There are foods we want to eat… And stuff we really need to run away from (good thing we’re good at running, ha). Last week I loaded you up with all the wonderful fats we should be partaking from and the week before that I dished up benefits of coconut oil. This week, to wrap up my 3-part fats & oils series, I want to leave you with the fats and oils you need to be avoiding.
Does that just about say it all? Pretty much… But let me clarify a few things for you.
1. All processed oils that are not virgin cold-pressed need to be avoided.
The oils I’m talking about here pretty much sum up the majority of what you’ll find on store shelves in the oils section. It’s staggering how many bottled processed oils are on the market! These include corn, soy, sunflower, vegetable, safflower, grape seed, cottonseed and canola oils. These are the same oils that are abundant in processed and packaged foods (think granola bars, cookies, salad dressings, as well as restaurant foods) and with the exception of canola oil, consist predominately of omega-6 fatty acids, which is a fragile polyunsaturated fat.
Eating too many of these foods negatively skews our omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acid balance, which is estimated to fall between 15:1 and 40:1 on average, but should be between 4:1 and 1:1 (an exact ‘perfect’ ratio has not been agreed upon). The end result of too many omega-6 fatty acids in our diet is inflammation throughout the body, which inhibits our bodies ability to recover quickly from hard workouts, not to mention all the chronic diseases that inflammation eventually brings about (diabetes, heart disease, arthritis, asthma, Alzheimer’s, cancer, etc).
The second problem with processed oils is the very fact they are processed. If the oil is not labelled “virgin” or “cold-pressed”, then it is safe to assume the oil has been extracted through both a mechanical and chemical process under high heat. The chemical used is usually hexane (technically a mild anesthetic that can cause permanent nervous system damage although the amount left behind in the oil is reportedly miniscule). The crude oil is then refined, bleached and finally deodorized (sounds awesome, doesn’t it?!!). This processing not only damages the very fragile polyunsaturated fatty acids, it also creates free radicals.
It’s a simple fact that when polyunsaturated fats are subjected to heat, light, and/or oxygen, free radicals are created (or in other words, the oil turns rancid). Free radicals (rancid fats) destroy perfectly healthy cells in our bodies and cause inflammation. This inflammation inhibits our bodies ability to recover quickly from hard workouts… Sound familiar?
There is a third problem with many of these processed oils… And that is the majority of them are genetically modified – engineered from genetically modified organisms (GMO). The vast majority of canola, soy, corn and cottonseed crops are GMO. In fact, if the label doesn’t say organic, it is very likely GMO (no labelling is required for genetically modified foods). We are in the process of discovering the adverse effects of GMO foodstuff, which includes long-term effects such as tumours, but it is safe to assume that these unnatural organisms cause inflammation in our bodies… You know the rest.
2. All margarines and shortenings need to be avoided.
Margarine and shortening need to be avoided for the same reasons as above. The majority of margarines are made using corn or soy oil. Some include a bit of olive oil and then stamp “heart-healthy” on their product. Yikes. This is a genetically modified oil that has not only been processed but now has also been turned into semi-solid and spreadable product. Goes from bad to worse.
The processing used to turn oils into margarines and shortening includes partial and full hydrogenation (more on hydrogenation below) and the addition of emulsifiers and starch to give it a better consistency. It’s also “steam-cleaned” to remove the unpleasant odour of rancidity. Dyes and strong flavours are added to make it look and taste like butter (for the love of fat, please just use butter).
Shortening is higher in fat and has less water in it than margarine, and is usually a blend of partially and fully hydrogenated soybean and palm oils. As you can imagine from its snow-white appearance, it has also been highly bleached and deodorized. Shortening is now generally regarded to be a health-damaging fat which should be avoided.
3. All trans fat, hydrogenated fat and partially hydrogenated fat must be avoided.
If you see trans fat in the ingredient list, put down the food and walk – no, make that run – away. Seriously! The reason shortening should be avoided is because it contains trans fat and trans fats are widely accepted to be acutely destructive to our cardiovascular health.
The words hydrogenated and partially hydrogenated should be seen in the same light – partial hydrogenation creates trans fats (changes the chemical structure of the fatty acid by reconfiguring most of the double bonds that do not become chemically saturated so that the hydrogen atoms end up on different sides of the chain). There are brands that claim to not contain partially hydrogenated or trans fats – in that case they are likely using palm oil (a tropical oil that is solid at room temperature). I don’t recommend eating mass-produced and processed palm oil either.
4. Animal-based saturated fats should be approached with care.
Look for quality (organic, grass-fed, wild/game, free-range) butter, eggs, yogurt, cheese as, fish and meat. As it happens, you pay more for quality so it makes sense that we wouldn’t indulge to the same extent as we might on the cheaper stuff. This is good!
The vast majority of animal products on the shelves come from CAFO animals (confined animal feedlot operations, aka, factory farmed animals). These animals are fed genetically modified corn and soy not suitable to their digestive systems or conducive to their health… And certainly not healthy for us. They are also given low dose antibiotics to keep disease at bay. Again, certainly not healthy for us. We are what we eat. But it could also be said, we are what the animals eat that we eat.
If you can find a farmer at your local market to buy your organic eggs, cheese, butter, etc from – that is ideal. Otherwise, do your best to choose quality over quantity.
There are so many great fats to choose from: chia seeds, walnuts, pumpkin seeds, almonds, avocados, olives, olive oil, coconut oil… Eat your healthy fats and avoid the ones that might slow you down or prevent you from being the best you can be. Unleash the great runner that is within you!
As aways… Happy running 🙂
Sarah J Cuff, RNH, PTS
Check out my latest cookie recipe using healthy fats:
And my updated chocolate truffles, just in time for Valentines Day 🙂