The goal of achieving optimal fatty acid nutrition must be approached by altering the fatty acid composition of the day-to-day meal pattern. If the diet is high in saturated fats, more of the positions on the glycerol backbones will be taken up by saturated fats. If the diet is high in omega-6 fats or hydrogenated fats, more of the positions will be taken up by those fatty acids. If one can begin to increase the consumption of known health-enhancing fats, then the triglyceride and phospholipid pool will convert. This will in turn exert beneficial effects on membrane physiology and provide precursors for eicosanoids that exert health-enhancing rather than health-robbing effects.
OMEGA- 6 RECOMMENDATIONS
Various recommendations by research organizations have indicated certain minimum dietary levels for essential fatty acids. For example, for humans, the World Health Organization suggests that 3% of calories should consist of essential fatty acids for an adult and 5% for children. The essential fatty acids they specify are linoleic and linolenic acids. Specific recommendations made by United States governmental agencies suggest that linoleic acid should comprise approximately 12% of calories. Some argue this should be increased to as much as 10% for optimal or therapeutic effects.
But this minimum recommendation for linoleic acid is not only met by modem food sources, it is usually exceeded to the extreme. For example, the average American would need only to consume about 45 milligrams of linoleic acid per kilogram of body weight per day, but they are consuming over 300. The same disparity exists for animals on modern processed foods.
High dietary omega six fatty acids are common but essential fatty acid deficiencies are paradoxically also common. This is due to a variety of factors. The increasing use of warm weather seeds, which now predominate in modern agriculture, provides the excess supply. The "fat tooth" that modern cultures have is satisfied by large portions of omega-6 oils in processed foods. The discovery of cholesterol in atherosclerotic plaques, leading to the conclusion that cholesterol should be excluded from the diet, also led to increased consumption of vegetable (omega-6) fats.
Although exceeding the minimums quantitatively is apparently easy, the quality of fatty acids is threatened by the very nature of processing itself, which can readily degrade essential fatty acids into nonutilizable or even toxic forms. The primary goal should therefore be to decrease omega-6 fatty acids in quantity and increase their quality while at the same time increasing the omega-3 to omega-6 ratio in the diet.
Sources of omega-3 oils include fish, wild meat and animal products from animals on high omega-3 diets, as well as certain seeds such as flaxseed, chia, rape, cold-weather nuts and soybeans. Other sources include mosses, ferns, alfalfa, the bark of certain trees, and phytoplankton which have the metabolic machinery (desaturase and elongase enzymes) within chloroplasts to convert omega-6's to omega-3's. But normally these sources are not consumed to any degree by non-wild higher mammals. Wild animals have not only less fat, but a higher omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acid ratio in tissues.1 (Fig. 30)
The recommendation for linolenic acid (plant source omega-3) to prevent deficiency is .54% of calories.2 Others suggest a level ranging from 0.8% to 1.2%.3 More important than absolute amounts of linolenic acid would be the ratio corresponding to linoleic acid and perhaps other fatty acids. Clinical effectiveness, as can be predicted from a synergonic view, has been related to balance rather than dose.4,5 The ideal ratio can be deduced from the respective levels of these oils in many common natural foods and also the ratio which exists in mother's milk. This ratio seems to be approximately 5: 1, with linoleic acid comprising the greater proportion. (Fig. 33)
Unfortunately some American mothers have ratios exceeding 30: 1.6,7 A minimum of 11/2 grams per day of linolenic acid for humans has been suggested for maintenance and over 100 grams per day have been utilized in therapy.8
Omega-3 fish oils consumed specifically to treat or prevent cardiovascular disease should make up 2% of daily calorie consumption according to some researchers. This would amount to approximately five grams per day. As much as 10-20 grams or even more per day has also been suggested.9 Some, however, report that relatively small doses can create a beneficial effect.10 Others report an unfavorable shift in LDL-C and LDL-apoprotein B concentrations in low doses compared to the higher ones.11 Such confusion and contradiction abounds when attempting to design diet based on doses of isolated nutrients... benefits are possible but so are dangers.
