Fats, a rational approach

Fats, a rational approach

James J. Gormley

It seems that almost every day

now another news story is

coming out about how fats are no

longer the enemy, and that they, in

fact, never were.

In an address given at the First

Annual Hudson Valley Health, Fitness

& Nutrition Expo on November

1, 1997, a speaker of our acquaintance

put it this way:

“Unfortunately, in our American

approach of `all or nothing,’ the

move to fat-free has also moved

modern, Western industrialized societies

perilously close to nutritional

disaster. Luckily for us, the cholesterol

paranoia rampant in the

1960s and 1970s has now been completely

discredited. In fact, since

the mid-1980s, there have been a

great many research papers published

which, together, give a much

better picture of how critically important

fatty acids are to our diets.”

In fact, there are so many reports

coming out that there’s a danger of

dietary habits, and

eateries, swinging

so far away from fat

paranoia that fat

overindulgence, or

a “fat craze” might

be upon us. A peek

in at “all-you-can-eat” restaurants,

buffets, and steak-houses is all you

need to verify that Caligula-esque

food orgies are no longer a thing of

the past.

A rational approach emerges: balance is key

This is not what these studies are

telling us to do — not by a long

shot! What they’re telling us is that

balance is needed. Balance in the

type of fatty acids, balance in the

sources, and a rational balance in

macronutrients themselves (proteins,

carbohydrates, etc.).

What is a fatty acid? Our speaker-friend

answered it like this: “The

technical answer involves carbon

chains, organic acid groups, and hydrogen

atoms. But mostly, fatty

acids are oils that make up our

foods, make up structures in our

bodies and cells, and are necessary

for life.”

So fats are good for us? In rational

balance, they are not only good,

but essential for health, for energy,

for optimal mental functioning, for

proper vision, and yes, for thumper,

too — the heart. In truth, a great

deal has been written about the

benefits of polyunsaturated fatty

acids (PUFAs) since 1930, when G.O.

Burr and M.M. Burr came out with a

landmark study of essential fatty

acids, called: “On the Nature of Fatty

Acids Essential in Nutrition.”

The Eskimo enigma

About 3 decades after that study

appeared, clinical reports from

medical doctors in the Arctic areas

of Greenland piqued biochemists’

curiosity and spurred them into a

new field of research.

Although Eskimos live mainly on

superfat and super-high-cholesterol

whale and seal meat, as well as oily

fish, their rates of coronary heart

disease were far lower than those

of individuals who live on a typical

American diet.

Was it something in sea mammals

and fish that protect against

heart disease? It was — omega-3

polyunsaturated acids — more

specifically, the ratio of omega-6’s

to omega-3’s.

The cave-dweller question: what’s this about ratios?

Our evolutionary ancestors did

not have a problem with an imbalance

of omega-3’s — their ratio was

close to ideal: a 1:1 proportion of

omega-6 fats (mostly from land vegetables)

to omega-3’s (mostly from

cold-water fish); the traditional Eskimo

diet had a ratio near this.

Thanks to land-vegetable-oil-promoting

pronouncements and warnings

in the 1960s, and the non-fat/low-fat

craze of the last few

decades, the typical U.S. diet has a

profile of anywhere from 10:1 to

25:1, omega-6 to omega-3 fats.

According to the February issue

of the American Journal of Clinical

Nutrition, the author, Robert J.

Pawlosky, Ph.D., explained it this

way: “Much of the reason for the

high ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 is

the reliance on vegetable oils, such

as corn and safflower, as cooking

oils and margarines. For example,

60 percent of the fatty acids in corn

oil are omega-6 but only I percent

are omega-3.”

So are omega-6’s bad?

Not by a long shot! Some of the

omega-6-rich oils are extremely nutritious

— such as evening primrose,

borage, black currant, flax and hemp

oils. And some even have good

omega-3 profiles due to their

quantity of linolenic acid, including

sunflower and sesame oils.

Unfortunately, however, those with

the highest amounts of artery-plugging

saturated fats — for example the

low-grade versions of oils

used in mass-market foods — are

partially-hydrogenated coconut and palm

oils, to name just two.

What about omega-3’s, then?

