Three Heart-Healthy Oils
by Elisa Adams

Flaxseed and Fish Oils

In Greenland, the consumption of fruits and vegetables is limited by the short growing season of the far north. Rather than gather their foods from the land, the residents of this northern land gather their food from the sea, and the consumption of fish is nearly the highest on the planet. Greenland natives traditionally have consumed over 300 pounds of fish per capita, per year, or about a 5-ounce serving at breakfast, lunch, and supper every day.

In New England a hundred years ago, when it was time to make bread, a small sack of flaxseed would be brought to the local grist mill for grinding, and the freshly ground flaxseed would be added to the other grains used in breadmaking.

What do these two cultures, seemingly so disparate, have in common? 

Both enjoyed life free of high blood pressure, heart disease, and stroke, and both enjoyed diets high in omega-3 fatty acids.

The new science of nutrition has sought links between diet and health, and the connection between omega-3 fatty acids and heart health is now proven beyond a shadow of a doubt. Flax and fish oils are fluid at body temperature and serve as a solvent for saturated animal fats in the diet. 

As the consumption of heart-friendly foods, such as deep-sea salmon, trout, mackerel, ground flax, and flaxseed oil increases, HDL (the “good” cholesterol) increases, and the amount of LDL and triglycerides in the bloodstream goes down. Omega-3 oils have also been found to lower fibrinogen levels, reducing risks for blood clots and strokes.

Omega-3 oils from fish and flax constantly work to dissolve cholesterol patches in the lining of the blood vessels. They also work to reduce abnormally high blood pressure. One tablespoon daily of flax oil, mixed in yogurt, salad dressing, or juice, was found to reduce both systolic and diastolic readings significantly. For every 1% increase in omega-3 fats in body lipids, blood pressure decreased 5 mm Hg overall.

These “magical” oils also function in the body as the precursors to anti-inflammatory prostaglandin, which helps reduce pain and the other inflammatory processes. Inflammatory prostaglandins are now under examination as a potential cause of heart attacks, Alzheimer’s disease, rheumatoid arthritis, and many other chronic disorders that tend to appear later in life in modern societies. (See Time, February 24, 2004, for an excellent article on the physiology of inflammation.)

Olive Oil

One other heart-healthy oil is olive oil. The lipid in olives is called oleic acid, which is one of the major sources of fat in the diet of the island of Crete, renowned for the longevity of their older population. 

Since it is liquid at room temperature and body temperature, its fluidity helps keep our arteries supple. It also resists damage by oxygen (oxidation) and is therefore fairly stable, not needing large amounts of antioxidants to keep it from turning rancid. Oleic acid is the major fatty acid in the oils secreted by our skin and is used to keep skin soft and supple.

Creating your own heart-healthy spread is easy. Just soften butter, add equal parts of flax oil and olive oil, and add sea salt to taste. Place it in a tub in the refrigerator until chilled, and use it without guilt for your bread and vegetables. Just remember not to cook with it, as flax oil will oxidize at cooking temperatures.

By reducing your intake of processed and heated fats, such as those found in crackers, hydrogenated peanut butter, french fries and doughnuts, and by eating nuts, seeds, flaxseeds, olives, avocados and fish for your daily supply of fatty acids, you will have taken a giant step backwards into the time zone when heart disease was never heard of.

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