Fats That Heal, Fats That Kill! | Part Two
Greg: Udo, can you explain trans fats and the hydrogenation process so that our readers understand the difference?
The toxicity produced by the processing of cooking oils goes far beyond the problem of hydrogenation. Hydrogenation has been getting quite a bit of attention, while the overall toxicity within cooking oils has been almost completely neglected.
Fundamentally, when oil is hydrogenated, hydrogen is bubbled through the oil with the goal of changing a liquid oil, which has a relatively short shelf life, into a plastic, spreadable fat that has an increased shelf life. Bubbling hydrogen gas through the oil in the presence of a nickel aluminum catalyst does two things: it destroys double bonds and twists the molecules. You go from an n-3 [Omega-3] to a trans fat to a damaged n-6 [Omega-6] to an n-9 [Omega-9] with one double bond to a saturated fat. If you completely hydrogenate oil, it will become a saturated solid fat – so hard that you’d need a chisel to break out pieces of it. Its melting point is about 70°C (158°F), which is substantially higher than body temperature (97°F).
Greg: Are hydrogenated fats and trans fats the same thing?
Not exactly. Completely hydrogenated fat contains no trans fats. You can only have trans fats in partially hydrogenated oils, which still contains double bonds in the molecule. It is a twist of the molecule around the double bond that makes a trans fatty acid. Without a double bond, a fat cannot be cis (natural) or trans (twisted) anymore.
Pam: Don’t hydrogenated fats have trans fats within them?
The ones that are partially hydrogenated do. Trans fats in partially hydrogenated vegetable oils can account for anywhere from 8-60% of the total oil.
Greg: We hear that hydrogenated fats and trans fats actually solidify the body’s cells – that the solidification process that occurs to the oils causes cells to solidify as well. Is there any truth to that?
That’s a simplistic way of explaining it. Trans fats do make membranes harder, which means the body will take cholesterol out of the membranes. Consequently, the body will need more n-3 and n-6 to return the membrane to its proper flexibility. Harvard studies show that trans fats double the risk of heart attack and increase risk of diabetes.
Greg: The one big thing with all the packaged foods on the market is that the only way they’re going to get around the bad fats issue is to find a way to extend shelf life. What are they going to do about that?
That’s a good question. It’s much more expensive and very difficult to extend shelf life using natural oils. My view is that we’ll see more lies and tricks being played with labels. We already know that we can’t trust the labels on packages. When the new labeling appears and companies are stating that there are no trans fats in the product, we know that’s probably not true. Most consumers are spending 90% of their food dollars on processed foods. Instead, they should be spending 90% of their food dollars on whole foods. If consumers were to make that shift in spending habits, they wouldn’t have to worry about bad fats and labeling deceptions. All you need to do is take care of your food. If your food’s taking care of you, shouldn’t you take care of your food? Eating fresh, whole, raw, and organic would be the ideal way to go.
Pam: Synthetic (man-made) trans fats are found predominantly in processed foods (margarine, cookies, crackers, chips etc…), however, I read that conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), is considered a good trans fat which occurs naturally in meat and dairy products. When CLA is in supplement form, can it still be considered a good trans fat?
CLA taken in capsules is at least twenty times higher than what you’d ever get from nature. The CLA in supplements is synthetically derived, is different from what one finds in dairy fat and meat, and contains about 70% trans fatty acids.
In other words, it is a man made trans fat. Research shows that CLA inhibits conversion of n-3 and n-6, changes membrane structure and function, and interferes with liver function. In Norway, labels on CLA products will require cautions. This is because women who take supplemental CLA have smaller and shorter babies and have lower quality breast milk, according to research. Also, it is not recommended for people with high cholesterol levels, because cholesterol + trans fats increase risk of heart attack, stroke, and embolism. And supplemental CLA is not recommended for people who are overweight or diabetic, because it makes people more insulin-resistant.
Greg: Udo, what’s the difference between saturated fat, polyunsaturated fat, and monounsaturated fat?
Saturated just means not essential (body can make it), no double bonds (a hard fat like butter, beef fat, pork fat), monounsaturated means not essential, one double bond (olive oil, also in butter, beef and pork fat), and polyunsaturated means two or more double bonds. Usually, ‘polyunsaturated’ is used to mean essential n-6, and ‘super-unsaturated’ is sometimes used to mean essential n-3.
Fat molecules are bent by the double bonds they contain. They are made more liquid. The more double bonds a fatty acid has, the more liquid it is and the more chemically active it is.
Saturated fat is about two and a half times more stable than monounsaturated fat, which is two and a half times more stable than polyunsaturated fat, which is five times more stable than the seed n-3 super-unsaturated fats (ALA), which is five times more stable than fish n-3 (EPA and DHA).