Examples of omega-3’s include DHA

(docosahexaenoic acid, 22:6n3) and EPA

(sicosapentaenoic acid, 20:5n3), both

found in fish oils, docosapentaenoic

acid (DPA), and individual


DHA. One of the omega-3 fats that’s

been attracting a great deal of attention

— and which has been the subject of a

great deal of the latest research — is


Don’t we get enough in the diet?

Well, since many of us, today, don’t

consume huge quantities of eggs,

organ meat, and lard–we’re not getting

DHA into our bodies at adequate

levels, no matter how much cold-water

fish we eat.

On April 3rd, 1997, a ground-breaking

conference was held at New York

Hospital-Cornell Medical Center. It was

entitled “Keeping Your Brain In Shape:

New Insights Into DHA” (see the June

1997 Better Nutrition).

The research presented at the

conference showed how DHA

supplementation has helped with:

depression; attention deficit hyperactivity

disorder (ADHD); Alzheimer’s

Disease; multiple sclerosis (MS);

schizophrenia; certain genetic and

metabolic disorders; dyslexia; vision

problems (including retinitis

pigmentosa); infants’ prenatal and

postnatal neurological development;

hostility/aggression in criminals; and

coronary heart disease.

Winnie the Pooh, DHA, and our noggins

Think, think, think, think …

Maybe Winnie the Pooh needed

more DHA. Dr. Jay Lombard, a board

certified neurologist and nutritionist

Carl Germano, in their book The Brain

Wellness Plan (Kensington Books) don’t

discuss Winnie, but do mention that

DHA and EPA, readily available in

omega-3 from fish and flaxseed oil or algae,

are important antioxidants for coping

with free radicals, a stimulant to

the immune system, and a promoter

of brain health and its efficient


They write that DHA is the major

structural fatty acid in the gray matter

of the brain “and promotes communication

between brain cells by

allowing synapses (contact points

where nervous impulses pass from

one cell to another) to remain soft

and functional.”

In fact, the brain contains a great

amount of fat. Even minute changes

in the lipid structure may be of major


Teamed with phosphatidylserine,

DHA can adjust the fluidity of cell

membranes. This is “an essential

feature if cells are going to `speak’

to one another by sending chemical

messengers back and forth,” write

Lombard and Germano.

“Many researchers believe that

changes in the composition and metabolism

of fatty acids like DHA may

contribute to Alzheimer’s. In one

major Swedish study, investigators

demonstrated that the brain DHA

content of Alzheimer’s patients was

significantly less than the levels in

the brains of control patients.”

Omega-3’s, DHA, and infant nutrition

In the January 1998 issue of Pediatrics,

the authors, L. John Horwood,

MSc, B.A., and David M. Fergusson,

Ph.D. (study director), followed

over 1,000 New Zealand newborns

through their 18th year.

Those children who were breastfed

as infants (for at least 8 months)

demonstrated “both better intelligence

and greater academic

achievement than those who were”

fed standard infant formula. The authors

went on to say that: “the

weight of evidence clearly favors

the view that exposure to breastfeeding

is associated with [ … ] increases

in childhood cognitive ability

and educational achievement,

with it being likely that these increases

reflect the effects of long-chain

polyunsaturated fatty acid

levels, particularly DHA, on early

neurodevelopment.” This is something

the non-nutritive vegetable

oils really cannot provide (although

the nutritive bottled oils are very


Lower amounts of omega-3 in infant

formulas, compared with that

in breast milk, led to lower intelligence

in babies who used these formulas.

With the World Health Organization

acknowledging DHA as a

must for brain development, overseas

companies are now adding

DHA and/or arachidonic acid to infant

formulas (not yet approved for

infant formulas in the U.S.).

Land-vegetable fatty acids are also critical for health

It’s very important that, in our effort

to redress the wrongs “suffered”

by the omega-3’s that we

don’t do an injustice to the many

excellent, and high-quality, omega-6

and monounsaturated oils found in

vegetables, seeds, and nuts.

Hats off to the monounsaturated oils!

And “nuts” to the anti-nuts

brigade! Until recently, nuts were

on a no-no list because of their “fat”

content. Most of the recent pronuts

momentum came from a study

of 26,473 Seventh-Day Adventists

(“A Possible Protective Effect of Nut

Consumption on Risk of Coronary

Heart Disease,” Arch Intern Med,

July 1992).

