Polyunsaturated fats, like those found in sunflower spreads, are marketed as a good thing. Crisps cooked in sunflower oil are sold as superior to others, and there are frequent quotes that ‘a diet rich in polyunsaturates improves health’ - lowering heart attack risk, reducing the incidence of cancer and cholesterol.
These fats are also known as Omega 6. The commonest are in oil form - sunflower, hemp, safflower, grapeseed, corn, soy and pumkinseed oils. What makes these oils different to monounsaturated fats or saturated fats are their chemical structure. They have a double bond between 2 or more carbon chains, hence the ‘poly’ bit. The effect of this is that they are liquid at room temperature.
There are four problems polyunsaturated fats. The first: as long as they are cold
pressed and eaten as a salad dressing or finishing oil, they aren’t quite so bad. A big problem comes when you heat them up. Because of the double bond, they are unstable oils at higher temperatures and quickly go rancid. A rancid fat is a fat chemically altered, in this case by heat - becoming full of free radicals, the toxic compounds that cause mayhem in cells and DNA, leading to mutation and therefore many horrible diseases: heart attacks and strokes, diabetes types 1 and 2, cancer, fibromyalgia, and arthiritis. The bag of crisps cooked in sunflower oil gets worse. Do you think they change the oil between heatings? Oil that is repeatedly heated and cooled becomes a transfat.
The second problem: in its natural state, a polyunsaturated fat should be liquid at room temperature. Yet we can buy sunflower oil as a spread. Something must have happened to the original oil to cause this. To make a liquid oil spread, it is heated to a high temperature and hydrogen is added, which changes its molecular structure. It becomes known as a hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated fat. The other name is a transfat.
Our digestive system does not have an
enzyme to digest transfats, so they wander about the blood stream undigested. And because of their new nature given to them by mankind, they leave debris (known as plaque) that clogs up the cells and fur up your arteries - leading to further risk of heart attacks and strokes.
Problem number three: both omega 3 and omega 9 oils are anti-inflammatory. Omega 6 is pro-inflammatory. This wouldn’t be a problem if the ratio between omega 3 to omega 6 was balanced between 1:4 and 1:1. These days, however, our ratio of omega 3: 6 is 1:20 or worse. One of the by-products of subsequent inflammation in the body is raised cholesterol. It is also arthritis, diabetes, asthma, allergies and all degenerative diseases - and you can only develop cancer in the presence of inflammation.
Food manufacturers make a lot of money with these products. So does the pharmaceutical industry, since doctors prescribe various drugs to counteract the effects of eating a diet rich in these fats - statins being the prime example.
Fourth problem: storage. Because they are inherently unstable, once opened they should be stored away from heat, light and exposure to air or they go rancid. And they should be used within 6 months of opening. The other types of oil – omega 9 and saturated fats are more stable and have less storage problems.
So polyunsaturated fat being good for you is patently a myth. If eaten cold it overwhelms the ratio of omega 3:6 and so, because it is pro-inflammatory, increases inflammation in the body. If it is heated, it rapidly goes rancid leading to all degenerative diseases. If it is not stored well it also goes rancid. If it is made into a spread or turned into a high-oleic oil, it is just completely and utterly bad for you. But it does make nice profits for food and pharmaceutical companies. And indeed causes heart attacks and cancer.
A good oil is oleic acid – this is found in the monounsaturated oils such as Olive oil.
In order to cash in on the health benefits of olive oil, a way has been found to
change sunflower or safflower oil into High-Oleic Sunflower or Safflower oil. These oils are as awful as transfats. When man fiddles with food, the results are very rarely good for our health – but they are exceedingly good for profits.
Vitamin E is a very good anti-oxidant to dodgy oil. But the Vitamin E must be of natural sources and not man made. The container will have such words as ‘Natural Tocopherols’ (the posh name for Vitamin E) printed on it. And you are looking for D-Delta Tocopherol, D-Gamma tocopherol etc. If the container only has D Alpha tocopherol written on it, then do not take it since this is the man made version and damaging to health. (As an aside, natural vitamin E is also very good for the uterus).
Finishing on a good note. There is one form of polyunsaturated oil which is in short supply in the diet and is very good for you and this is Gamma Linolenic Acid (GLA). It is found in borage seeds or, but only feebly, in evening primrose oil (you have to take a bucket load of this to get any result). Taken with a high quality fish oil, it will reduce inflammation in the body. It may help with pre-menstrual tension and menopausal symptoms.