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Choosing the Right Oils for Omega-3 Intake and Inflammation Prevention

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By:  Amber Yang & Teresa Zhang

Cooking oil is indispensable in food preparation. Opting for healthy oils can enhance overall health while choosing the wrong ones can exacerbate inflammation. Internationally certified oil expert Wang Ning, featured on an Epoch Times program, shared insights on selecting healthy cooking oils and incorporating omega-3, which is rich in antioxidants and beneficial for brain health, into your diet.

At 40, Ms. Wang, who had previously served as a pharmaceutical director, was diagnosed with cervical cancer. During her battle against cancer, she unintentionally discovered that applying sea buckthorn oil to her darkened skin restored its natural hue. The discovery led her to explore the world of oils further, setting her on the path to becoming an oil expert.

Modern health concepts often advocate for “less oil,” and some people believe that minimizing oil intake is the best approach. However, it is important to note that fats are essential nutrients for the human body, particularly unsaturated fats, critical in promoting brain and cardiovascular health. Common unsaturated fatty acids include omega-3, omega-6, and omega-9.

What Are Unsaturated Fatty Acids?

The term “unsaturated fatty acids” refers to fatty acid molecules with at least one double bond between carbon atoms. When double bonds are present, hydrogen atoms decrease, hence the term “unsaturated.” Monounsaturated fatty acids have one double bond, while polyunsaturated fatty acids have multiple double bonds. The numbers 3, 6, and 9 indicate the positions of these double bonds in unsaturated fatty acids.

Omega-9 is a monounsaturated fatty acid that the human body can synthesize. Consuming omega-9 offers various health benefits, including anti-cancer properties. Oleic acid, the primary component of olive oil, is a common type of omega-9.

Omega-3 and omega-6 are polyunsaturated fatty acids that the human body cannot synthesize on its own, which is why they are referred to as essential fatty acids and must be obtained through diet. Research has shown that these two fatty acids possess antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, which can help lower the risk of cardiovascular diseases.

Boosting Omega-3 Intake

Ms. Wang pointed out that most people obtain an adequate intake of omega-6 through cooking oils and do not need additional supplementation. In fact, research has found that an excessive omega-6 intake relative to omega-3 can lead to chronic inflammation, resulting in an increased risk of atherosclerosis, obesity, and diabetes.

DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) are both omega-3 fatty acids that play essential roles in the human body. These omega-3 fatty acids are found in the central nervous system and the retina and are critical for cognitive function and mental health.

Vegetable oils typically contain higher levels of omega-6 fatty acids compared to omega-3 fatty acids. For example, according to the USDA FoodData Central, there are approximately 15.4 grams of saturated fatty acids in 100 grams of extra-virgin olive oil, 69.2 grams of monounsaturated fatty acids, primarily oleic acid (omega-9), and 9.07 grams of polyunsaturated fatty acids, with 8.4 grams being omega-6 and only 0.651 grams being omega-3.

So how can we increase the intake of omega-3? Omega-3 is typically found in the oil of fish such as salmon, sardines, and mackerel. For vegetarians, Ms. Wang recommends supplementing with the following plant oils, which are rich in omega-3:

  1. Algal

Like fish oil, algal oil is a rich source of omega-3 fatty acids, including DHA and EPA.

  1. Sacha Inchi

In addition to being a rich source of omega-3 fatty acids, sacha inchi oil is known for its potential benefits in lowering cholesterol and blood pressure and aiding in weight loss. It is particularly suitable for use as a dressing in cold salads and juices. Research has shown that sacha inchi oil could reduce post-meal inflammation and lipids.

  1. Perilla Seed

Essential fatty acids are required to construct cell membranes and neurons during fetal development. If a pregnant mother does not consume adequate amounts of these essential fatty acids, her body may draw them from her brain to provide for the baby, leading to postpartum memory decline. According to Ms. Wang, supplementing with perilla seed oil can support the baby’s neural development and has a calming effect on pregnant women, potentially resulting in more intelligent and fairer-skinned babies. However, some sources say there is insufficient evidence to support perilla’s use during pregnancy or while breastfeeding.

