What if there was a substance that you were consuming regularly that was severely hampering your efforts to get healthy? What if this substance was linked to accelerated aging and a variety of common health problems? What if this substance was used in numerous “health” foods and in numerous restaurants? What if you were taking supplements that contained high amounts of a harmful substance that you were told was healthy? Well, this is happening and you are most likely unaware of it, the most damaging thing you can put in your body is not sugar and it is not gluten, it’s PUFAs. Here, I break down the ins and outs of the oils to consume and not consume and why.
WHAT ARE PUFAs?
PUFAs—short for polyunsaturated fatty acid are a type of fat. The type of fat that is available to us via the foods we eat generally fall into two categories: unsaturated fat and saturated fat. For ages we were advised to avoid saturated fats and emphasize unsaturated fats (or avoid fat all together). Many cooking oils actually said “heart-healthy” on the bottle. The research is overwhelmingly clear that saturated fats are not only healthy, but that they are extremely beneficial for overall health. What is not often talked about is the downright damaging impact of the class of highly unsaturated fats known as PUFAs.
WHY SHOULD YOU AVOID PUFAs?
The primary issue with PUFAs is that they are highly unstable. All fats have a temperature with which they oxidize (i.e. become unstable, go rancid, become toxic). For PUFAs that temperature is very low. An easy way to remember this is that UNsaturated fats are UNstable and Saturated fats are Stable. Unstable fats are prone to oxidation. Oxidation lead to free radicals. Free radicals lead to cellular damage in your body that can manifest both internally in the form of damaged organs/glands and externally in the form of rapidly aging skin. In addition, many of these fats can become unstable before they even enter your body. During processing, many of these “seed” oils are exposed to high heat (imagine trying to extract oil from a grape seed), which can often make the oils go rancid. In addition, these oils may be exposed to high heat during travel which can also lead to a damaged and unstable product. This is one of the reasons many of these oils are shipped in dark containers and are required to be refrigerated.
THE BENEFITS OF FOLLOWING A LOW PUFA DIET?
- Blood Sugar – PUFAs can damage the cells in your pancreas that produce insulin. If you want to lose body fat and achieve a high level of health, you want a very effective blood sugar handling system. PUFAs can damage this system. For those with blood sugar handling issues the primary focus is usually reduced sugar intake, however, I believe it makes more sense to reduce PUFAs from your diet.
- Skin health – PUFAs are closely linked to age pigment formation. In addition, a high level of PUFA in your body means when you are exposed to the sun, free radical damage is more likely.
- Metabolism – PUFAs can stress various systems in your body, particularly the rate at which your cells produce energy (i.e. your metabolism). This has numerous implications for thyroid health and general hormonal balance.
- Digestion / Immune System – PUFAs can impair protein digestion. Digestion problems are rampant in this day and age, eliminating PUFAs are an often overlooked and very effective way at supporting digestion. Your immune system is closely linked to your digestive system, a problem with digestion almost guarantees a poorly functioning immune system.
- Detoxification – The liver plays a major role in detoxification, PUFAs can overburden the liver. That sluggish feeling you feel after eating out? You may have just consumed PUFAs.
WHERE ARE PUFAs PRESENT?
PUFAs are present in nearly all foods (even vegetables). While some extremists would say to avoid high-PUFA vegetables I don’t believe you need to go that far. Small amounts of unprocessed PUFA in a well balanced diet are unlikely to cause any issues. The most damaging PUFAs are the processed liquid cooking oils below:
Canola oil, Grapseed Oil, Corn Oil, Soybean Oil, Generic Vegetable Oil, Walnuts Oil, Cottonseed Oil, Sesame Oil, Peanut Oil, Margarine, Flaxseed Oil.
HIDDEN SOURCES OF PUFA EXPOSURE
- Snacks – Most energy bars, granola, potato chips, flax seeds, chia seeds.
- Commercially raised beef, poultry, eggs. Animals fed a diet high in PUFA (i.e. corn and soy) will have high levels of PUFA in their tissues.
- Most restaurants and take-out options use PUFA cooking oils.
- Fish Oil – Yes, fish oil is a PUFA. While short term (i.e. a few months) therapeutic use may be effective for reducing inflammation, long term daily use has a number of negative implications.
PLAN OF ACTION
- Avoid PUFA oils to the best of your ability, especially for cooking.
- Always use heat stable fats for cooking (i.e. coconut oil, olive oil, ghee, butter, tallow).
- Limit the amount of times per week you eat out and follow the eating out tips below.
- Consume high PUFA foods (i.e. nuts, seeds, fatty fish) in limited quantities (i.e. a few times a week instead of daily)
- If you consume animal products ensure that the animals are not fed any PUFA. This means consuming grass-fed beef and pasture raised eggs and poultry. There are many other benefits to this approach as well.
- If you are a vegan or vegetarian and nuts and seeds are a significant component of your diet it may be beneficial to consume lots of coconut oil and possibly to supplement with Vitamin E.
- Vitamin E is a very powerful antioxidant and may help offset the damage caused by PUFAs. When you go out to a restaurant or if you are in the mood for some French fries, take some vitamin E when you get home.
- Eat more saturated fat in general, but especially on days when you will be consuming PUFAs (whether intentionally or unintentionally). Saturated fat can offset the damage caused by PUFAs.
- If you only want to do one thing for your health, limit your exposure to PUFAs.
- It is rumored that pig farmers attempted to feed there pics coconut oil to fatten them up (in the days when coconut oil, was cheap). Apparently the pigs got lean and muscular on the coconut oil diet. Only after they started feeding them corn, soybeans and grains did they begin to bulk up.
- When eating out look for farm-table restaurants and ask that you food be cooked in olive oil or butter (coconut oil would be great but this is very uncommon).
- If you have been consuming a high PUFA diet for many years and carry around high levels of body fat, chances are you are storing lots of PUFA in your own tissues. While reduced body fat should be your goal, you should be sure not to rush your weight loss.When you begin to shed those pounds you can release PUFA into circulation in the body. If done too quickly, this can be particularly damaging and stressful to the body (see the various televised weight loss competitions).