The stability/chemical activity of oils determines the shelf life of fats and oils, as well as the energy levels that they can bring about in the body. The less stable the oil, the higher the energy it can produce in the body, and the more care it requires during processing.
Greg: We’re told to limit and avoid saturated fats and that saturated fats are bad for us. Is this true?
That’s true if the diet does not contain enough n-3, but false if n-3 intake is optimized. Saturated fats are a part of every cell membrane; they are good fuel; and the body can burn them. Ideally, saturated fats from animal sources (milk, cheese, eggs, chicken, beef etc…) should come from grass-fed, free-range, organic farms. Saturated fats have been given a bad reputation, but in conjunction with healthy n-3 fats, saturated fats (from healthy sources) can be very healthy.
Here’s the story of saturated fats in context: In an n-3 deficient diet, saturated fats will make platelets stickier and will increase insulin-resistance. That means greater risk of heart attack, stroke, embolism, and diabetes. But n-3 makes platelets less sticky and decreases insulin sensitivity. Saturated fats and n-3 have opposite effects. In our fat consumption, we should first consume an optimal ratio of undamaged n-3 and n-6 essential fats, emphasizing n-3 because n-3 is too low in most people’s diets. That done, we can use whipping cream in our coffee and butter on our vegetables. Occasionally, I’ll eat a tub of sour cream in one sitting! As long as n-3 wins the competition, saturated fats won’t hurt you. And, for carbohydrate addicts, fats are better fuel than carbs, because fats won’t cause the blood sugar swings that lead to carb addiction.
Greg: A popular diet that used to be promoted heavily was the Atkins diet. It tells you that you an eat all the saturated fat you want but I’m not hearing anything about substituting omega-3 to balance out the saturated fats like you’re talking about.
That’s true. Atkins knew about the importance of n-3 (I did 4 live radio interviews with him), but for some reason, he never really emphasized them. His diet would have worked much better if he had emphasized n-3.
I do a PowerPoint presentation called “From Fat to Fit” that is about putting health into the Atkins diet through using good fats. Atkins was right about the carbs, but wrong about the fats. (When I say carbs, simplistically, I mean processed, simple carbs, such as baked goods, bread, pasta, etc….) About fifteen years ago, my son Tai—a fitness coach and sports nutrition expert—and I figured out the importance of good oils.
We got consistent feedback that seed n-3 helped people lose weight. But a few people gained weight on n-3. When these people lowered carb intake, they too lost weight. We came to the conclusion that to lose weight (fat), they need to increase their intake of the good fats, and at the same time decrease their intake of carbs. We call it the ‘fuel shift’.
“Increase good fats, decrease carbs.” That done, exercise. The fuel shift should come before the exercise, because the fuel shift increases fat burning and decreases fat production in the body.
We don’t get as much attention as Atkins because we’re not a “marketing machine”. Atkins told people to “eat the meat, but leave the potatoes.” Potatoes will make you fat, that’s easy. We tell people, “Your body needs an oil change – not just your car!” Leave the fats that kill and use the fats that heal. Off the cooking oils, fried oils, and hydrogenated oils and onto saturates only after you’ve optimized your n-3 and n-6 essential fats.
Four years ago (2000), a review article by Steven D. Clarke (I reference him in an article on my website) explained how this works, on the genetic level. When we eat more carbs than we burn, we force the body to turn the excess carbs into fat. Carbs also turn off the fat-burning genes (there are about nine of those).
On the other hand, increasing the intake of n-3 turns off the fat-making gene, turns on the fat burning genes, and turns on a heat production gene that keeps you warm in winter and makes you sweat more in summer by burning fat and blowing it off as heat. Carbs and n-3 work in opposite directions.
Our slogan is: When we eat carbs, either we burn them or we wear them. How many carbs we can eat (without turning on fat production) depends on our level of physical activity. So, if we want to lose weight, we decrease carb intake.
Obese people find it very difficult to lose weight. Why is that? It’s really simple. As long as they eat carbs, the fat-burning genes stay off and the fat-making gene stays on. Even though their body fat is energy, they can’t get it burning. That’s why they don’t have energy. That’s why they have a difficult time getting physical.
Atkins was right about carbs. He didn’t know the reason—he just knew it worked. The reason he recommended fats instead of carbs is because carbs raise blood sugar, turn on fat production, and turn off fat burning. The body turns the extra carbs into fat. We end up with low blood sugar, which causes cravings, depression, double vision, headaches, bad moods. We learn that eating carbs makes those symptoms go away. Unfortunately, by the time we have our blood sugar back to normal we’ve eaten more carbs than we needed and we’ve started the next high sugar/low sugar fat production cycle – which is why carbs are addicting.