During the six years following the

diet survey, the participants who

ate nuts frequently (at least five

times a week), had a 50 percent

lower heart-attack risk than that of

those who ate nuts rarely.

The benefits are mostly credited

to the monounsaturated fat found

in nuts, which is also found in olive

oil, an important part of the traditional

Mediterranean diet.

Similar results have been seen

with: walnuts (New England Journal

of Medicine 328:603-607, 1993) and

almonds or walnuts (American Journal

of Clinical Nutrition 59:995-999,


Other oils rich in these heart-friendly

monounsataurates are

those from: hazelnuts, pistachios,

sesame and sunflower seeds,

peanuts, avocados, and canola


Fats in balance

There are so many benefits of

fats, and so many different types,

that this whole issue of Better Nutrition

could be devoted to them, and

we would still be only able to touch

the surface.

The versatility of fats is also

amazing. Some are culinary, others

are purely for supplementation. We

can top off our salads with some,

bake with others, saute with still

more, supplement with others still.

Suffice it to say that the benefits

of essential fatty acids have been

grossly underestimated. If we can

try to achieve balance in our consumption

of fats (both through culinary

and supplementary oils and

encapsulated supplements), the

health effects will multiply, helping

in all of the myriad areas where fatty

acids form, mold, protect, help

communicate, and enhance all of

our cells, structures, and bodily



Dolecek, T.A. and Grandits, G. “Dietary

Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids and

Mortality in Multiple Risk Factor

Intervention Trial,” World Review of

Nutrition and Diet 66: 205-216, 1991.

Erasmus, Udo. Fats that Heat Fats that Kill:

The complete guide to fats, oils,

cholesterol and human health, 2nd

edition. Vancouver, Canada: Alive

Books, 1994.

Gapinski, J.P., et al. “Preventing Restinosis

with Fish Oils Following Coronary

Angioplasty,” Archives of Internal

Medicine 153:1595-1601, 1993.

Harris, William, Ph.D. “Fish Oils, Omega-3

Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids, and

Coronary Heart Disease,” The PUFA

Information Backgrounder, July 1997.

Lombard, Jay and Germano, Carl. The

Brain Wellness Plan. New York:

Kensington Books, 1997.

Morris, M.C., et al. “Fish Consumption and

Cardiovascular Disease in the

Physicians’ Health Study,” American

Journal of Epidemiology 142:166-175,


Sanders, T.A.B., et al. “Influence of n-3

Fatty Acids on Blood Lipids in Normal

Subjects,” Journal of International

Medicine (Supplement 1) 225:99-104,


Simon, J.A., et al. “Serum Fatty Acids and

the Risk of Stroke,” Stroke 26:778-782,



No, not that UFO documentary or that horror movie which you misremember.

But chocolate, which is derived from the seeds of Theobroma cacao

— which literally means “food of the gods.” In fact, in the ancient markets

of Mexico, chocolate was used as currency; heck, the courtesans of Louis XV

even used it as an aphrodisiac.

All this aside, chocolate has been been getting an undeservedly bad rap

for a long time.

Thinking. Some suggest that chocolate helps us think. In Mood Foods

(Berkeley, Calif.: Ulysses Press, 1995), author William Vayda puts it this way:

“Chocolate can also be a powerful (mental) stimulant, probably because the

brain uses one of its chemicals, phenylethylalanine, to manufacture

norepinephrine (adrenaline).

Pain and mood. According to Vayda, there is an amino acid, called

DL-phenylalanine (DLPA), “which not only acts as a powerful yet natural pain

killer but is also a good antidepressant.”

Is it love or is it chocolate? An “in love” brain makes more

phenylethylalanine, a chemical derived from phenylalanine. “As soon as the

relationship starts to turn sour, the brain reduces its production of

phenylethylalanine, and the person involved begins to suffer withdrawal

symptoms,” says Vayda. We eat chocolate to ease those feelings of love loss.

Chocolate lovers take heart! In a May 1997 study by A. Aro, et al., which

appeared in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, stearic acid, a

saturated fat, “reduced LDL [“bad”] cholesterol,” an effect produced by

perhaps no other saturated fat.

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