Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Essential Fatty Acids

Another benefit you receive from eating fats is that they supply your body with essential fatty acids. They are known as the omegas: Omega 9 (oleic acid), Omega 6 (linoleic acid, or gamma-linolenic acid) and Omega 3 (alpha linolenic acid). These little beauties play an essential role in your health: they protect your immunity, have an anti-inflammatory effect and play a vital part in all your cell structure.

(You are what you eat, even if you are a cow! Studies show that grain-fed beef, such as American or European beef, has an imbalance in omega oils, unlike pasture- (grass-) fed beef, which we mostly have in New Zealand, and which contains a more natural ratio of omegas.)

Diet Start

In researching the omegas we were faced with endless data on the importance of the balance between these three fats. It seems that the modern diet supplies us with an overwhelming amount of Omega 6 oils, whereas the Omega 9 and Omega 3 oils are much lower down the scale. Omega 3 oils go rancid quickly, which is why industry avoids or modifies them — hence the lack of them in all processed foods. And like anything in nature, when you isolate a nutrient that is meant to work in harmony with others, you run the risk of increasing your susceptibility to ill health and disease. A healthy balance is what you should try to achieve.

You can get Omega 3 from such foods as fish (particularly oily fish like salmon, tuna, and sardines) and flaxseed oil. Omega 6 is found in vegetable oils, such as sunflower, safflower, corn, soybean and cottonseed oil, so we tend to get a fair amount of it in our normal diet. You can get Omega 9 out of olive and avocado oils.

Extra-virgin olive oil, which has been used for centuries, contains an excellent balance of all the omegas. Extra-virgin olive oil and all cold-pressed oils offer the best nutritional value when used raw and unheated. Use them as dressings over salads and vegetables, and dip your breads into the oil instead of using butter. If baking (cakes or biscuits) we prefer a cold-pressed unrefined oil with mild flavour like almond oil, or unsalted butter instead of margarine.

All cold-pressed oils start to oxidise (go off) from the moment they are pressed. This is the result of many factors, and is accelerated by exposure to air and light. It is better not to buy oil stored in plastic, as some plastics have the potential to be absorbed into the oil or leach chemicals. Glass is a better way to store your oil: ideally buy opaque or dark bottles, which block out the light. The ultimate way to buy your oil is in a tin, and many specialty stores sell cold-pressed oils this way.

High temperatures damage the essential fatty acids and destroy many valuable nutrients in your oil. The best ways to cook are therefore the ones using water, such as steaming, baking in a dish of water or blanching, because water cannot get any hotter than the boiling point of 100 degrees C. Frying, on the other hand, can induce extreme heat.

A good example of this is cooking fish. Salmon is a good source of Omega 3 fat and protein. When you cook it, you shouldn't fry it in oil over a high heat, or, heaven forbid, deep-fry it, because then you not only run the risk of destroying the essential fatty acids in the fish but also turning your oil into a trans fat due to the extreme heat. Cooking methods like steaming are healthier options. Boiling is also a water method, but be careful not to overboil, as you will leach out vitamins and minerals in the water.

... andjoyohoxing