Navigation Services Home Learning Articles Products News Breeders Contact Navigation Services

Unsaturated Fatty Acids

written by Marina Zacharias

We are currently barraged with instructions to lower fat intake, especially from saturated fats (as in meats, butter, other dairy products, palm oil, etc.). Low-fat, non-fat, and now "fake" fat, food products dominate the supermarket shelves. Fear of fat in any form is now a typical response of the consumer.

Yet most of us are aware that the "essential fatty acids" (EFAs) are necessary for life and health. So how can we distinguish between what is "good" for us, and what is "bad"? The answer lies in understanding the difference between what nature has provided for us and what man has done to alter the basics, seeking to make a more marketable product with more favorable economic attributes.

Formerly, unsaturated fatty acids (including essential fatty acids) were known as vitamin F. There are many types of fatty acids and virtually all fats and oils contain various combinations of the three basic categories: saturated, polyunsaturated, and monounsaturated (depending upon the chemical bonds of the carbon atoms).

Unsaturated fatty acids (UFAs) are usually found in the form of vegetable-source oils (such as liquid oils), while saturated fatty acids are usually found in solid animal fat (such as butter). Yet, each fat and oil will contain some saturated, some polyunsaturated, and some monounsaturated fatty acid.

Whole foods rich in UFAs and EFAs are virtually always sources of vitamin E as well. Nature designed foods so that both unsaturated fatty acids and vitamin E complex appear in the same foods--they belong together.

I could fill the rest of this newsletter (and perhaps the next one) with the benefits of unsaturated fatty acids and the importance of essential fatty acids. But for now, lets take a look at what happens when the heavy hand of industry "improves" on natures basics.

The trouble begins when foods and oils are refined and processed or when an isolated vitamin factor is removed. One hundred years ago, people ate fresh, whole foods including plenty of meat, butter, and lard. They did not ordinarily eat any refined and altered oils or fats. One hundred years ago, heart attacks were practically unheard of in the U.S. Alzheimer's disease did not exist. Diabetes was minimal. Does this sound like today's "new and improved" world? So where did we go wrong?

Many of the steps used to process vegetable oils, for example, affect the nutritional content and balance of the oils. Let me explain some of the processes used and the terms commonly found on the label of these products.

Expeller-Pressed. First, the food material is ground or rolled using a press with a constantly rotating warm shaft with temperatures ranging between 200°F and 475°F. The higher the temperature, the better for production and poorer for leaving nutrients unaffected. The oil molecules themselves are also altered.

The oil is degummed, a process that removes the chlorophyll, vitamin E, lecithin, and many minerals and trace elements. An alkaline solution is then added to separate out any unwanted substances (most of which contain nutrients).

Next is bleaching with diatomaceous earth which, when filtered out, takes with it the carotenes, remaining chlorophyll and other nutritive factors.

The oil is now clear. Deodorizing by steam distillation at temperatures over 450°F assures no rancid odor. Winterizing, or further clarification, is accomplished by cooling and filtering the oil. Any waxes or stearins (which can cloud the oil when refrigerated) are removed.

The resulting oil is colorless, tasteless, odorless, altered, and of course, devoid of nutrients. Any vitamin complexes in the original food are gone; any possible remnants of nutrients are only fractions.

Hydraulic pressed. The food material is ground or rolled and usually steam cooked at temperatures around 270°F. Any or all of the procedures mentioned above can be, and often are, used to prepare such oils for "shelf life". They too are devoid of most nutrients and what remains is unnaturally altered.

Solvent extracted. This is the process used for most commercial oils since it removes more oil from the raw material than the other two methods. The raw materials are cleaned, hulled and then flaked and crushed by rollers. Hexane and other petroleum or coal-tar-derived chemicals are used to (4) extract the oil from the solids (disposing of most nutrients as well). Residues of these chemicals solvents tend to remain (these are very toxic and potentially carcinogenic). After solvent extraction, the oil is refined as described previously.

Oils used for supplements (e.g. wheat germ oil, cod liver oil, etc.) may be subjected to some or all of these processes. Other supplements may extract only fractions from oils, disrupting the natural and complete food complex (e.g. omega-3 oils, vitamin E, vitamin A, etc.)

Now it wouldn't be so bad if these various forms of fatty acids were devoid of nutrition but not harmful. Unfortunately this is not the case. When these fatty acids are converted to the unnatural trans form and ingested, they are deposited in those parts of the cell membranes that are supposed to have either saturated fatty acids or unsaturated fatty acids. What transpires is that the "trans"-fatty acids essentially foul up the cell's machinery.

Research has shown that some of the adverse effects of trans-fatty acids are: upsets cholesterol balance; lowers the amount of cream (volume) in breast milk of nursing mothers; increases blood insulin levels in response to glucose load; adversely affects the immune system; decreases levels of testosterone and increases the level of abnormal sperm in male animals; interferes with pregnancy in female animals, decreases the response of the red blood cell to insulin; inhibits the function of important cell membrane-related enzymes, resulting in decreased conversion of fatty acids to needed forms; causes alterations in the activities of the enzyme system that detoxifies chemical carcinogens and drugs; causes alterations in fat cell size, cell number, lipid class, and fatty acid composition; is associated with atherosclerosis, cancer, diabetes, obesity,---and on and on and on. These are essentially the reverse of what the whole, natural vitamin F complex (unsaturated fatty acids and associated nutrients) accomplishes and assists.

So what has this got to do with our animals?

For those of you still feeding a commercial pet food, imagine starting with the above trans-fat forms, using it for frying human foods and when it is "worn out" sending the junk to the nearest rendering facility to be recycled yet again for use in the pet food industry! For those of you feeding a natural diet, take careful note of our "caution" above.