Finding The Perfect Balance Of Essential Fatty Acids

The Healthy Foodie


So, I decided to take U of A Dr. Andrew Weil’s advice and add the most effective fat to my diet to help achieve my fountain of youth/quiotixesque dream of perfect health.

But, I was stumped.

Which oil should I take? How much should I take? What’s the perfect essential fatty acid oil?

Surely, the health food store would answer all my questions. I trundled down to my favorite place, walked back to the oils cold case — and promptly freaked out.

Sitting in rows on the shelves were flax oil, fish oil, evening primrose, hemp oil, krill oil, Udo’s Choice oil, black currant seed oil, borage and walnut oils. My head spun, my lipids trembled, my blood pressure spiked. What was I to do?

I did what I always do when cast into deep doubt and existential uncertainty: I Googled it. This led to a study by the Harvard School of Public Health (

The study said that despite the fat-hating diet craze raging since the 1970s; few studies have focused on what to eat instead of those nasty hydrogenated oils — heated and altered so they can linger on the grocery shelf for months without getting rancid.

The Harvard folks set out to solve a curious riddle. Animal studies showed hydrogenated, saturated fat clog arteries and cause all kinds of problems. But long-term, diet-based human studies found decidedly mixed results. Even when people dramatically reduced their intake — it didn’t seem to have a big impact on disease. So the Harvard researchers dug deeper and found something interesting. Turns out, people denied those hydrogenated saturated fats in oils like Crisco replaced the calories by eating more carbohydrates. As a result, the Harvard researches found low-fat diets yielded only mixed results when it came to reducing the chance for heart disease — America’s No. 1 killer.

However, the studies in which people replaced the saturated fats with natural, unaltered polyunsaturated fats, not heat-processed to extend shelf life, heart disease dropped by a heartening 19 percent.

OK, so I needed to look for oil not processed by heat. Could it be that simple?

Nope. I had to look at one more thing.

Weil (a Harvard trained physician with Ph.D. in botany) suggested finding oil with a balance between Omega 3, 6 and 9 to provide maximum nutrients with minimum health problems.

Canadian researcher Dr. Udo Erasmus, a Ph.D. in nutrition, agrees.

Both experts say Omega 3s reduce inflammation, which helps calm autoimmune diseases like arthritis. Research also shows that Omega 3s also lower blood pressure and cholesterol.

The beneficial Omega 6 fatty acids convert into substances that fight inflammation.

Since the body makes Omega 9 fatty acids from foods we eat, we don’t need to seek it out, but Omega 9 helps lower the “bad” LDL cholesterol and increases HDL, the “good” cholesterol.

OK. So, we need oils not processed with heat with a good balance of Omega 3, 6 and 9. Hmmm ... time to read labels.

Both Erasmus and Weil promote plant-based oils.

Weil stressed the value of Omega 3s especially, but admits that a rich source like flax oil doesn’t taste great. Erasmus agrees, saying you’ve got to find flax oil you can eat or freeze immediately after it has been pressed. Otherwise, flax oil quickly starts to deteriorate, he said.

I’ve tried flax oil: Pungent and disagreeable, but some people enjoy using flax meal or grinding up flax seeds to get their oil. Look for flax meal in the refrigerated section of health food stores.

Both Erasmus and Weil say hemp oil has the optimal balance of Omegas naturally.

Weil said hemp oil has a three-to-one ratio of Omega 6 and Omega 3 acids “that matches our nutritional needs.”

In his book, “Fats That Heal, Fats That Kill,” Erasmus said, “(Hemp oil is) the most perfectly balanced, natural EFA rich oil available ... (it’s) nature’s most perfectly balanced oil.”

Alas, some people also don’t like hemp oil’s strong flavor, although you can now find hemp seed and oil at Costco and local health food stores.

Hoping to create an oil with all the health advantages without the drawbacks of hemp and flax, Erasmus created a plant-based, blended oil with flax, sunflower seed, sesame seed, rice and oat germ, coconut, evening primrose, lecithin, Vitamin E, and rosemary oils in his Udo’s Choice 3, 6, 9 Oil Blend.

This oil tastes buttery, but I still could taste the flax. But these oils work great in place of butter on toast or baked goods. Or I toss in a couple of tablespoons into a smoothie in the morning, or make a vinaigrette salad dressing.

Glad I stuck with it and mucked through the research. Eating these oils makes me feel better, but I’m not sure I will find that fountain of youth. I have wrinkles and body aches. Sigh ... at least I’m still busy tilting at windmills.

Next: If good fats become bad fats when you heat them up — what am I expected to cook with?

Oils and their Omega 3 and 6 content

Oil Omega-3 Omega 6

Safflower 0% 75%

Sunflower 0% 65%

Corn 0% 54%

Cottonseed 0% 50%

Sesame 0% 42%

Peanut 0% 32%

Soybean 7% 51%

Canola 95% 20%

Walnut 10% 52%

Flaxseed 57% 14%

Fish 100% 0%

Hemp 20% 8%

*Sources: US National Institutes of Health, EFA Education website66

Davis B., Essential Fatty Acids in Vegetarian Nutrition67

*Udo’s website:


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