Fats from animal and vegetable sources provide a concentrated source of energy, serve as building blocks for cell membranes, hormones and hormone like substances, and slow down nutrient absorption so that we can go longer without feeling hungry. Dietary fats also act as carriers for important fat-soluble vitamins (i.e. A, D, E and K) and are needed for the conversion of carotene in yellow and orange vegetable and fruits to vitamin A, which is important for mineral absorption and for a host of other metabolic processes.
At the turn of the century, most of the fatty acids in the diet were either saturated or monounsaturated, primarily ingested from butter, lard, tallow, coconut oil, and small amounts of olive oil. Today most of the fats in our diet are polyunsaturated vegetable oils derived from soy, corn, grape, safflower and canola.
Modern diets contain as much as 30% of calories from polyunsaturated oils, but scientific research indicates that this amount is far too high. The best evidence indicates that our intake of polyunsaturated fat should not be greater than 4% of the caloric total (1.5% omega-3 and 2.5% omega-6 fatty acids). The rest of our dietary fat should be derived from monounsaturated and saturated fats (<10%). Consumption in this range is found in native populations in temperate and tropical climates.
Excess consumption of polyunsaturated oils has been shown to contribute to a large number of diseases including cancer, heart disease, immune system dysfunction, liver damage, digestive disorders, depressed learning ability, impaired growth and weight gain and diseases of the reproductive organs and lungs.
One reason polyunsaturated oils cause so many health problems is that they tend to become oxidized or rancid when subjected to heat, oxygen and moisture in cooking and processing. Rancid oils contain free radicals which are extremely reactive chemical compounds. Free radicals have been characterized as ‘marauders’ in the body because they attack cell membranes, red blood cells, protein, lipids and the DNA. The damage caused by free radicals accelerates aging and the development of chronic illnesses, including cancer.
Olive oil is perhaps the most trusted vegetable oil that has been consumed for thousand of years with largely beneficial effect. However, the quality of olive oil varies widely and the oil of choice should be an unrefined, extra-virgin, and cloudy and yellow gold in color. The high percentage of oleic acid makes olive oil ideal for salads and for cooking at low heat.
Cold pressed sesame oil can occasionally be used for frying because it contains unique antioxidants that are not destroyed by heat. When high temperatures are involved (above 320F) coconut oil are the most stable fats.
Organic extra-virgin, unrefined Coconut Oil is the superior oil for high heat cooking. It is available with and without coconut flavor. It is lower in calories than most fats and oils. It is 50% medium-chain fatty acids, the kind that are not stored as fat in the body. Rather, they are metabolized into energy. This makes coconut oil a favorite food for athletes and people who want to manage their weight. The most remarkable property is that coconut oil contains lauric acid. This medium-chain fatty acid is only found in human milk and enhances the brain function and the immune system. In addition, it does not clog arteries or causes heart disease compared to hydrogenated and refined supermarket oils that contain toxic trans-fatty acids. However, coconut oil should not be the primary fat source for nursing mothers and toddlers. They need to consume a variety of fats, including olive oil, cold-pressed flax seeds oil, avocado and unsalted organic butter, if tolerated.
Ghee (clarified butter) can be safely used in small amounts by individuals with normal and low cholesterol levels. It is particularly a good cooking fat for vegetarians and vegans whose overall fat intake is low. It is a digestive and helps to improve absorption and assimilation. It nourishes the body, particularly the kidneys. It is good for improving the memory and lubricates the connective tissues. Ghee makes the body flexible. Ghee is a catalytic agent that carries the medicinal properties of herbs / spices into the seven tissues of the body. Persons who already have high cholesterol or suffer from obesity should avoid using ghee. Ghee is also not used when toxic conditions of the body are prevalent.
If you are interested in further information on fats and oil, please click here to access the articles by Mary J. Enigs (PhD), provided by the Weston A. Price Foundation.