Fats don’t do that – even bad fats. They don’t turn on fat production nor turn off fat burning; they suppress the appetite and don’t affect blood sugar levels.
Atkins said we can eat all the steak or bacon we want, but this will increase the risk of diabetes, cardiovascular problems, inflammation, and cancer. People on Atkins diets are known to develop these problems. After four interviews on essential fats with Atkins, he still did not change his recommendations (Even though I thought I had very clearly made the case for the importance of good fats).
The difference between Atkins and me is this: My program works better, but his is more popular.
If you tell people what they want to hear, you become popular. You tell people that they’re right to believe what they already believe, even if it’s going to kill them. I think that’s what Atkins did. He made it easy for people. I tell people that they need to make changes. I lose 80% of my audience when I tell them that.
On a saturated fat diet with too little n-3, we lose energy. I hear this complaint a lot from people on Atkins-type diets. The n-3 diet I recommend can increase stamina by 40-60%. If we push the limits of our performance, the increase in energy becomes very obvious in less than a month. We’ve measured this effect in athletes using one tablespoon of the oil blend per fifty pounds of bodyweight. We see a similar effect on mental stamina. We also see it in older people who suffer from low energy. It can be quite dramatic.
Pam: When you talk about sticky platelets, cell membranes, and other things, we’re dealing with a lot of “invisible” things. Can you list some of the visible symptoms of 1) someone who is n-3 deficient and 2) someone who is taking too much n-3?
Deficiency of n-3 leads to low energy, depression, weakness, vision and learning problems, dry skin, poor hair and nail growth, impaired digestion, and increased risk of inflammation, auto-immune conditions, cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes, weak bones, impaired liver and kidney function, poor glandular performance, poor reproductive performance, and greater likelihood of becoming overweight.
Deficiency of n-6 is quite rare in Western societies, unless a person is on a low fat diet. The symptoms are listed on my web site www.rightfatdiet.com in an article entitled Fats That Heal Fats That Kill and in my book with the same title.
If you take in too much n-3, your body will sweat to burn them. They’ll kick beta-oxidation into gear. The body doesn’t store n-3 like it stores n-6. The main symptom of taking too much n-3 or n-6 (or any fat for that matter) is feeling heavy or nauseated. This happens if you take more oil or fat than your liver can handle at any one time. Nausea is the way the body protects itself from being over-worked. To prevent this nausea, we recommend that the oil blend be mixed in food and spread out over the course of the day. That way, you can ensure that your liver never gets more than it can handle at any one time.
Pam: I talked to a gentleman who said he thought he was taking too much n-3 when he broke out in hives, but I don’t know which one of the n-3’s he was referring to.
Hives are usually either a detox reaction, or a heat rash (if this happened in hot weather). That’s because n-3 increases heat production and beta-oxidation.
Pam: I suspect that one symptom I get when I am deficient in good fats is that my cuticles get dry. Is this a common symptom? I remember when I was a vegan, my skin was very dry (even though I was taking flax oil).
Dry cuticles and dry skin are common symptoms of lack of n-3 and n-6. Both are required to form a barrier in the skin against the loss of moisture. If we don’t get enough, we lose that barrier. Then we lose water through our skin and our skin gets dry.
Pam: Why do you think we are seeing so many children being born with birth defects?
I believe that pregnant women need to pay attention to their intake of healthy fats and eliminate processed fats (processed foods, in general, need to be reduced or eliminated). Environmental factors (such as pesticides) could also be an issue.
Greg: What are your thoughts about coconut oil?
Coconut oil is not a substitute for essential fats; however, coconut does offer one major benefit in that it does offer anti-microbial benefits. My argument is that many things offer anti-microbial benefits. Carb addicts can use coconut oil as a better fuel for energy than the carbohydrates, but any fat will do that.
Pam: I went to see Ethan Balk speak at the NNFA show in Las Vegas. He is reviewing existing omega-3 research (with respects to cardiovascular disease) at Tufts University. He is performing his research under contract with the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) and Evidence-based Practice Centers (EPC) program. The research has been funded and requested by the Office of Dietary Supplements (ODS), National Institutes of Health (NIH). He says there’s basically not enough thorough, valid research on ALA’s with regards to cardiovascular disease.
Not true. Do you know the Lyon study? It came to the conclusion that Alpha Linolenic Acid (ALA) does more to prevent a second heart attack than fish oils do. In fact, according to this study, the fish oils didn’t prevent the second heart attack. The Lyon study was a huge study. ALA is found in some green leafy vegetables such as kale, broccoli and Brussels sprouts and in flax. According to research presented in November, 2004 at the American Heart Association’s scientific sessions in New Orleans, women who eat foods high in oils containing ALA appear to have a lower risk of dying from heart disease and of sudden cardiac death than women whose diets are low in the substance.
