Oils and fats keep us healthy. They supply us with energy, protect our body against heart and circulatory diseases and increase our mental capacity. But not all fats are the same: polyunsaturated fatty acids are the ones that are essential for our health. Fish has been traditionally regarded as the most important source of these – a view revised recently with the recognition that the unsaturated fatty acids found in vegetable oils are far more beneficial to our health than was previously assumed.
Fats and vegetable oils play a pivotal role in our nutrition. They strengthen our immune system, supply us with energy and are an important component in cell membranes. Fats are also carriers of the liposoluble vitamins A, D, E and K.
There are different types of fatty acids in nutrition: saturated fatty acids (SFAs), monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs), polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) and harmful trans fatty acids (TFAs), also known as hydrogenated fats. Trans fatty acids should be avoided where possible. Unsaturated essential fatty acids are especially important for our health. They are classed as essential because our bodies cannot produce them independently and they are particularly healthy because they build further chemical compounds. They become saturated, for instance, by binding free radicals and making them harmless for the body.
The fatty acids that are essential for the human body include the polyunsaturated Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids. The Omega-3 group includes the fatty acids DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid), which are both found in oily fish and algae, as well as ALA (alpha-linolenic acid or α-linolenic acid), a component of vegetable oils. A recent study has shown that Omega-3 fatty acids minimise the risk of cardiovascular disease and sudden cardiac arrest. They also combat coronary heart diseases, reduce blood lipids, improve circulation and reduce blood clots.
Healthy living with vegetable oils
There is a substantial body of scientific evidence to suggest that, as well as those from marine sources, unsaturated fatty acids from vegetables are healthy too. The vegetable Omega-3 fatty acid ALA has a positive impact on coronary health: an ALA-rich diet might reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease by as much as 10 per cent.
A Mediterranean diet, rich in monounsaturated oleic acid and polyunsaturated ALA, significantly reduces diseases of the coronary arteries. This was demonstrated clearly by the findings of the Lyon study and the PERIMED study. The results were so clear that the PERIMED study was completed early, five years after its launch. The cardiovascular risk was reduced by 30 per cent for the test group that adopted a Mediterranean diet. Over time, the benefits of this kind of diet might be even greater than those shown by the study results.
Vegetable oils, such as olive oil, nut oils and rapeseed oil are all compatible with a Mediterranean diet. Linseed oil is not common in Mediterranean cooking, but it does contain the highest proportion of ALA of any vegetable oil. Unfortunately it becomes inedible after just a few days. However, you can overcome this problem easily by taking linseed oil in capsule form.
If you are looking for a good ratio between Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids, you can find this in wheat germ oil and walnut oil, for instance. Nuts, in particular, have known preventive properties with regard to heart disease and some forms of cancer (15). Virtually all vegetable oils have specific benefits if we use them correctly. Thistle and apricot oils have a very high vitamin E content, whereas primrose and jojoba oils reduce inflammation. These four oils are also very kind to the skin and are therefore used frequently in the cosmetics industry. In general, the unsaturated fatty acids present in vegetable oils stimulate metabolic activity.
An interesting Omega-6 fatty acid is linoleic acid, an important skin component. Linoleic acid regulates the water balance and can slow the aging process. Used externally, it can help skin irritations such as contact dermatitis, aging and sun-damaged skin or blackheads and ward off viruses or bacteria. Grape seed, thistle, wheat germ, corn, sunflower and rapeseed oils are important sources of linoleic acid.
Mono or poly – unsaturated fatty acids do us all good
Monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs) are also significant in terms of health. They are important for our metabolism and to retain cell membrane elasticity. The benefits of MUFAs include lowering cholesterol, protecting against cardiovascular disease and reducing blood pressure (16). The main vegetable sources for monounsaturated fatty acids are rapeseed, olive and peanut oils as well as avocado and high-oleic sunflower oil.
Coldpressed oils of the Marbacher Ölmühle
Vegetable oils only retain their healthy ingredients if they are extracted in an extremely gentle process that enables the oil to preserve its delicate vitamins, nutrients and typical natural taste. Achieving this requires practical skill and technical expertise. Marbacher Ölmühle, founded in 1899, is a European leader in gentle oil production and in cold pressing in particular. The company is located in the German town of Marbach on the idyllic river Neckar and places strong emphasis on the origin and quality of the its raw materials. The oil seeds, practically all grown organically, can be easily traced.