Why is it that we are experiencing a food crisis these days? Why is it that the food that was once normal is now being questioned, weighed, and often discarded?
The answer has several components, among them, that we have become a mainly sedentary society. We are part of an overpopulation that requires industrialised production (in large quantities) of food and whose crops are grown with chemicals and fertilisers on soils that must withstand frequent and repeated sowing and harvesting of the same product.
As a result, the food we obtain is devoid of the natural nutrients that the earth produces at a different rate than the population's demand. The result is products that are full of preservatives, chemicals and artificially enriched for a virtually inactive population.
For these reasons, we are living in a time when we need to rethink how we eat, especially given the lifestyle we lead. That is, if we are people who spend the day sitting in front of a desk; or if we are moderately active working in an office but dedicate some time to sporting activity; or if we are active people who carry out daily physical activities outdoors, for example.
In other times, the amount of fat, flour or meat in the diet would not have been so important, especially if the person consuming them was up all-day farming or herding cattle in the bush.
That said, you will understand that today the macronutrients (proteins, carbohydrates, and fats) we consume are of particular importance, both in quantity and quality, bearing in mind that our daily activity rate is minimal and that we must consider ourselves a sedentary society.
What we need to know about the fatty acids we consume
Because of the non-industrialised nature of the diet in the past, mankind was able to maintain an average balance between the omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids in their diets. In the past, the ratio between these two types of fat was 1:1. Today, the ratio is approximately 15:1, or more. (Study)
In a balanced intake of fatty acids, each omega brings its own benefits:
Omega 3 - anti-inflammatory which lowers the risk of heart disease and reduces blood triglyceride levels.
Omega 6 – It is associated with a lower risk of diseases such as heart disease, stroke, and cancer.
Omega 7 - Reduces inflammation in the body, lowers triglyceride levels and lowers LDL (low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol levels.
Omega 9 – It is Known for its benefits to the brain, heart, and general well-being.
However, due to the industrialisation of crops and the industrial manufacture of oils from nuts and heavily processed seeds, vegetable oils have a high omega-6 content which makes them highly unstable and inflammatory, promoting reactive oxygen species in the body.
According to nutritionists at the Mayo Clinic in the United States, the idea is not to eliminate omega-6 fatty acids but to increase consumption of omega-3. The problem is that there are many products on the market containing omega-6 and a higher omega-6/3 ratio alone, regardless of differences in dietary content, would contribute to poorer health or worsen a disease. (Study)
Let's find out which seeds, nuts and, consequently, oils are high in omega-6 and which are the exceptions.
Safflower oil, sunflower seeds and sunflower oil, corn oil, soybean oil, canola oil, walnuts, pumpkin seeds, peanut butter, almonds, and cashew nuts.
In this sense, and as an exception, the fats to use in their food preparations would be found in olive oil, ghee, coconut oil, macadamia oil, extra virgin avocado oil, and surprisingly sesame oil. Let's see why.
The Omega 6 and Omega 3 in extra virgin olive oil play a fundamental role in the proper functioning of the human organism. In fact, EVOO (extra virgin olive oil) contains linolenic (Omega 3) and linoleic (Omega 6) essential fatty acids in a good ratio of Omega 6: Omega 3, i.e., 8:1.
This ratio is important because an excess of Omega 6 reduces the benefits of Omega 3. In other words, the Omega 3 in extra virgin olive oil and the Omega 6 fatty acids are well balanced.
Some people believe that this balance makes EVOO suitable for cooking, but I am not so sure because according to my own experiments, the only fats that can withstand higher temperatures on the cooker are coconut oil and ghee.
In addition to having a low Omega 6: Omega 3 ratio, EVOO is also low in saturated fats. And being an extra virgin organic oil, it does not contain genetically modified organisms (GMOs).
Ghee is composed of short, medium, and long chain fatty acids, both unsaturated and saturated. Ghee contains Omega 3 and Omega 9 essential fatty acids together with vitamins A, D, E and K. Good quality ghee should be made with organic butter from grass-fed cows which makes it one of the highest natural sources of CLA (conjugated linoleic acid). Ghee contains 9 phenolic antioxidants and numerous minerals.
Coconut oil is another amazing oil and is a natural source of MCT or medium chain triglycerides. It is mostly saturated fat (containing only a very small amount of omega-6 (180 mg and no omega-3), making it ideal for heart health, normalisation of cholesterol levels, immune support, thyroid function support and anti-bacterial/viral properties. In addition, coconut oil contains the long-chain fats (LCF) necessary to help the body absorb essential fat-soluble vitamins.
