As we are now in the countdown to Pesach, the subject of which oils to use is always a point of conversation and particularly among Ashekenazi Jews who have the restriction of Kityniyos on Pesach. The truth be told, we should be having this conversation all year and some new research discredits a lot of what we all assumed to be true about oils. It’s no secret that all oils are 100% fat. We have always presumed that what discerns a good oil as opposed to a bad oil is the ratio of Omega 3’s (the good guys) and Omega 6’s (the bad guys). Let’s take a look at what all these omegas are, examine different oils, and then look at some newer research which might about all oils.
The role of Omega 3 and 6
Omega-3 and omega-6 are types of essential fatty acids – meaning we cannot make them on our own and have to get them from food. Both are polyunsaturated fatty acids. In modern diets, there are few sources of omega-3 fatty acids, mainly the fat of cold water fish such as salmon, sardines, and herring. Vegetarian sources, such as walnuts and flaxseeds contain a precursor omega that the body converts to Omega 3. They are the building blocks for hormones that control immune function, blood clotting, and cell growth as well as components of cell membranes. Consumption of Omega 3s improve heart health, increase "good" HDL cholesterol, and reduce triglycerides, blood pressure and the formation of arterial plaques.
They can also support good mental health and reduce the risk of psychotic disorders, decrease liver fat, supporting infant brain development, fighting inflammation: that can contribute to a number of chronic diseases. They are also an important part of preventing dementia.
Unlike Omega 3, omega-6 foods containing these fatty acids are numerous in modern diets. They are found in seeds and nuts, and the oils extracted from them. Refined vegetable oils, such as soy oil, safflower oil, and sunflower oil are used in most of the snack foods, cookies, crackers, and sweets in the American diet as well as in fast food. Soybean oil alone is now so prevelant in fast foods and processed foods that an astounding 20 percent of the calories in the American diet are estimated to come from this single source.
Unlike Omega 3, Omega 6 is pro inflammatory. So we want to decrease the 6’s and increase the 3’s. The preferred ratio is less than 4:1 in favor of the 6’s. The problem is when you have more than that, they push out the 3’s, don’t let them work probably and many of our common health problems get started. The western diet is absolutely inundated with omega 3’s. The average ratio in the United States today is 16:1. If we turn the clock back to before World War 2, the ratio ranged from 1:1 to 3:1. You have seen me write this before but I can’t state this enough—a Western diet is harmful to your health. This is just another aspect of it that causes illness and suffering.
Should we be actively trying to reduce or eliminate oils from our diet altogether? Olive oil is a key component in the Mediterranean diet which has been proven to be beneficial to health and lowers our risk of heart disease. Olive oil can lower bad cholesterol and blood pressure as well. It also seems to lower the risk of many cancers, type 2 diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease. Although it contains omega 6, unlike most other oils, it is high in healthy monounsaturated fat and has more omega 3. Extra virgin is best.
Many oils are high in omega 6. Therefore, we want to stay away from sunflower, corn, soybean and cottonseed oils. And what about all of the hype about coconut oil? Coconut oil is somewhat lower in omega 6, but is very high in saturated fat. While we have rethought saturated fat’s effect on heart disease, it is not a healthy fat. Coconut oil is not a miracle cure for anything. It can give your food a good taste though. If you are going to use it, keep the amount very minimal.
Another oil higher in omega 3 is canola oil. There is some controversy because it is genetically engineered. However, because it is high in omega 3, it is still considered a healthier choice.
Whatever oil you use, they are all high in calories. Use them sparingly. For instance one teaspoon of olive oil is 125 calories—one teaspoon. Thank about that. As a matter of fact, oil is the most calorically dense food on the planet. At 4000 calories per pound, oil tops all other food for calories per pound. It is 100% fat. All the good stuff (like the fiber, most of the vitamins, phytonutrients) are stripped from it, leaving just the pure fat. And that brings us to the next topic—should we be consuming oils at all?
Aside from the fact that all oils are highly processed and extremely high in fat and calories. Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn of the Cleveland clinic says the following, ““NO OIL! Not even olive oil, which goes against a lot of other advice out there about so-called good fats. The reality is that oils are extremely low in terms of nutritive value. They contain no fiber, no minerals and are 100% fat calories. And above all they contain saturated fat which immediately injures the endothelial lining of the arteries when eaten. It doesn’t matter whether it’s olive oil, corn oil, or any other kind of oil.”
There are many other physicians who are now agreeing with this statement in principle. When Dr. Esselstyn refers to the endothelia, he is talking about the inner lining of your arteries. Why is this so important? When you have good endothelia health, you will not have a heart attack or stroke. When you eat healthy food, especially vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes and lentils, the lining of your arteries will maintain good health, stay flexible and have a good exchange of nitric oxide. When they are proper nitric oxide exchange, you won’t see plaque buildup, stiffness and most importantly, blood clots. In more simple words, your chances of heart attack and stroke decrease by about 90% or so. We have found that all oils are unfavorable to good endothelial health and olive oil might be a better oil when it comes to omega 3s, but it still causes endothelial inefficiency.
In order to get healthy fats, include some nuts, avocado, seeds, ground flax seeds and small amounts of humus or peanut butter (better with no sugar). You can include them as part of you daily eating. As opposed to their oils, you get the whole food, all the nutrition and the all-important fiber. As far as Pesach goes, spend a little extra money and use Walnut oil, but again, keep the amounts minimal and when it isn’t Pesach, work to cut down your oils as much as possible. Remember that they are found in big amounts in all processed foods. The only crackers I personally am buying these days contain NO oil at all. Beware that many breads have added oils also—avoid them.
When we reduce our oil intake, we substantially reduce our odds of disease and illness and certainly cut unneeded calories from the diet which helps us maintain normal weight. Using healthier oils, and keeping oil consumption to a bare minimum will “add hours to your day, days to your year, and years to your life.”
Alan Freishtat is an A.C.E. CERTIFIED PERSONAL TRAINER and a CERTIFIED WELLNESS COACH with over 19 years of professional experience. Alan is the creator and director of the “10 Weeks to Health” program for weight loss. He is available for private coaching sessions, consultations, assessments and personalized workout programs. Alan also lectures and gives seminars and workshops. He can be reached at 02-651-8502 or 050-555-7175, or by email at email@example.com Check out the his web site – www.alanfitness.com US Line: 516-568-5027