Research has found that perilla seed oil has a beneficial effect on cognitive functions. Supplementing with perilla seed oil in old age helps protect cognitive ability and prevent cognitive impairment.

  1. Flaxseed

Flaxseed oil is also a rich source of omega-3 fatty acids. However, the refining process of flaxseed oil can produce cyanides, which are harmful to the human body. Therefore, before purchasing, it is advisable to check for laboratory reports to ensure the flaxseed contains safe levels of cyanides.

Extra-Virgin Olive Oil for High-Temperature Cooking

Cooking oils are a primary source of dietary fats. Ms. Wang suggests choosing oils that can withstand high temperatures for frying, stir-frying, and deep-frying, such as peanut, olive, avocado, and tea seed oil.

Some people believe that extra-virgin olive oil, which has not undergone refinement, is unsuitable for high-temperature cooking. However, in recent years, numerous studies have found that olive oil exhibits relatively stable properties and produces fewer harmful substances at high temperatures than other vegetable oils.

One Spanish study found that extra-virgin olive oil retained most of its nutritional properties even after heating at 180 C (356 F) for 36 hours. However, there was a reduction in vitamin E content.

Another study from Portugal compared the performance of frying oils, specifically olive oils and commercial vegetable oil blends. The study evaluated the formation of polar compounds in these oils at high temperatures, where high levels of polar compounds indicate degradation. The results revealed that various types of olive oil exhibited excellent resistance to high temperatures, showing significantly slower degradation rates than blended oils. Among the olive oils, extra-virgin olive oil demonstrated the highest resistance under the conditions of this study. All olive oils began to degrade after 24 to 27 hours of frying, while the vegetable oil blend degraded after only 15 hours, exceeding the maximum legal value of 25 percent for total polar compounds.

Refined Vegetable Oils Contain Carcinogens

Ms. Wang suggested reducing the consumption of refined oils. Refined vegetable oils undergo processes such as deacidification and deodorization to eliminate substances that can lead to rancidity, thereby extending the oil’s shelf life and increasing its smoke point to prevent smoking at high temperatures. However, it is important to note that the refining process can produce carcinogenic substances, such as glycidyl fatty acid esters (GEs).

Research has shown that GEs are mainly produced during deodorization, which involves heating to eliminate odor molecules. When refined oils are ingested, GEs readily hydrolyze in the gastrointestinal tract, forming free-form glycidol. Animal studies have confirmed that this substance can induce tumors.

Natural Vegetable Oils as Supplements

Modern dietary habits often involve refined oils, making it challenging to avoid them altogether, especially when dining out. This can result in the inevitable consumption of unhealthy fats. To reduce inflammation and the risk of tumor formation, Ms. Wang suggests incorporating healthier oils into the diet and increasing the consumption of fruits and vegetables. This can help boost the body’s ability to metabolize unhealthy fats.

Wang also recommends using natural vegetable oils as substitutes for nutritional supplements. For example, sea buckthorn oil can replace multivitamins; black seed oil has immune-regulating properties similar to propolis; sacha inchi oil can aid in weight management; and perilla oil can promote relaxation and calmness.

However, these oils can be relatively expensive, and using them for cooking may seem extravagant, as high heat can degrade the oil’s nutritional content. In addition to drizzling them on salads, you can incorporate these oils into blended fruit and vegetable juices or add them to porridge.

Additionally, Ms. Wang recommends making porridge with quinoa as the main ingredient because it is rich in protein and dietary fiber and has a lower glycemic index than white rice. For individuals with higher levels of physical activity, quinoa can be mixed with millet. After cooking the porridge, you can add some healthy fats. Oil-enriched porridge is an excellent choice for breakfast as it keeps you satisfied throughout the morning and helps prevent drowsiness. This savory porridge can also serve as a nutritious snack in the afternoon or evening.

Ms. Wang pointed out that storing freshly pressed oils in the refrigerator and consuming them within two months is essential. This is because freshly pressed oils are typically not processed in a sterile environment or subjected to sterilization and sealing during production, making them susceptible to spoilage. For example, tea seed oils processed by steaming tea seeds before pressing may have higher water content, increasing their risk of becoming rancid. Therefore, it is advisable to consume these oils as soon as possible.


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