One of the biggest breakthroughs ever made in nutritional research occurred in 1923 when vitamin F was discovered.
Studies of groups of animals fed on experimental diets were going on and it was soon found that lacking this essential vitamin lead the poor animals used in these early experiments to quickly develop skin sores and lesions which were quite different from those caused by other vitamin deficiencies.
In fact the diet had vitamins A, B and D added to make sure that all necessary nutrients were in the diet but in spite of that the animals were losing their health and eventually dying.
Here is a short quote from the original research, “By the present work the authors have shown that if the young animal is subjected to a complete fat starvation over a period of several months, it develops a disease and soon dies.”
Why were they dying?
“When they were autopsied, the Burrs noted that the animals’ kidneys and urinary tracts bore significant signs of damage. ” http://is.gd/hoRy4w
Clearly something dramatic was going on – something essential to health and life was missing from the diet the animals were being fed…
And then the researchers – the husband and wife team, George and Mildred Burr asked the question, whether a special type of fatty acid is required by the animal which it is unable to synthesize from the diet consumed are unanswered questions. http://is.gd/hoRy4w
This was the discovery of vitamin F; it was the dawning of a new era in Nutritional understanding and research in which for the first time the positive role of fats in our diet was appreciated and vitamin F was found to be 2 fats – later called omega 3 and omega 6.
Without these fats we sicken and die.
Nowadays we call omega 3 and omega 6 oils EFAs, that is “Essential Fatty Acids” and only rarely use the original name of Vitamin F and although we now know a lot about them we still know that foods containing them must be in our meals or our health will suffer
Choosing the “low fat” or “fat free” diet options may be very bad decisions indeed!
The new research horizons revealed that vitamin F consisted of omega 3 oils based on linolenic acid and omega 6 oils based on linoleic acid where the “lin” part of each name is from linseeds which contain both omega 3 and 6 oils.
The most well known of these is Omega 3 so let's start there.
Omega 3 Oil
Linseeds also called flax seeds have been used as food and for fibre since Babylonian times around 5000 BC. The seeds can be powdered and included in many types of meals – mixed into breakfast cereals, mashed vegetables or smoothies. The seeds and powder can even be baked into bread without any reduction in their health benefits, so it is very easy to get a daily dose of flax / linseed.
The major health benefit is its powerful anti-inflammatory effects which work in different ways to the actions of anti-inflammatory vitamins such as vitamin C.
This allows flax to play a major role in a healthy diet because most chronic disease is inflammatory in nature – including arthritis, diabetes, MS, heart disease and cancer.
When flax seeds are pressed flax oil / linseed oil is produced and that can be used as a salad oil but not to fry with because its delicate structure is damaged by the temperature reached in frying. In addition commercially available flax oil is seldom distributed chilled and I simply do not trust that flax oil is fresh and high enough quality to use.
Nowadays I only use and only advise powdered flax seeds. They not only keep fresh for several months but has a high content of lignans in addition to the omega 3 oil content.
What Are Lignans?
They are anti-oxidants and are similar to the healthy chemicals in tea. They are a major source of phyto-oestrogens / phyto-estrogens which protect us from environmental “Gender bending” chemicals.
And since there is a lot of scaremongering and confusion on the internet about phytoestrogens let's take a minute to clear out the nonsense.
Plant estrogens are very much weaker than the hormones we make in the body ourselves. Both males and females make and use so called male and female hormones – just in differing amounts.
We are all exposed to cancer causing toxins in the environment and we all need the protection that plant estrogens can give us. How they work is to plug into the places in our system which a toxin could find its way into.
So they deny toxins an opportunity to work and since the plant estrogens themselves are hundreds of time weaker than our own hormones they do not cause the same effect themselves.
They deny access to toxins – that is all they do. They are a superb health insurance policy and one we can all male and female, subscribe to daily by eating foods and herbs with plant estrogen content.
Such as flax and soya and red clover!
Omega 6 Oil
This is the other part of “Vitamin F” so it essential for our health. Just as omega 3 foods like Flax help power anti-inflammatory processes in the body omega 6 helps power inflammation itself.
This may seem odd or even crazy because all the major diseases have inflammation as a central feature but inflammation itself is an essential part of the defence system of the immune system and we must be able to respond to parasites with our inflammatory resources.
It is a matter of degree!
In the physical and social environment we have created and especially in our food chain we use a lot more omega 6 fats than omega 3 and alhtough we need both, in practise we need to be vigilant that we get our daily dose of omega 3 foods and we can effectiely ignore omega 6!
Because it is everywhere. Omega 6 oils pop up in corn oil, sunflower and safflower and thousands of foods with these ingredients.
Just eat flax and green leafy vegetables and walnuts and you are covered!
Last Words on the Omega Oils
As it happened vitamin F turned out to be a discovery of how important it is to get small amounts of special types of oils in our diet. In the average diet nowadays we get a massive oversupply of omega 6 oils and far too little omega 3 oils.
There is no requirement for any other omega oils – omega 7 or omega 9 or others, although these may be useful in particular circumstances
While we can take an omega 3 oil supplement it makes more sense to include omega 3 foods in our daily routine and the outstanding superfood to do that is linseed in the form of powdered linseeds / powdered flax seeds.
Many people think that they need to eat fish to get the omega 3 health bonus but this is a mistake. Yes, fish is a source of omega 3 oils but that is only because the fish feed on greens in their environment! The omega oils come from the greens and not the fish.
Going direct to the greens and to the powdered flax or linseeds cuts out the “middleman” and cuts out both the heavy metals such as mercury and other pollution that fish are exposed to.
How About Frying?
We can't leave any discussion of oils without mentioning frying!
Deep frying is never a healthy option and any recipe that calls for it just needs to be replaced and redesigned!
For shallow frying I advise olive oil and use either butter or olive oil to sauté mushrooms.
All other oils such as sunflower, corn oil, safflower etc. are rich sources of omega 6 and are best avoided since they will tip the balance in our body between omega 3 and omega 6 oils.
Olive oil is neutral and will not upset the balance in your body and comes in a variety of flavours.
It also helps if we avoid using other oils that may unbalance our oil intake. This includes any foods with trans fats which are synthetic, man made imitations of healthy oils.
We don't need imitation foods when we have the real thing.
Butter is a healthy source of oils and the stigmatisation of saturated fats like butter and coconut oil is out dated, commercially biased and simply wrong.
The health benefits of omega 3 oils whether as foods, supplements or oils are surprisingly deep and widespread, they are easy to use and even taste great.
Using them is one of the biggest and simplest changes we can make for our health.
Photo credit Roger Ward