For many years now the Canadian Health Food Industry has been urging all of us to increase our intake of omega-3 fatty acids (linolenic acid, EPA & DHA) either through consuming more fish, wild game and deep green leafy vegetables, and/or by using the fresh organic seed oils of flax (linseed), hemp, soy, pumpkin, walnut, chia, kukui and canola. Most Canadians however, still continue to use corn, safflower, olive and sunflower seed oils for baking and frying, which like butter and most margarines, do not contain any tangible sources of omega-3s.
Linolenic acid (omega-3) is one of two essential fatty acids (EFAs) required in the human diet. Its relatively hard to get. The other, linoleic acid (omega-6) is present in practically every oil available, but its generally consumed in a damaged, and therefore unacceptable form (except extra-virgin olive oil). Both of these essential fatty acids are polyunsaturated, exist in a liquid state at room temperature and are extremely fragile. This means they lack the extended shelf-life that saturated or hard fats often possess.
Most supermarket fats and oils are made and sold only with profit in mind, rather than attention to nutrition science and human health. They contain harmful substances (trans-fats and peroxides) formed during manufacture or when we expose them to heat, light and oxygen through cooking and incorrect storage. In the very least, many commercial oils are stripped of nearly every important biochemical substance except lifeless calories through solvent extraction, bleaching, deodorizing and degumming. Processed to the brink of micronutrient "emptiness" these "white oils" are best used as mechanical lubricants rather than food.
Experts like Erasmus, Finnegan, Siguel, Schmidt and Broadhurst have encouraged all of us to nurture ourselves on organic fresh oils which have been expeller pressed in a closed system (oxygen and light-free) without excessive heat. They have also instructed us to buy these oils in opaque containers which clearly display their pressing and expiration dates, and which have been flushed and sealed with an inert gas like nitrogen or argon. The best way to use these oils is to pour them unheated directly on food or prepared as an ingredient of homemade dressing and vegetable dips. I love protein shakes, so I mix one T. of The Sport Oil with filtered water, whey protein, creatine, glutamine and fresh fruit in a blender for breakfast or after exercise. The taste and the effect is fabulous!
These live fresh oils typically require refrigeration and may be frozen for up to one year without losing their intrinsic value. Some brands reinforce their oils with rosemary and vitamin E (antioxidants) which allow for room temperature storage provided the bottle remains unopened. I still like to add 800mg of vitamin E (alpha-tocopherol) pressed from a capsule directly into the oil upon opening. This adds further protection against any peroxidation (rancidity) as does purchasing the oil in small containers (250-500ml).
The emphasis on linolenic acid (omega-3) is understandable. As a society, we have moved away from our ancestral intake of 2 parts omega-6 to 1 part omega-3 (2:1) to the present standard of 25 parts omega-6 to 1 part omega-3 (25:1). In other words, we are eating far too much of the wrong kind of fat in our diet and most of it is rancid, fried, burnt, hydrogenated, fractionated, modified and chemically altered. To learn more about how eating these kinds of fats increases your risk of heart disease, stroke, hypertension, skin disorders, obesity, diabetes, arthritis, depression and cancer, I urge you to read "Fats That Kill, Fats That Heal" by Udo Erasmus and "Smart Fats" by Michael Schmidt.
Fats which occur in both plant and animal foods provide many important fat-soluble nutrients and cofactors besides the EFAs, such as vitamins A, D, E and K, phosphatidylserine (PS), phosphatidylcholine (PC), lecithin, carotenoids (alpha & beta-carotene, lycopene, lutein), phytosterols, coenzyme Q10, EPA, DHA, GLA, CLA, squalene and alklyglycerols (shark liver oil). These substances represent some of the finest healing tools available but they are seldom obtained in sufficient quantities to achieve their potential benefits (making dietary supplements an intelligent choice).
After water, fats (also called lipids) are the most abundant substance in the body, except in those who are lean and muscular. For these rare individuals, fats rank third after protein. A body composition analysis, such as DEXA or hydrostatic (underwater), is a standard component of any advanced University fitness assessment and is the only means known to truly verify what percentage of your weight is lean mass (water, bones, organs, muscle, structural fat) and storage fat. Excess bodyfat breeds sickness and weakens the immune system, so its just as important to check as cholesterol or blood pressure (in fact its even more important, as too much fat can cause both cholesterol and blood pressure to elevate). Excess fat also impairs athletic performance and robs many people of their motivational drive to be physically active (catch 22).
Healthy functional fat is extremely valuable and diverse. Trillions of cells depend on it as a membrane component, especially our nerve and brain cells. Eating poor quality fat or good fat thats been damaged causes defects in the cell membrane, which can lead to allergies, chemical sensitivities, mood swings, PMS and chronic fatigue. Fat occupies different geographical regions throughout the body including adipose tissue (storage fat), subcutaneous fat (under the skin) and intramuscular fat (woven throughout muscle as the marble in meat). Fat is also color-coded (brown or white) and classified according to form and function. Lipids occur as triglycerides, phospholipids, steroids, lipoproteins and eicosanoids (super hormones). They are also defined as short, medium and long (fatty acid carbon chains) and saturated, monounsaturated or polyunsaturated.
As you can see, there is much to learn and know about fat. Low-fat diets can threaten our intake of essential fatty acids and fat-soluble vitamins. Many beneficial accessory nutrients depleted through stress and age-related damage are found only in fat (especially animal fat) but a high-fat diet can increase your risk of heart disease and cancer. So what to do? My advice is to focus first on the QUALITY of the fats you are eating and the method of their preparation. As you become more quality conscious your knowledge of quantity, BALANCE and individual tolerance will naturally fall into place.