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Getting Our Fat Facts Straight: Natural Awakenings Gets the Skinny from Udo Erasmus

Mar 01, 2007 09:00PM ● By S. Alison Chabonais

Two decades of examining the effects of commercial fats and oils on the human body caused Udo Erasmus, Ph.D., to realize that the best thing he could do for the human race was to make available a blend of pure omega-3 and omega-6 fats with “health life rather than shelf life” in mind. Substituting good fats for bad fats, he says, will go a long way in reversing today’s worsening trends of obesity and degenerative diseases. His pioneering work Fats that Heal, Fats that Kill, first published in the mid 90s, firmly established Erasmus as a world authority. Today he travels extensively showing how a tiny change in diet can make a huge difference.

Natural Awakenings caught up with Udo Erasmus on his current U.S. lecture tour. We learned tons and are naturally eager to share what we gleaned.

Q: Why do most Americans think that “low-fat is healthy?

A: We think eating fats will make us fat. This isn’t true. Twenty years ago we got bad advice that told us to eat less fat. We should have been told to eat less bad fat and more good fat. Instead of the “10 percent or fewer daily calories from fat” we targeted, I think fat should constitute a minimum 15 to 25 percent of our daily fuel.

We also were told to eat more carbs, a food that can prove addictive. Consequently, we have an obese population of fat-phobic carbohydrate junkies.

Industry’s drive for profits based on outdated science has resulted in our children growing up in a fast-food snack-food culture now chest deep in adulterated fats linked with cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes and other degenerative diseases. Today these diseases are killing 68 percent of Western populations. We eat bad fats as fried oils, ‘cooking’ oils and hydrogenated oils. This 20th century trend has been convenient for manufacturers, but disastrous for everyone’s health. The absence of healthy oils is the single most widespread deficiency of our time; 99.9 percent of Americans suffer from a deficit of good fats.

Q: What makes a fat good or bad?

A: Fats that kill are those that may start out well enough, but are damaged in processing through exposure to air, light, heat and corrosive chemicals. The body can’t process such unnatural molecules. Over time they may build up as toxic fat deposits, increase inflammation and affect the immune system.

Fats that heal remain undamaged start to finish and remain available for use. Essential fatty acids like omega-3 oils benefit every cell, tissue, gland and organ in the body. They’re major nutrients essential to normal functioning and optimum health. They must come from foods as our body cannot manufacture them.

Q: How can we eat smarter starting today?

A: A hundred years ago we didn’t have these same health problems. Cancer deaths, for example, have soared from 1 in 30 back then, to 1 in 4 now, closely paralleling increasing 20th century use of bottled cooking oils. Unlike us, our foremothers routinely cooked with water, not oil. They steamed, poached, boiled and pressure cooked meals. Occasionally they used butter or lard. And of course, they often ate raw foods right off the farm.

We can’t rely on government regulations, which reflect standards set by the industries that profit from excessive processing and extended shelf life. We must set higher standards for ourselves.

Q: What’s your Rx for losing weight while gaining health?

A: I like to say that our body needs an oil change just like our car. To lose excess weight, we need a two-step shift in fuel. First, we need to cut down on carbohydrates, which digest into sugar, turn-on fat production in cells and turn-off fat burning, so that we don’t wear the sugar we don’t burn. Second, we need to eat more omega-3 fats. Omega-3s suppress appetite, increase and provide stable energy, don’t lead to swings in blood sugar and insulin, slow fat production and jump start the burning of body fat. Exercise subsequently becomes easier and fat seems to just melt off.

Research over the past 20 years also shows that increasing omega-3 intake improves virtually every major degenerative disease of our time. Essential fatty acids are required for everything from brain function, vision, skin and bone health, hormone function and immunity to managing mood, inflammation, allergies and digestion. They’re a major nutrient that we need in quantity for optimum health, just as we need water, proteins, carbs and greens. The beauty of eating the right fats is that they automatically displace cravings for less healthy foodstuffs.

I recommend eating one tablespoon (one-half ounce or 14 grams) of good oil a day for every 50 pounds of bodyweight. Substitute capsules only when traveling. This about equals what most Americans typically ingest in unhealthy processed oils now.

I like to sprinkle good oil into my meals throughout the day. I use it in salad dressing, toss it on steamed vegetables and cooked whole-grain pasta, and mix it into applesauce, bean dishes, protein shakes, yogurt, and vegetable and tropical fruit juices, even hot soups. Of course it works well with cooked low-fat fish and other meats. Good oils enhance the mouth-feel of foods and smooth out strong or spicy flavors.

Q: Where can we find ready sources of fats that heal?

A: Flax seed is the richest source of omega-3. Sunflower and sesame seeds contain omega-6. Taking these in a ratio of 2:1 is vital to proper utilization, including the burning of fat. Various foods in the average diet, especially unroasted raw seeds and nuts, will deliver omega-6 more readily than omega-3. As always, organic is best because they’re free of pesticides.

High fat, coldwater fish such as sardines, salmon, trout, herring and mackerel, contain derivatives of both omega-3 and -6. Fresh fish is preferable to most fish oil capsules, which suffer from processing and contaminants picked up in the food chain. It helps to understand that the red-brown algae the fish eat is the source of their oil. So why not go direct to a palatable plant source?

Finally, note that all white oils, except extra virgin olive and oils labeled “unrefined,” are more damaged by processing than the white sugar and white flour currently setting off alarms. The best undamaged oils, including Udo’s 3•6•9 Oil Blend, will be found boxed in brown glass bottles in the refrigerated section of health food stores.

Q:  Why is the carb habit so hard to kick?

A: Addiction to carbohydrates can be just as strong as addictions to alcohol or tobacco. We must wean ourselves by substituting a more satisfying fuel source for the sugar high we derive from metabolizing carbs. Will power is no match for a physiological craving. But substituting good essential fats will do the trick. The reason we slide into a cycle of eating endless carbs is because our body is literally starving for meaningful energy with staying power.

Q:  Is the 2-4 daily grams of fish oil that doctors now recommend good enough?

A: Fish oil capsules sold at the store are manufactured for a two-year shelf life. It’s not uncommon that 3-5 percent of the omega-3 molecules are damaged, somewhat offsetting the benefit. Research of benefits from fish oil conducted prior to 2003 shows better results, because processing since then has accelerated to enhance product taste. In addition, we can’t overlook the likelihood of contamination of fish by mercury, pesticide runoff and PCBs. That’s why where fish originate is as vital as the care rendered in protecting the oil from heat, light and air throughout processing, packaging and distribution.

While fish oils can have therapeutic benefits, fish oils alone are not enough. Our body needs a foundation of undamaged seed oils comprising at least 15 percent of daily calories. This may equate to two to four tablespoons a day, depending on body weight.

Q:  What’s the link between behavioral disorders and a fat-deficient diet?

A: Behavior is coordinated through the brain, the fattiest organ in our body at a whopping 60 percent fat content. Yes, we are all fatheads. If we weren’t, we’d all be vegetables. And I mean that both ways. A full third of our brain tissue is derived from essential fatty acids. Half of that is omega-3 and the other half is omega-6. To deprive the brain of fat is like depriving it of its life blood. It simply won’t work without both.

Udo Erasmus’s office in Vancouver, British Columbia, is the headquarters for his award-winning nutrition research in fats, oils, cholesterol and essential fatty acids. Professional and graduate studies in biochemistry and genetics complement degrees in psychology and zoology. For information visit and

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