However, due to its medium carbon chain, it should not be cooked at very high temperatures, but rather over medium heat to maintain its integrity.
Cold-pressed, extra-virgin avocado oil is an excellent addition to your diet but be aware that the oil you get should have a deep green hue and its flavour is quite strong. If you get a clear or yellowish oil it means that it has gone through a refining process that has stripped avocado virgin oil of all its properties.
Macadamia oil is also an exception. Its mild taste makes it a good alternative for baked goods or as a base for vinaigrettes and sauces.
A sensible consumption of macadamia nut oil can contribute to heart health. According to the American Heart Association (AHA), monounsaturated fats can reduce bad cholesterol levels, which in turn can reduce a person's risk of heart attack and stroke.
Macadamia oil is also rich in oleic acid, an unsaturated fatty acid that has antioxidant properties. Its high content of tocotrienols (vitamin E) may contribute to protection against cancer and a variety of other health conditions, including cardiovascular and neurological diseases.
Olive, avocado, macadamia, and coconut oils are characterised by much less omega-6 fat and much more monounsaturated fat.
The other unexpected exception
Sesame oil is the sixth exception and actually contains a decent amount of omega-6 fat, linoleic acid. About 40% of the fat in sesame is linoleic acid, which is less than industrial vegetable oils such as soybean and corn oil (55-60%), but not by much. So, what makes sesame special?
Sesame oil is stabilised by what is known as a trifecta
According to Dr Nicholas Norwitz, a specialist in ketogenics and metabolism at Oxford University, "the omega-6 fats in sesame are protected by powerful natural antioxidants called sesamin and sesamolin. What's more, when sesamolin is heated, it is thermally converted into an even more potent antioxidant called sesamol."
Sesame oil may inhibit the generation of inflammatory molecules
The omega-6, linoleic acid, can be converted into inflammatory compounds. One of the important proteins in this conversion is an enzyme called delta-5-desaturase. (Study)
Sesamin in sesame oil can inhibit this enzyme and thus block the production of certain inflammatory molecules. (Study) At the same time, it leaves omega-3 and anti-inflammatory fat metabolism intact. (Study)
This information suggests that sesame may tip the balance of omega-6 and omega-3 metabolism towards an overall anti-inflammatory balance.
It should be added that the above studies were carried out on laboratory rats, but because of their similarities to the human body, they are considered valid.
Which oil is good for what
For cooking at high temperatures, ghee is undoubtedly the most stable fatty acid, which will also enhance the flavour of your food.
Other preparations cooked over medium heat can benefit from coconut, olive, macadamia or sesame oil.
For sauces and dressings, organic, cold-pressed olive, and avocado oils, because of their intense flavour, add character to the preparation without altering the composition and nutrients that these two oils provide.
How much fat should you consume per day?
Depending on the dietary protocol you are following:
Take into account that 1 gram of fat equals 9 calories, while 1 gram of protein or 1 gram of carbohydrate equals 4 calories.
If you eat a diet of 2000-2500 calories a day and follow a low-carbohydrate, high-protein diet, 20-30% of those calories would be from fat. That is, about 400 calories divided by 9 would result in 44 grams of fat per day.
If you are following a ketogenic protocol, 70% of your diet should be made up of healthy fat. But consuming the equivalent calories, i.e., 1400 calories divided by 9, would result in 155 grams of healthy fat per day.
If you follow a protocol high in carbohydrates (45-65%) and low in protein (35-25%) and very low in fat (20-10%) based on a 2000 calorie diet, 400 calories would correspond to fat intake, resulting in 40-45 grams of this macronutrient.
These calculations are for a person consuming 2000 calories per day which is the usual amount for sedentary man. Nonetheless, you can make your own calculation: If it corresponds to 1500 calories (which is what a woman would normally consume to maintain a balanced weight). Or, 3000-5000 calories, if you are an athlete or have a high level of physical activity.
Example for a person consuming 1500 calories per day
High protein (60-70%), medium fat (25-30%) and very low carb (15-10%) = fat intake would be 375 calories, divided by 9 = +-40 grams of fat per day.
In a ketogenic protocol where 65-70% of your 1500 calories correspond to 1000 calories or 115 grams of healthy fat.
And in a diet that favours high carbohydrate intake (45-60%), low protein (30-35%), and very low fat (10-20%); of your 1500 calories, 300 calories or 33 grams of fat would correspond to your daily intake.