"Don't spend time worrying about how you are going to die. Worry about how you are going to live today"

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Let's talk fat...not weight but in food

Having a degree in Health Education and trying to be healthy most of my life, I focused a lot on a lower fat diet through most of my life.  Being Italian, I always used a lot of olive oil because it's good for you and let's face it, it tastes good too!  I never really thought much about safflower oil, soybean oil, sunflower oil or corn oil.  Quite honestly, I never even bought any of those oils for cooking that I can remember and never really thought about them.  Now because of breast cancer, I have to think about them and avoid them like crazy!  Who knew?

These types of oils are trans-fats or they are also called "hydrogenated" or "partially hydrogenated" vegetable oils.  These oils are usually liquid form, but through the hydrogenating process they are altered so they will remain solid at room temperature.  The benefit to changing the form of these oils is that it makes food stay fresh for long periods of time so they are used in almost every type of packaged food available in grocery stores.  Try reading the labels on chips, tortilla chips, crackers, cookies, graham crackers and any snack food and you will most likely find one of these oils.  It is almost impossible to find a food that does not contain corn oil, safflower oil, sunflower oil or soybean oil.  Trust me.  I have spent hours in the grocery store reading labels and it is so depressing!  Oh how I miss my favorite honey wheat pretzels.....boo!

I started reading up on these oils and their relationship to breast cancer and came away with a strong desire to eliminate them from my diet as much as possible for a few reasons.  First of oil, the hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils are much more difficult for the body to digest.  That certainly can't be good for anyone.  The other thing is that these oils can be much more inflammatory for the body. 

To understand the inflammatory part of this you have to understand the omega 3's and omega 6's.  The body cannot product omega 3 or omega 6 fatty acids so they must come from the diet to keep the body healthy.  Omega 3 fatty acids help lower risk of cardiac death, heart disease and can lower cholesterol.  A very important role relative to cancer is that omega 3 fatty acids can lower inflammation in the body.  There are other benefits too like increasing learning in children, decreasing blood pressure, lowering risk if blood clots and boosting the immune system.  Omega 6's also play an important role in brain function, growth and development, help with skin and hair growth, maintain bone health, and maintain metabolism and reproductive health.  On the negative side, some omega 6 fatty acids actually promote inflammation in the body.  So while there are many benefits of omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids, there needs to be a balance, literally. 

A good diet that promotes health is balanced between omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids.  In the average American diet there is a great in balance of of these fats.  The average American consumes 14-25 times more omega 6 fatty acids than omega 3 fatty acids.  When you look at the Mediterranean diet, there is much greater balance between the two.  Numerous studies indicate that the Mediterranean diet has a lower occurrence of heart disease and this diet is much lower in meat and much higher in foods containing omega 3 fatty acids (olive oil, garlic, fish, whole grains, fruits and small amounts of red wine). 

There are a few reasons why the American diet is so unbalanced in regards to these fats.  The first reason is that almost all packaged foods contain these fats so most people have no idea how much they are even consuming.  The other reason there is a large in balance is because of the way animals that produce foods (dairy cows, meat cows, chickens for eggs, chickens for meat, etc...) are raised and fed.  When animals are cage raised and not grass fed, they too consume large amounts of feed that contain high amounts of omega 6 fatty acids (soy, corn, etc...).  Therefore anything these animals produce are also in balanced in omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids.  So not only do you have to avoid the sunflower, safflower, corn and soybean oils, you now have to evaluate what kinds of meat and dairy products you eat.  Oh how complex this is!

When it comes to cows for example, when they are grass fed and free range, they eat a proper amount of balanced foods (in regards to omega fatty acids) and therefore the ratio of omega 3 to omega 6 is better balanced in the foods produced from these animals.  Some studies also show these animals produce meats that contain less fat.  If the animal is fed mostly grains the ratio is completely off and then is transferred to the food they produce. 

The balanced diet has a ratio range of 2:1 to 4:1 of omega 6 to omega 3 fatty acids.  Since the omega 6 fatty acids are hidden in so many foods typically consumed it is best to focus on a diet rich in omega 3 fatty acids to balance things out, in addition to avoiding foods that contain omega 6 fatty acids.

Good sources of omega 3's include many types of fish.   Many dairy products are fortified with omega 3's such as eggs, milk, juice, yogurt, whole grain bread, cereal, whole grain pasta, oatmeal and wheat flour tortillas.  There are also many fresh produce options that contain omega 3s including brussel sprouts, kale, mint, parsley, spinach and watercress.

As far as avoiding some of the omega 6 fatty acids, it almost seems impossible to me right now!  I have been spending so much time reading labels on food in the store and most things contain these fats.  Here is a list of the common foods I use to eat that contain these fats: pancakes, waffles, whole grain breads/bagels/English muffins, crackers, pretzels, low fat biscotti cookies, animal crackers, tortilla chips, baked chips, flour tortillas, wheat pita bread, hummus, graham crackers, rice snacks, and more!  I have finally realized I need to start doing a lot of cooking and baking so I can use proper substitutes for the bad oils in these very common foods.  I don't know how I will ever find time to bake and cook all of these common convenience foods, but I am going to try. 

This is a big undertaking and right now seems very depressing to me.  For now I am snacking on apples, carrots, popcorn (popped in olive oil) and a few other things.  I have searched my stores and have been able to find some things that don't contain these oils but some are not organic.  I did find wheat pita bread, whole grain wheat tortillas, whole grain flat bread crackers and whole wheat English muffins.  So far I have not found any crackers or any low fat/low sugar cookies.  I guess it will help me keep my body weight down, right?

1 comment:

  1. Try snacking on the delicious pistachio nuts from California that you can find in most supermarkets today--their chile and lime, or salt and pepper flavors are awesome! Pistachio nuts are also really good for you and your family--downside is that they are a bit expensive. Be well! :-)