In last week’s Dear Mark I took up a reader question about trans fats. While we’re on the fat subject, I figured it was a good time to keep the conversation going and cover an email I got last week about polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs). Thanks to Brent for this one.
I loved your posts on trans fats last week, but now you have me wondering about all the other truths I know but can’t explain. How about polyunsaturated fat? When I was reading the Definitive Guide to Oils, I was having a rough time remembering exactly why PUFAs aren’t recommended. Can you jog my memory, Mark?
Let me take this one apart – separate out the good PUFA from the bad from the downright ugly. We’re talking everything from grains to nuts, corn and canola oil to fish oil. When it comes to PUFAs, it truly is a mixed bag.
Before you can hope to make it as a speculator and start slingin’ barrels for big money, you’ve got to understand exactly what’s gushing forth from the earth’s crust. Yes, that’s right – it doesn’t start and stop just with crude, and there’s far more to oil than dinosaur bones. In fact, most experts agree that the bulk of crude oil is derived from prehistoric single-celled plankton remains. Then you’ve got the abiogenic theory, which posits that…
Er, wrong oils. Sorry.
Today’s post is actually about edible oils. Well, they’re all technically edible – they can all be swallowed and digested – but as for being palatable, let alone healthful? That remains to be seen. Not all oils are created equal, especially given the fact that most of the ones people use nowadays are actually created in an industrial laboratory. No oil “exists naturally,” mind you. Olive oil isn’t harvested by leaving open containers under leaking, dripping olives on the branch, nor is that liquid sloshing around inside a coconut pure oil. I’m not trying to disparage processing in and of itself. It takes a certain amount of processing to get any sort of oil, but a good general rule is to avoid consuming the oils that require processing on a large scale. If it involves an industrial plant, multiple stainless steel vats, a deodorizer, a de-gummer, and the harsh petroleum-derived solvent known as hexane, I wouldn’t eat it. But that’s just me (and Grok, who probably wasn’t processing wild rapeseed to get the precious canola oil).
But this is the Definitive Guide to Oils. Everything goes. No stone left unturned. No oil left un-tasted and bereft of analysis for fatty acid profile, oxidative potential, and rancidity proclivity.
Coconut seems to have a special place in Primal hearts. Judging from the forums, people are pretty taken with the fatty pseudo-nut and they’re always interested in new ways to consume the stuff. For some who abstain from dairy completely, coconut products make a great replacement for creams and butters. Others see the evidence from South Pacific traditional groups who thrived on a diet of coconut and fish, and want a bit of that in their lives. The milk makes a great base for smoothies, soups, and curries; the oil is a great source of saturated fat that stands up well to heat; the water beats commercial sports drinks with its impressive electrolyte content; the nut itself can be used as a projectile weapon. It’s just a well-rounded, versatile food with some interesting characteristics and a ton of offshoot products. Unlike most food “products,” however, coconut products are legit. They’re real food, and they’re real good. To help you guys wade through the often-confusing world of coconut products, I’ve put together a little guide to them all. Of course, I’ve probably missed a few things, so share your thoughts with me in the comments section.
Without further ado:
The message has been circulating for a few years now: trans fats = bad. It’s one of the rare times I find myself in alignment with conventional nutritional guidelines. (Of course, it’s not so simple, but I’ll unpack that one in a moment.) The fact is, manufacturers have done a better job sending the anti-trans fat message than public health agencies. Everywhere you turn in the grocery store the “No Trans Fat!” tag leaps out at you, complete with manic font and exclamation point, from hundreds of boxes, bags, and packages. (“Well, it must be healthy then!”) Unfortunately, the marketing push has crowded out the real science when it comes to the public’s engagement with the real issue. As you can guess, there’s more to the trans fat picture than the self-congratulatory manufacturer claims.
I know trans fats are unhealthy and I avoid them like the plague. But like so many things sometimes I need a little reminder why. (I regularly brush up my knowledge by visiting your site so that when a friend asks why I avoid grains I don’t say something like “Grains are bad because… something about lectins and phytates – can’t remember why… but they’re bad.”) Could you write up an easy to remember primer on what trans fats are and why are they unhealthy?
I spend a lot of time highlighting the importance of omega-3 fatty acids and downplaying their poly cohorts, omega-6s. Of course, I do this for good reason. Western dietary patterns and modern agricultural practices have made omega-3s harder to come by and blown any semblance of omega-3/omega-6 dietary balance out of the water. As maligned as omega-6s are these days, however, they’re still essential fatty acids. Our bodies need them and can’t produce them on their own – straight and simple. The problem comes when we mistake emphasizing the omega imbalance in modern diets with disparaging omega-6 entirely. Although the Primal Blueprint promotes a healthy fatty acid balance – one that parallels that of our hunter-gatherer ancestors – I still get questions about omega-6s, particularly reservations about the role arachidonic acid (part of the omega-6 fatty acid family) plays in the PB.
While I totally agree with the importance and value of meat/eggs and vegetables, minus all grains and added sugars…my question is about the arachidonic acid (AA) found mostly in meat and egg yolks. It has been demonized by many, Barry Sears, etc., as the cause of all inflammation in the body. Is that a concern for us on the PB plan?
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