Cancer & other Diseases – Part 2: Some Fats Have Disease-Fighting Properties

Olive Oil

Not All Fats Are Alike
As we saw in part 1 of my cancer series, low-fat diets could cause cancer.  However, the problem with saying eat fat or don’t eat fat is that some fats are bad for you while others are absolutely necessary for your health, so making a blanket statement about fats is confusing and potentially harmful.  Also, eating too much of even the fats dubbed “healthy” can be harmful.  One rule of thumb to consider is that anything man-made is potentially suspect as dangerous.

The Main Types of Fats
Fats can be saturated, unsaturated, or trans fats, depending on how the atoms are linked together.  Although saturated fat tends to be heavily maligned, both saturated and unsaturated fats are necessary for proper health.  Saturated fat is solid at room temperature and tends to be found in animal products like meat and dairy, as well as certain nuts, oils, chocolate, etc.  Unsaturated fats exist alongside saturated fats, albeit in different quantities in different foods.  Trans fats (also called hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated) are totally man-made, unsaturated fats.  They promote heart disease by raising levels of “bad” cholesterol and lowering levels of “good” cholesterol.  Avoid trans fats.

Unsaturated fatty acids are further broken down into monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats, which are both liquid (oil) at room temperature.  Again, both are necessary for proper health since both have different functions.

For a healthy diet, 50% of the fat calories should be from monounsaturated fat.  Saturated and polyunsaturated fat should each be 25%.  Too much of any one type of fat can cause disease.

Omega-6 and Omega-3 Fatty Acids
For proper health, we must eat food that contains omega-6 and omega-3, two essential fatty acids.  Both of these types of polyunsaturated fats are inflammatory to the body, but omega-3 is less inflammatory.  However, they both have benefits as long as the ratios of the two fatty acids are within a normal range.  The ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 should be 4 to 1 or less; but unfortunately Americans are eating ratios of 10 to 1 or even 30 to 1.  According to numerous articles I’ve read, including the Wikipedia article “Omega-6 fatty acid,” excessive omega-6 contributes to tumor growth, as well as to “atherosclerosis, asthma, arthritis, vascular disease, thrombosis, immune-inflammatory processes… .”

Omega-3, on the other hand, has been shown to reduce tumor growth and blood triglyceride levels, as well as reduce the risk of heart attacks.  It’s also been reported to help with rheumatoid arthritis, depression, anxiety, and certain other maladies.  However, it competes for the same resources to process it, as does omega-6, but omega-3 is slower to process, resulting in too little processed omega-3 and too much processed omega-6 when there is excessive omega-6.

Where are these excessive omega-6 values coming from?  Grains and other seeds.  Our processed foods are full of grains and hidden grain ingredients.  (See my article “Are Corn and Other Food Additives Causing Weight and Other Health Problems?”)  To add insult to injury, the vast majority of our food animals are overdosing on grains, too, and we end up eating the grains the animals ate.

The best omega-3 sources are from seafood and certain nuts and seeds, such as walnuts and flaxseeds; however, grass-fed animals are also a good source.  Grass is high in omega-3, so when you eat grass-fed animals, you get the benefit.  In my article “The Trouble with Eating Grains and Legumes,” I talked about how high levels of omega-3 are found in grass-fed and pastured animal products (meat, dairy, eggs, etc.), while high levels of omega-6 are found in grain-fed animals.  Grass-fed products have other health benefits over grain-fed products.  One of these is a disease fighting fat – conjugated linoleic acid.

CLA – Conjugated Linoleic Acid
Conjugated Linoleic Acid (CLA) is a newly discovered fat found in ruminants (like cattle, sheep, and bison) that has been shown in various studies to fight cancer.  It’s also known for its body weight management properties (reducing body fat and increasing lean muscle mass), as well as for fighting diabetes.

According to the Eat Wild site’s article “CLA,” grass-fed hamburger has about three times more CLA than an equally lean hamburger from cattle eating grain.  In fact, grazing animals have three to five times more CLA than grain-fed counterparts.

Vegetable Oils & Seed Oils
Vegetable oils, like soybean, corn, grapeseed, safflower, cottonseed, are heavily processed products high in polyunsaturated fat that would not occur in this form or in such large quantities in nature.  Besides some of the problems I talked about above with products based on corn, other grains, and soybeans, most vegetable oils are inflammatory and dangerous to cook with.  They oxidize into free radicals that damage the body with fairly low temperatures.  Most of these oils should be avoided.  If using polyunsaturated fatty oils, I would use flaxseed oil, canola oil, and walnut oil, all rich in omega-3 fatty acids.  However, heating these oils oxidizes them.

Olive Oil
Unlike vegetable oils, olive oil is mainly composed of monounsaturated fat and is not made from seeds, but the oil skins.  If choosing olive oil, extra virgin is the least processed, so it’s healthier than other olive oils.  However, olive oil breaks down at high temperatures into more free radicals, so it’s best to use this oil for foods that won’t be cooked, like salad dressings, or foods that are cooked at low to medium temperatures.  I’m suggesting that people be careful with this oil.  While there is evidence that it can protect the body against heart diseases, it is not found in this form in nature, so I’m using it more sparingly.  There’s conflicting information regarding olive oil’s effects on cancer.

Cooking with Saturated Fats
Saturated fats are the healthiest fats to cook with since they are much more stable (least susceptible to oxidation and free-radicals) and less inflammatory than polyunsaturated fats.  Therefore, they stand up to high-temperature cooking the best.

After doing quite a bit of research, I came to the conclusion that animal fat from grass-fed and pastured animals was the best fat to cook with.  It occurs naturally in animals and is necessary for good health, so I’ve switched from olive oil (in cooking) to lard and chicken fat from naturally raised animals.  Animal fat is also high in monounsaturated fat.

I want to caution everyone that I would never suggest people cook with animal fat from factory farm animals fed on grains because this fat is very unhealthy since it’s high in omega-6 fatty acids.

Coconut and palm oils are two other types of mostly saturated fats.  I would consider cooking with them over vegetable and olive oils, but coconut and palm oils once again are not found in this form in nature or in this quantity, so it’s best to limit the amounts used.

The Bottom Line
The bottom line for fats is that some fats are necessary to prevent cancer.  Not having enough healthy fat in one’s diet has been proven to cause cancer, perhaps because it weakens the cell walls, which are made of fat.

Unhealthy fats abound in our industrial food supply.  Avoid most processed foods, which are full of vegetable oils and, at times, trans fats.  Avoid most seed oils, except flaxseed oil, canola oil, and walnut oil; however, don’t use them in cooking since they oxidize and then can cause free-radical damage in the body.  Olive oil an be used in low- and medium-temperature cooking, but there’s conflicting information regarding olive oil’s effects on cancer.  Saturated fats are actually the healthiest to cook with as long as the fat is coming from grass-fed animals or palm and coconut oils; however, I would use the palm and coconut oils sparingly.

See Part 1 – High-Carb, Low-Fat Diets