Omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids are termed "essential," because they have to be obtained from food and they are, at least in small amounts, essential for life. Omega-9 fatty acids, on the other hand, are abundant in the body, making most of the content of fat cells.
Most of us don't get enough omega-3's, but it is a very rare individual who lacks enough omega-9. Used in moderation, however, these foods offer many benefits that aren't found in the fat itself. Here are nine foods that are especially rich in omega-9 fats.
- Olive oil is a good, but not the best, source of the omega-9 fatty acid oleic acid. This acid is associated with lower blood pressure, when the oil is consumed "raw," that is, used in dressing vegetables or dipping bread, not in frying. Virgin olive oil contains up to 2 per cent oleic acid, higher percentages making the oil inedible. The healing properties of the oil are associated with the antioxidant polyphenols in the oil, not the fatty acids themselves. Antioxidants are destroyed by heating.
- Pecan oil contains up to 5 per cent oleic acid, but has only half the saturated fat found in olive oil. Pecan oil is rich in chromium. About 10 grams (2 teaspoons) provides a day's supply of chromium.
- Pine nut oil is used in "finishing" foods to give them extra flavor. It's a good source of oleic acid, even better than either olive or pecan oil, and it also helps control appetite by stimulating the release cholecystokinin, the hormone that the stomach makes in response to "comfort food." The effects of pine oil on the appetite usually last about four hours.
- Sunflower oil is low in saturated fat and high in vitamin E. It is especially useful for frying because it has a very high smoke point, that is, it can be put in a pan on a hot burner without catching on fire. Cooking sunflower oil, however, destroys the vitamin E, as does leaving the bottle open between uses.
- Palm oil contains palmitic acid. This is the first fatty acid produced in the chemical reactions that store fat in fat cells. If you are consuming fewer calories than your body burns, of course, then you won't have a problem with fat gain. However, if you eat too much, palmitic acid quickly becomes fat.
- Peanut oil contains both oleic and palmitic acid. The more "natural" the oil is, the more dangerous it is for people who have peanut allergies. Highly processed, deodorized, decolorized, refined peanut oil usually does not cause allergies. Peanut oil is relatively high in unsaturated fat, but it also contains arachidonic acid, which the body uses to make inflammatory hormones.
- Canola oil contains omega-3, omega-6, and omega-9 fatty acids. The rapeseed from which canola oil is pressed is bred to be low in potentially harmful erucic acid. If the only kind of fat you were to consume were canola oil, you would have omega-3's, omega-6s, and omega-9's in good balance, although it won't help you correct an imbalance of omega-3 and omega-6 if you are eating other kinds of fat.
- Soybean oil is never natural. To make soybean oil, soybeans are cracked, dried, heated nearly to the boiling point of water, and rolled into flakes. Then the oil in the flakes is dissolved with hexane, and the hexane is boiled out of the soybean oil. To keep the soybean oil from turning dark in restaurant friers, it's treated with nickel catalysts, that turn healthy fat into trans- fat. Soybean oil actually contains some healthy fat-with who knows what else!
- Sesame oil is high in both omega-9 and omega-6 fatty acids, which is a problem if you are omega-3 deficient. The antioxidants in sesame oil, however, lower blood pressure and blood sugars, provided you add the oil to food after it has been cooked, not before it has been cooked.
Every food that is high in omega-9 fatty acids is healthiest when it is not used in cooking. Natural antioxidants in these foods may keep them from spoiling, but the antioxidants used to fight spoilage aren't available to support good health. Fresh oil is always better than rancid oil.