There are a variety of dangers associated with the consumption of high levels of fish oils. Increased bleeding time may create risks for cerebral vascular accident and epistaxis (nose bleed).12,13 Fish oils have recently been shown to increase LDL levels and thus potentially predispose to cardiovascular disease rather than prevent it.14 Depletion of body reserves of vitamin E used to stabilize these highly reactive oil molecules (potential steatitis, yellow fat disease, may result but is prevented with vitamin E supplementation -- the dose required being up to six times normal levels), free radical and peroxide generation from the spontaneous degradation of these oils, and over-consumption of heavy metals (mercury etc.) and chlorinated hydrocarbons or toxins which may concentrate in fish oils.15,16Since fish are higher on the food chain than plant sources of omega-3, the risk of toxin concentration is of course greater. Although linolenic acid is believed to be approximately 1/5 as effective in some therapies as EPA derived directly from fish oil (since it must go through enzymatic steps to convert to EPA), many would argue that this is the preferred source of omega-3 fatty acids since this dietary source could simply permit the body to regulate its own requirement for EPA. 17,18
Omega-9 oils derived from olive and other sources are not considered an essential dietary fatty acid. However, an impressive body of evidence indicates their health and nutritional benefits. Doses of as high as 10% of dietary fats, or 1 ounce of olive oil per day is one recommendation based upon research on the effect of omega-9 fatty acids on various health parameters.19-21
Phospholipids are a predominant part of all cellular and organelle membranes and thus are an extremely important biochemical component. They are particularly rich in brain tissue, sphingosines, and in sphingomyelin. The choline fraction of phosphotidl choline is a component of the neuronal transmitter acetylcholine. There is no dietary requirement for phospholipids since the body is capable of manufacturing them. However, there is a considerable body of medical literature indicating the beneficial effects of supplementing lecithin, phosphotidl choline, to the diet. A dosage of choline ranging from three to twelve grams per day has been used for such conditions as tardive dyskinesia, pre-senile dementia, Alzheimer's disease, manic depression, diabetic peripheral neuropathy, and a wide range of other neurological and locomotor as well as autonomic dysfunctions in humans and animals. 22-28
SATURATED FAT RECOMMENDATIONS
There is no recognized dietary requirement for saturated fat. However, it is and always has been a part of dietary makeup. Although saturated fats have received considerable "bad press," recent studies have shown stearic acid (18:0) to actually decrease blood cholesterol levels.29,30 (A method of determining the level of saturation of fats is to place oil in the refrigerator. Saturated fats will become hard, a mixture of saturates and unsaturates will become cloudy, whereas a pure unsaturate will remain liquid.)
Saturated fat intake, as with cholesterol intake, may be more of a concern because of its relationship to particular dietary patterns. The modern, highly processed, high fat diets invariably have high saturated fats and high cholesterol levels and are positively associated with various degenerative diseases. Evidence supports the relationship between low saturated fats in the diet and decreased serum cholesterol levels. Additionally, the ratio of saturated fats to unsaturated fats is an important criterion for measuring risks. Maintaining an unsaturated fat to saturated fat ratio of 3 to 1 or greater and keeping total fats to less than 30% of dietary calories are widely accepted as guidelines for decreasing cardiovascular risk.31
The above discussion is not meant as a recommendation to carefully measure oils in the diet on a gram scale or to seek a potpourri of capsules. The inference from the data is the value of natural whole, fresh foods. If these are carefully selected, the quantities and ratios have already been taken care of by the best chemist of all, nature.
Certain practical rules of thumb will help alter the essential fatty acid content of the diet to enhance health:
1) Consume increasing amounts of fresh, whole organically grown fruits and vegetables, seeds and nuts;
2) If cooking is done, cook without oils or cook with olive oil, high omega-9 commercial products, lard or butter (since these saturated fats are the most heat stable against oxidation);
3) Minimize cooking temperatures and try to eliminate cooking as much as possible;
4) Incorporate natural raw foods into the diet known to contain high levels of omega-3 and -9 oils;
5) Increase the ratio of omega-3 fatty acids to omega-6's;
6) If wishing to derive omega-3 fatty acids from fish, poach or broil fish known to contain high levels of omega-3 fatty acids (Fig. 33);
7) If fatty acid oil supplements are used, they should contain balances of the oils as described above and be properly stabilized with antioxidants (natural, if possible), packaged in light impervious safe containers (some plastic components will leach into oils) and nitrogen flushed. Supplemental vitamin E (200-400 I.U. per day) should also be consumed when any isolated fats and oils are added to the diet.
COMMERCIAL RESPONSIBILITIES AND OPPORTUNITIES
From a commercial standpoint, this new knowledge creates excellent opportunities to improve food nutritional value as Dr. Kinsella of Cornell's Institute of Food Science points out:
"The food industry (both producers and processors) should explore methods for adjusting the amounts and ratios of PUFA's in food products. Successfully increasing the w-3 PUFA content of foods will require innovative approaches for controlling autooxidation and off-flavor development in such foods. The discovery of multiple and potent effects of eicosanoids and the apparent beneficial effects of w-3 PUFA's has invigorated biochemical lipid research and has presented opportunities for making significant progress in the amelioration of atherosclerosis, perturbed immune functions. Cancer, arthritis, and thrombosis, the major causes of death and debility in the U.S. Knowledge of the links between dietary fatty acids and the incidence and severity of these degenerative diseases will provide further rationale for modifying the lipid prof1les of existing food products and developing new food products to improve nutrition and the quality of life of this and future generations."32
Whether industry will responsibly act on this information remains to be seen. Since considerable pressure exists within the modern corporate environment to prioritize the bottom line, rather than simply "do good," change will not likely occur until consumer demand creates a commerciable opportunity. An informed consumer using the power of the dollar will therefore likely be the ultimate reason our food supply changes for the better.
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