Polyunsaturated fats: Essential or Toxic?
By Kate Deering
Yes, I’m back—back with even more mind-twisting information that will make you question, once again, the foods you are feeding your body.
Today’s topic — Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids — also known as PUFAs. Now, before you stop reading because you have no idea what the heck PUFAs are, and you are not interested in all this science jargon — I beg you to continue.
Why? Because you are probably consuming PUFAs everyday! The problem is, you are most likely thinking you are doing something healthful for yourself. When in fact, you may be causing your body to age faster, slowing your metabolic rate, which is making you fatter, and increasing your chances of disease. Do I have your attention now?
Good! Let’s continue.
First, what are polyunsaturated fats?
Polyunsaturated fats (PUFAs) are fatty acids with many double bonds. All polyunsaturated fatty acids lack several hydrogen atoms. This makes them far less stable than a fully saturated fatty acid. This instability produces a molecule that is more susceptible to being attacked and damaged by free radicals. Free radical damage can cause accelerated aging, hormone imbalance, cancer, and immune disorders. Yikes!
So what oils contain polyunsaturated fats?
Well, to be honest ALL oils contain some amount of PUFAs.
Here is a list of oils that have the highest concentration and can be the most harmful:
Soybean oil, corn oil, safflower oil, grapeseed oil, sesame seed, nut oils (peanut, walnut, almond, etc), flaxseed, fish oil, cod liver oil, evening primrose, borage oils, and yes, this even includes Omega-3 and Omega-6 (also known as the “essential fatty acids”).
What!! I know you are thinking. “I thought these oils were good for me? I thought these oils were “heart healthy” according to the USDA, my doctor, and my registered dietitian? How could they possibly be bad for me?” Yes, I know it is a little mind boggling, especially considering the massive marketing push on fish oils, flax, and cod liver oils. Trust me — it took me months and months of research to wrap my brain around it, especially since I used to be an avid fish oil user. So let’s go back about 80 years ago so you can understand what has happened.
Back in 1929 George and Mildred Burrs published a paper claiming that polyunsaturated fats are essential for the prevention of several diseases and essential for health. Burrs study concluded that rats that ingested unsaturated fats were far healthier than the rats that were on a fat free diet. Which, in fact, was true.
However, over 10 years later The Clayton Foundation Biochemical Institute found that “Burr’s disease” was actually a vitamin B6 deficiency. Back in 1929 the B vitamins were not yet discovered. The new research explained that the PUFAs had actually slowed down the metabolism of the PUFA-fed rats, causing a decreased need for nutrients. Thus, this allowed them to not be as nutrient deficient as the fat-free diet rats. The non-PUFA-fed rats had a higher metabolic rate, and with that comes an increase in nutrient demand, especially the B vitamins. And since the demand was not met, the rats became sick. Basically, all Burrs showed was that PUFAs slow your metabolic rate down, allowing you to survive on less nutrients. Thus the PUFAs prevented a deficiency on a deficient diet. Interesting, huh?
Think of your body like an engine. A high powered engine (high metabolic rate) needs premium gasoline and oils (the right carbs, fats, and proteins) to run optimally. If you give your high powered engine cheap gas and oil (PUFAs) it will slow down, causing damage, and eventually early engine death. Now, this is not to say a slower, smaller, lower powered engine (lower metabolic rate) could not survive on the cheap gas and oils — but it would NEVER run at the speed, strength, or longevity. Making sense? Basically, do you want to run like a Ferrari or a Ford Fiesta?
This may explain why people who eat a diet primarily of nuts, seeds, and vegetables can live a long life. Their metabolism is actually slower, so they have less nutritional requirements, which allows their body to live on very little food. The problem is these people usually have less energy, drive, motivation, and vitality. Ever seen a “healthy” looking vegan? I sure haven’t. In fact, most complain of low sex drive, low energy, muscle loss, low motivation, and sleep problems.
Here are some other things to think about.
Back in the 1940’s, farmers attempted to use coconut oil (a saturated fat) to fatten their animals. But then they found it only made them lean, active, and hungry. You see, coconut oil is a food that makes the body highly metabolic. It actually increases your bodies ability to burn fat. Farmers soon found that corn and soy oils, both almost entirely PUFAs, could be used to fatten their livestock. Why? Because corn and soy oils are fattening agents. Remember, PUFAs slow down your metabolism. This lower metabolic rate allows these animals to gain weight faster, which allows farmers to spend less money to get their animals fat faster. We must remember farmers don’t care about having the oldest, healthiest living animals — they just care about producing the fattest animals the fastest way possible.
