Our brains are 60% fat. In light of what we know of brain function and the essential fatty acids that are responsible, the term “fat-head” could now be a complement. Since our brains are in charge and require the right fats to run our thinking machinery, our first priority is to make sure we add the right ones into our diet, the omega 6s and omega 3s. They are essential and get the job done. First – let’s review some of the basics.
Fats and oils can be divided into two densities and two levels. The densities are not unlike the SAE oils, the Society of Automotive Engineers who organize the oils for our autos. But it is better to skip the details at the moment and divide them in two categories “thick” and “thin”. Fats are the thick ones and oils are thin, actually runny. It’s quite good to divide them in this simplistic way. The confusion about what we eventually eat is all over the lot and besides, our cells and membranes organize fats and oils as partners with each having a precise role. The membrane does not work without both, thick and thin, sluggish and active. We can begin with the ones we use in our kitchens because they wind up in our metabolism whether we like it or not.
You can think of the thick ones as butter or lard. We tend to look down on lard as being out of date. We regard it as a thing of the past. Our grandparents and great grandparents certainly didn’t think so. As cooking oil, lard has been with us for some time. It’s been a staple for centuries, probably hundreds of centuries, and we’ve survived and even flourished. It’s part of our evolutionary history. Those thick heavy oils were skimmed off the top of stews and saved, collected from roasts of pork, lamb, goose or turkey. It was regarded as valuable stuff. Before the light bulb, making candles was a basic part of life so the rendering of fat in the kitchen was universal. The plain fact is that lard is OK for cooking. However, just reminiscing, not pushing lard today.
Butter and olive oil are both excellent cooking oils, however, coconut is also marvelous for cooking. It’s not exactly a thick fat, for as you know, it quickly gets thin as the temperature rises. Castillo et al 1999, reports that “Supplementation of coconut oil produced a significant hypercholesterolemia after 7 days of treatment. However, supplementation of menhaden oil induced a significant decrease in total cholesterol after only 2 weeks of treatment”. The raising of cholesterol may sound sacrilegious; however, notwithstanding the loud din of media anti-cholesterol noise, there are those who have difficulty in doing just that – raising cholesterol. Cholesterol is an important fat for our cell membranes; it metabolizes up to our gonadal hormones -- think sex. No necessity in elaborating on that subject. It’s also a precursor for our adrenal hormones, which produce our life saving impulses for fight or flight, and bile acids which shepherd the fats and oils around in the blood stream. Without further ado -- cholesterol is necessary.
Castillo creates an interesting picture of coconut oil, or butter, as you prefer, and the essential oils that are part of our diet. By itself, coconut can raise cholesterol, but by introducing menhaden oil, it just as quickly reverses and lowers it. This feature of menhaden oil, basically an omega 3 essential fatty acid (EFAs), to lower cholesterol, is also duplicated with the omega 6 EFAs, and there is abundant research that corroborates it. We can regard all of the omega 6s and 3s as “thin oils” and cholesterol, when grouped together as a very “thick fat”.
The lesson here is more than casual. We need the thick ones and we desperately need the thin ones. The thin ones keep the thick ones from collecting to the degree where we tend to get into trouble that comes with aging, such as atherosclerosis, heart disease. In just these two words, thick and thin, we have covered half of all Fatty Acid biochemistry in human metabolism. But it may be just too simple to be looked at with the respect that it deserves. You may spend a third of your life getting a medical degree and half again practicing medicine, but if you do not see this simple relationship you will also retire as a failure from your chosen field of medicine.
Coconut used to be the preferred oil for making popcorn, but ADM and the other large oil producers chased it out of the movies over 30 years ago. It’s a shame we lost it. It was much healthier eating coconut oil than what is currently in use today. Most of the oils used for popcorn and fries are PUFAs, they are thin and should not be heated. They quickly degenerate and become partially hydrogenated and/or oxidize and become rancid.
Coconut oil is one of the most stable oils you can buy. It does not turn rancid easily. It does not attack your arteries. In fact, coconut oil was one of the foods Dr. Weston Price studied when he traveled the world searching for healthier people and their lifestyles. In his journeys he discovered that the coconut was considered a medicine food by the local populations. He found that those civilizations that consumed coconut regularly had no knowledge of cancer, heart disease, arthritis, or diabetes.
There are few other choices for cooking unless you think of the new GMO oils like high oleic soybean, sunflower or safflower oils, Canola also fits into that group because it was one of the first GMO oils to be converted. Canola contains erucic acid, a very long chain saturated fat. It is unhealthy for our membranes, it’s too long and slows the fluidity of the membrane. Think of erucic as a gawking fat blocking our healthy fats from doing what they want to do, running quickly in our membranes managing our cells. Please avoid canola. We simply do not like GMOs for anything we eat.
The thin oils, the PUFAs, come from seeds, nuts, and grains like olive, sunflower, corn, walnut, etc. They harbor the essential fatty acids which play a vital role when the time comes for them to reproduce new versions of themselves. Oils like olive are mostly Mono-Unsaturated Fatty Acids (MUFAs), and are OK, but do not stack up with the likes of the omega 6 and 3 PUFAs, the very healthy FAs. These Poly-Unsaturated Fatty Acids, with more than one double bond, are the stars in our choices of foods. They are predominantly made up of the essential oils, the omega 6s and the omega 3s and are exclusively made by plant seeds. They are important for life and especially the brain. When we use the term essential, we mean that the body cannot function without them. They are essential for life, our life.