By Shellie L. Rosen, PhD., DOM, L.Ac.
Knowing where to make changes in your diet to achieve the most significant impact on your health is critical. The best choice you can make this year for your health is to reduce your intake of polyunsaturated fatty acids, or PUFAs, which cause inflammation.
PUFAs are unsaturated fatty acids. They lack a hydrogen atom causing them to have (one or more) double bonds in their carbon chain. Double bonds are vulnerable to oxidation, generating free radicals that cause inflammation. PUFAs cause oxidative damage to fat-containing low-density lipoprotein particles. PUFAs are stored in fat tissue and take years to shed. Our bodies persistently work to clear them, but this process releases free radicals, leading to inflammatory mechanisms that can manifest into many unfortunate health conditions.
Foods high in PUFAs include vegetable oils, such as canola, safflower, sunflower, soybean, and corn oils. Investigate labels for PUFAs in baked goods, dressings, prepared deli foods, oil-based margarine, and mayonnaise. Factory-farmed, grain-fed chicken and pork, roasted nuts, and peanuts are also high in PUFAs.
Over the past several decades, PUFAs have replaced animal fat for food preparation and cooking as a “healthier” option. However, we know now that replacing tallow (beef/mutton fat) or lard with a PUFA like Crisco was unwise. PUFAs, which are high in omega-6 fatty acids (bad for you) and low in omega-3 fatty acids (good for you), are everywhere. Ideally, the ratio between them would be one omega-6 for every two omega-3 fatty acids. Unfortunately, many folks consume too much omega-6 with a ratio of one omega-3 (the good one) to 15 omega-6. If you are curious about your balance, ask your health care provider for a test. The results may help you plan a course of action and determine the need for diet modification or supplementation with omega-3. Ensure omega-3 supplements are high quality and stored in a sealed dark container to prevent oxidation.
The goal is not to reduce fat but to look for foods with fatty acids high in omega-3 and low in omega-6; instead of processed oils, look for coconut oil, grass-fed butter, and extra virgin olive oil. If you must use PUFAs, aim to minimize their damage. PUFAs become more unstable after heat (cooking) or light exposure (clear plastic bottle). Store all fatty acids in a cool, dark place and refrigerate after opening. When a fat smokes, it is oxidized. Therefore, aim to cook fats well below their smoke point to keep PUFAs as stable as possible.
Oxidized fats from PUFAs contribute to obesity, metabolic disorders (including diabetes), and inflammatory conditions that cause heart disease and cancer. Set yourself up for a healthy year ahead with the simple goal of reading labels to avoid PUFAs. If you remain successful, this time next year, you will have less inflammation and better health. Abundant blessings for your new year.