Another interesting fact is this:
Bears and squirrels hibernate in the winter. They do this by eating a high level of nuts, seeds, and berries before hibernation. These nuts and seeds with their high PUFA levels allow the metabolic rate of these animals to slow, allowing them to sleep through the cold months of the year. Researchers have found that bears and squirrels given coconut oil (saturated fat) and the right carbohydrates were unable to hibernate since the animals had an increased metabolic rate and energy level.
By 1950 it was established that PUFAs suppress the metabolic rate, and apparently cause hypothyroidism. Researchers found that PUFAs damage the mitochondria of cells, suppressing respiratory enzymes, and promote excessive oxidative damage in the body. The more PUFAs one eats, the higher the suppression of tissue response to thyroid hormone, the lower the metabolic rate, and the more weight gain. This is one reason hospitals feed soy oil emulsions to cancer patients — to prevent weight loss!
But Kate… I thought these oils, especially the Omega 3’s and 6’s (EFA), caused a decrease in cholesterol and were heart healthy!
Yes, there is a cholesterol-lowering effect with the essential oils. It’s true. The question is, how are they doing this, and is this actually good for us long-term? In the book Generative Energy by Dr Ray Peat, he discusses how these “essential fatty acids” (EFAs) actually suppress the immune system by suppressing the cells that cause inflammation. Let us remember that cholesterol is part of our immune system, it is elevated by the liver when our bodies are in a state of inflammation to help protect our cells. However, just like statin drugs, all the EFAs are doing is suppressing a symptom. They are not correcting the actual problem. Long-term, these EFAs cause immune suppression, kill white blood cells, and inhibit proteolytic enzymes that are needed for proper metabolic function.
Does your brain hurt yet?
Ok, so if PUFAs in vegetable oils and nuts are so bad for us, what should we eat?
There are others, but here are my top 10.
1. Eat saturated fats. Coconut oil, butter, ghee, coconut milk.
2. Eat root vegetables. Sweet potatoes, beets, carrots (all root vegetables have very little PUFAs).
3. Eat fruits and fruit-like vegetables. Papayas, apples, pears, peaches, squash, tomatoes, zucchini, etc.
4. Eat grass-fed meats. Corn- and soy-fed meats have a higher PUFA content. Beef, bison, lamb.
5. Consume organic, grass-fed dairy. Milk, cheese, yogurt.
6. Consume tropical nuts. Macadamia, hazelnut, and cashew (in limited quantities).
7. Eat free-range, pastured, organic eggs. Corn- and soy-fed chickens produce higher PUFA content eggs.
8. Consume gelatin and beef broth. Both are non-inflammatory proteins and easily digested.
9. Eat wild white fish and shellfish. Halibut, cod, sole, shrimp, oysters, and crab.
10. Once a week eat grass-fed organ meats. Organ meats in limited quantities are full of vitamin and minerals.
*Please understand these are basic recommendations. Everyone is different, so different things work for different people. However, one of the biggest recommendations I would say works across the board is getting rid of as many PUFAs out of your diet as you can…unless of course you want to get fatter, sicker, and look older.
To be honest, I am certainly not asking any of you to take the things I am saying as the absolutely truth. I am just asking you to consider another side of things, so you can ask yourself if what you are doing is truly working. My goal in these blogs is not to tell you what to do. My goal is to only educate you. It is up to you to find out what works for you and what does not. It is up to you ask for help, if you are lost and confused. It is up to you to take an active role in your health and life.
For me and many of my clients, applying this science-based philosophy has been life changing. It does work, but it takes time and commitment and a willingness to change not only your body but your mindset. Real change takes work. There are no easy solutions, yet if you are ready, there is help. Call me to set up a 30 minute FREE consultation. It’s time you start feeling better!
Josh Rubin http://www.eastwesthealing.com/
Dr Lita Lee http://www.drlitalee.com/ “Unsaturated Fats”
Dr Ray Peat http://www.raypeat.com/ “Unsaturated fatty acids: Nutritionally essential, or toxic?”, “Unsaturated Vegetable Oils: Toxic”, “Coconut Oil”
Dr Ray Peat Mind and Tissues
Dr Ray Peat Generative Energy
Dr Ray Peat Nutrition for Women
Get your organic, raw, unbleached, unheated coconut oil in our online health store here.