The following material is derived from Dr. Robert Erdmann’s book, Fats that Can Save Your Life (BioScience, Port Orchard, WA, 1990). It is relevant to anyone who consumes fat as part of their diet. The section on refining is pp 66-69.
Originally published 2000
How Important are Fatty Acids?
After you remove the water, 50% of your body is composed of fatty acids. Protein comes in second at a little more than 30%. The remainder is composed of vitamins, minerals, and miscellaneous. Every cell membrane in your body, every hormone, prostaglandin, and eicosanoid, is composed of fatty acids. I’m looking for information in the relative percentages of fatty acids used in cell membranes and fatty tissue, but I suspect it far outweighs the percentage used in the various hormone systems.
Fatty acids are responsible for nerve transmission, brain function, and oxygen utilization. As part of hemoglobin, fatty acids transport oxygen in the blood stream. As part of the cell membrane, they transport oxygen in to the cell. The brain, eyes, sexual organs, and other vital organs are made up of fat tissue. In a word, fatty acids are important.
Cell membranes are actually composed of two kinds of fatty acids. Saturated fatty acids are used for structural rigidity and chemical stability. Unsaturated fatty acids are used for membrane flexibility and chemical reactivity. Each membrane is composed of both types of fatty acids. It is the chemically reactive parts which are responsible for the membranes chemical functions.
What’s Wrong With “Cold Pressed” Olive Oil?
“Cold Pressed” olive oil is heated at 120 degrees for two hours before pressing, pressed in huge hydraulic presses that generate intense heat (unlike a hundred years ago), pumped full of phosphoric acid to remove mineral cofactors and lecithin (a chemically active cofactor that is the building block of choline (brain food)), heated to 60d centigrade to remove the phosphoric acid, treated with caustic soda at 75d centigrade to remove free fatty acids, and then bleached at 110d centigrade for half an hour. By this time, the oil is quite smelly, so it is steam-distilled at temperatures approaching 270d centigrade for up to an hour to remove the smell.
The oil qualifies as “cold pressed” because it was not heated while it was actually being pressed. The purpose of all this processing is to improve shelf life. Unrefined oil has a shelf life measured in months or even weeks on a store shelf, and about 3 weeks after its been opened. Refining removes anything and everything that will allow the oil to oxidize (react with oxygen) and therefore go rancid, so its shelf life in the store is about three years. (Almost unlimited, in fact, even after its been opened. When was the last time you threw out any olive oil?)
The only problem here is that:
- An unsaturated fat’s whole purpose in life is to oxidize. It joins with a protein to make hemoglobin, a lipoprotein structure that transports oxygen to the cells. It forms the reactive portion of every cell membrane in the body, transporting both oxygen and chemical energy into the cell. By taking away everything that could make the oil oxidize, the process also removes everything your body needs for the oil to do its job. That creates relative deficiencies.
- The high heats generate trans fats – polyunsaturates that have been twisted so that they are no longer chemically reactive, but that your body does not recognize because it has never seen them before at any time in its entire evolutionary history. Result: Your body uses trans fats in the places that the chemically reactive CIS fats are needed. This qualifies trans fats as a “metabolic poison”, no different from carbon monoxide or cyanide other than in their degree of virulence.
The manufacturers of commercially refined oils get to put on their nutrition labels the percentages of oils taken from a ripe olive, fresh off the tree, and analyzed in the lab. One very pertinent question is: Why do we have an FDA, if they are not busy finding out what we are actually consuming in our foods?
A Good Fat Diet
The bottom line in all this is: You don’t need a low fat diet, you need a good fat diet. How do you achieve that? The first step is to buy unrefined, traditionally-pressed oils from your local health food store. Buy small amounts frequently, preferably in opaque, non-chemically-reactive containers. Choose olive oils, nut oils, seed oils (sesame, sunflower, poppy).
Use these oils in salads, add them to soups immediately before serving, or use them on a baked potato. You can also use them to make Kimchi — an all-vegetable Korean dish that I’m convinced is the healthiest food on the planet. With a diet of brown rice, fish, and Kimchi, I’m pretty sure you could cure anything!
Other good sources of fatty acids are raw nuts and fish. There was intimation in a recent posting that such sources are more readily absorbed and utilized, as well. I am looking for more information on this subject, as well.
Don’t Cook With Unrefined Oils
One word of caution: Don’t cook with unrefined oils!! Because they are so chemically active, when heated they will quickly go rancid—they smell bad, taste bad, and they are bad, at that point. For cooking, use butter or unprocessed coconut oil (which is not great, but not horribly bad either, as compared to the refined version). You can use one of the refined vegetable oils — there’s not much more you can do to it, at this point.
Learn more: Oils and Essential Fatty Acids
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