“Don’t eat margarine?” my 47-year-old heart patient Gary asked incredulously.
The Hawaii Kai resident had been diagnosed with atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries. He felt betrayed that for years he had been told to use margarine to help prevent heart disease.
I explained to him that many studies have found that margarine can contribute significantly to heart disease. I told him that according to “Fats that Heal, Fats that Kill” by Udo Erasmus, who has a Ph.D. in nutrition, butter is better to cook with. And I explained how research has suggested that flax, fish and olive oils can help prevent heart disease.
But lots of people are still confused about fats and oils.
Fats are essential to good health. But heart disease is prevalent in Western countries primarily because we consume too much of the wrong kinds of fats. Bad fats are hydrogenated fats found in margarine, and saturated fats found in beef, chicken and dairy products. Good fats are unsaturated fats found in fish, vegetables and some nuts, such as walnuts.
Margarine contains bad fat, because it is a hydrogenated vegetable oil. Hydrogenation creates trans-fatty acids, fats found in research to promote hardening of the arteries. Even soy margarine is hydrogenated. A good alternative is Spectrum Spread, found at local health food stores. It is a non-hydrogenated spread that tastes and looks like margarine without the trans-fatty acids.
Why is butter better than margarine or vegetable oil for cooking and baking? Butter is saturated fat – bad fat – but its molecular structure remains stable at high temperatures. In contrast, research indicates that the molecular structure of unsaturated oils, such as safflower oil, breaks down into free radicals at high heat. Free radicals are known to damage tissue. Warning: Butter remains a major contributor to heart disease and should be used sparingly, if at all.
Flax and fish oils are best. Numerous studies have found that these unsaturated fats can help prevent heart disease, lower bad cholesterol (known as LDL) and increase good cholesterol (HDL). High levels of favorable fish oils are found in salmon, trout, mackerel, and sardines. Flax oil can be used in salad dressings or taken in capsule form. Never cook with flax oil, however, because it breaks down under high heat.
Some studies have indicated that olive oil also helps prevent heart disease. It is mono-unsaturated and can withstand some heat. However, it should not be used at high temperatures. A tip: Cook your stir fry in one-fourth cup of hot water, then add one tablespoon of oil at the end of frying. That way the oil does not get too hot and its flavor is retained.
For a delicious salad dressing, combine one cup fresh basil leaves, one cup fresh parsley, one half cup each of flax oil and olive oil, one cup rice vinegar, one garlic clove and one-fourth cup of water. Blend on high speed and store in a dark bottle in your refrigerator for up to one week.
An “oil change” was not easy, but Gary was happy that he did it. By lowering his fat intake and changing the oils in his diet, within six months his total cholesterol decreased from 211 to 170, his good cholesterol (HDL) increased from 29 to 45, and his bad cholesterol (LDL) decreased from 150 to 88.
Article was originally printed in the Honolulu Advertiser, honoluluadvertiser.com.