
Easy enough to understand. For me, the classification of “healthier vs. unhealthier fats” becomes even tougher when I read about oils I’ve never heard of!
Palm Fruit Oil, also known as palm oil, is an obscure oil. This oil “is extracted from the flesh of the fruit of the oil” explains Dr. Ella Johananesen’s article “Palm Fruit Oil—Much More than Ordinary Oil”.
This oil, which is included in peanut butter, has, according to Johananesen, “exceptionally high levels of caretenoids (Palm Fruit Oil has on average 13-15 times more carotenes than carrots and 40-50 times more than tomatoes. These carotenes are non-toxic, pigmented pre-cursors of vitamin A. Vitamin A is important in… maintaining good vision and supporting the immune system.”
Andrew Weil, M.D. agrees. His article “Tropical Oils: What’s Healthy? What’s Not?” explains while palm fruit oil is high in saturated fat, it has “high antioxidant activity from a significant content of vitamin E.” Vitamin E, writes Johananesen, arms the body as an antioxidant against cardiovascular disease, “lower[s] the serum cholesterol, [and] protect[s] the skin against UV radiation”.
Since palm fruit oil is 44 percent saturated fat, it will not oxidize as quickly as its unsaturated fat counterparts will, says Johananesen. When heated, she continues, the oil will not release free radicals.
When reading ingredient labels, be wary of confusing palm fruit oil (palm oil) for palm kernel oil. Palm kernel oil, according to Weil, “is extracted from the pit of the palm…[and] can’t be obtained organically”. It has a higher saturated fat content than palm fruit oil as well. Weil writes bluntly, “In short, palm kernel oil is a cheap, unhealthy fat, and I recommend avoiding food products containing it.”
If you are itching to cook in the kitchen, you should experiment with coconut oil. You can pick it up in a jar; it is remarkably similar looking to Vaseline. Kiran Patil in “Health Benefits of Coconut Oil” reveals that coconut oil is over ninety percent saturated fat—hence its semi-solid state.
However, coconut oil has a range of positive side effects. “It contains 50 percent lauric acid, which helps in preventing various heart problems, including high cholesterol levels and high blood pressure.” Like palm fruit oil, it is saturated fat composition that makes it easier to cook with.
Saturated fats, particularly, bring another advantage; they have antimicrobial properties, and also help deal with certain bacteria, as well as fungi and parasites.
What about omega-3 fatty acids? The super scientific name has been attached to fish and nuts, harping that it will help us keep healthy. Is there any truth in that? Absolutely.
Brian Berman, M.D. in University of Maryland’s publication “Omega-3 Fatty Acids” shows that “Omega-3 fatty acids are considered essential fatty acids. They are necessary for human health but the body can’t make them—you have to get them through food. Omega-3 fatty acids can be found in fish, such as salmon, tuna, and halibut, other seafood, including algae and krill, some plants and nut oils.”
Berman highlights the importance of this polyunsaturated fat. Omega-3’s “play a crucial role in brain function, as well as normal growth and development.” To get enough omega-3 fatty acid in your diet, the American Heart Association recommends eating one serving of fish (about three ounces) twice a week.
Other foods that have high percentages of omega-3 include “flaxseeds, flaxseed oil, canola (rapeseed) oil, soybeans, soybean oil, pumpkin seeds, pumpkin seed oil, purslane, perilla seed oil, walnuts, and walnut oil.”
Like any normal nutrition fact, there is an ensuing debate about omega-3 fatty acids, states Berman. Omega-3’s come from animal sources or plant sources. Molecularly, the animal sources have shorter chains, EPA [eicosanpentaenoic acid] and DHA [docosahexaenoic acid] respectively. Plant products, on the other hand, give us ALA [a-linolenic acid].
Berman’s article suggests that humans have a harder time breaking down ALA, implying we should be cutting back on plant based omega-3 fatty acids. The jury is still deliberating.
There are so many oils available to consumers nowadays. With a little bit of knowledge, it can be just a little bit easier to stay healthy.
Photo by Stephanie Watson