Pam: One of Dr. Balk’s big problems with a lot of the research on fats is that, considering omega-3’s are available in many forms, you can’t control what people are eating every day. It’s not like taking a pharmaceutical pill where you’re not getting that drug from any other source in your diet. You may take an omega-3 supplement, but, throughout the day you may also be taking in omega-3’s from your food. Based upon this, he feels it’s very hard to accurately determine real health benefits from the outcome.
Given that approximately 99% of us are not consuming enough n-3’s in our diet, I would say that the subjects in the studies Dr. Balk reviewed were probably on a diet deficient in n-3’s to begin with. One in eight-thousand people are on oils, the rest of the population is not getting even the two grams to protect your heart (forty percent of the population dies from heart disease, right? It’s not a strict correlation, but it’s an indicator of a trend). Let me do a little math here. Green vegetables have about 0.1% fat, about half of that is n-3 (0.05%). So, if you’re getting n-3’s in vegetables, you’d need four kilograms of salad to get two grams of n-3’s! Seeds and nuts have about fifty percent fat, while one percent of that is usually n-3, so you’d need to eat about a pound of nuts to get two grams. When’s the last time you ate a pound of nuts? Most people don’t eat fish, and there is little n-3 in pork, beef, and chicken, depending on what the animals ate (ideally, fish should be wild; pork, beef and chicken should be from grass fed, free range, organic sources). So there are some confounders there. The way I get around that is if we use a tablespoon of my oil blend a day, all those confounders become very minimal because we’re getting 7 grams of n-3 in a tablespoon. There’s no way you could get that amount from eating nuts or greens.
Pam: Given all the conflicting viewpoints, there has to be a way to work together on this.
Scientists with personal integrity care more about the truth than the outcome of a study. Not all studies are accurate and results can be misinterpreted. If I saw a reason to change the oil blend, I would do it. If I thought CLA would improve the blend, I would include it – and I would sell a lot more!
Greg: What’s in your oil blend and why do you feel it is the most efficient?
The ratio comes from two considerations. One is the Eskimo diet. I wouldn’t go higher than two and a half times more n-3 than 6 because there is no traditional diet higher than that. The second consideration is that we have gotten consistently better results from oils richer in n-3, provided they have enough n-6 not to make you deficient. My formula includes flax for n-3, sesame and evening primrose oils for n-6, rice germ and oat germ oils, and other minor ingredients. Then there’s GMO-free lecithin and medium-chain triglycerides from coconut, and tocotrienols, which are antioxidants.
A wide range of ratios work for healthy people provided they get enough of both essential fatty acids for the needs of the body. If you’re deficient in n-3, you’re going to get deficiency symptoms (fundamentally, those characterize most of your degenerative diseases). If you become n-6 deficient you get a whole other set of symptoms, all of those are in my book. In order to achieve optimal health, both n-3 and n-6 have to be adequately supplied. If you’re healthy, a wide range of ratios works. But, in our society today, we have doubled n-6 intake and one-sixth n-3 intake (as compared to the year 1850). The degenerative diseases we die from improve when you increase n-3’s. I bring in enough n-6’s made with health in mind to prevent n-6 deficiency and still emphasize the n-3’s because those are the single most widespread essential nutrient deficiency of our time. I’ve been at this for eighteen years. I’ve been on the road and have talked to a ton of people – basically doing field research, not double blind placebo-controlled studies.
Pam: What are some other visible symptoms that consumers could recognize to help them decide whether they need to increase their consumption of good fats?
When people increase their consumption of n-3, they usually notice improvements in their skin, mood, and energy. Later on, cholesterol will normalize (on Udo’s Oil blend, at least) and the markers for degenerative disease will improve—inflammation, autoimmune, bone, cardio risk factors, high blood pressure, high triglycerides, high cholesterol, the risk factors for heart attack, stroke or embolism, abnormal heart beat, cancer properties, liver function, kidney function, Lupus, and many others.
Note that I say improve. The missing n-3 doesn’t fix every human problem, but it will improve every problem that stems from insufficient n-3 in the diet. People may have a variety of other problems such as: deficiencies of other essential nutrients, toxicity, and digestion problems. To improve the problems caused by other factors, other factors need to be corrected. N-3 will only fix what a lack of n-3 causes. To get entirely healthy, we must adhere to a complete program of health.
Greg: Thank you for spending the time with us on this interview, Udo.
I really appreciate your questions. It’s been a pleasure.