How Oxidation Happens
Oxidation and anti-oxidation all get down to physics, which I know is enough to cause most of us to yawn and have our eyes glaze over. If you want to know — then here it is, otherwise, just skip this section.
Cells are made of molecules. Molecules are made of atoms and atoms are joined together by chemical bonds. An atom has a nucleus, protons, neutrons, and electrons. The nucleus contains the protons and these have a positive charge.
Electrons orbit the atom and they have a negative charge. The positive charge of the protons dictates the number of electrons that surround the atom because the charge has to be balanced.
Atoms love to be stable. To become stable they will lose an electron, or share an electron with another atom so that both atoms are stable. If the chemical bond is weak, then it can split (some other atom is trying to get an electron).
With an electron gone, a free radical or unpaired electron is created. These are highly reactive and very unstable. They want to become stable so they grab the nearest electron they can. Now you have a new unstable molecule so it will grab an electron. This process continues and cells get destroyed this way and damage to your body occurs.
The role of antioxidants is to donate one of their electrons to a free radical so that the process stops. Antioxidants don’t become unstable in this process. They either donate an electron or scavenge the free radical, inactivating it.
Beta Carotene, Vitamin E, and Vitamin C, Selenium
These are the anti-oxidants that you can get from food that will protect your cholesterol from oxidation. Vitamin C and selenium are water-soluble, Beta Carotene and Vitamin E are fat-soluble and carried in lipids or fats to the areas that the watery substances can’t get to. Beta Carotene is the precursor to vitamin A, and although sometimes called an antioxidant, it is not.
Shocking as it may seem the ‘other’ antioxidants that we hear about coming from blueberries, dark chocolate, or green tea, for example, do not have antioxidant activity out of the Petrie dish. The FDA removed its ORAC rating site because of ‘mounting evidence that the values indicating antioxidant capacity have no relevance to the effects of specific bioactive compounds, including polyphenols on human health’. You can find the rest of this story on the FDA site.
But, this doesn’t mean that there is no special value to the deep pigments of fruits vegetables, herbs, and spices. There is. I want to emphasize that. They may not deliver antioxidants to your bloodstream but they can switch on and off certain hormonal factors and reduce inflammation in the body. Chemicals in plants have been shown in scientific experiments to turn on antioxidant enzymes as part of the detoxification process in the body.
By far the best way to get your antioxidants is from food because in high doses they can cause damage. Taking doses of Selenium, vitamin A or Vitamin E is a risky business. In cancer trials, vitamin E has progressed both lung and prostate cancer. Vitamin A toxicity is well known and Selenium at 200mcg per day for 7.7 years can cause diabetes.
Vitamin C supplementation is the least likely to cause problems, and actually may be beneficial but still, you need to be aware that it can cause problems. The natural standards database states that adults shouldn’t take more than 2 grams per day.
Studies have shown that hardening of the arteries can be slowed by taking 500mg Vitamin C per day, in combination with 91mg (or 136IU) of vitamin E per day (at least it’s safe for up to 6 years per the database). In the studies where vitamin E contributed to cancer growth 400 IU of vitamin E was used per day.
Antioxidants created in the body
The following 3 are powerful antioxidants that are made in the body. It might be worth supplementing with these if you are at high risk.
This is one of the most powerful antioxidants in our body. It used for lots of things besides antioxidant activity — detox, immunity, repair of DNA and a lot of other crucial functions. So….we use a lot, we need a lot. Glutathione peroxidase is found in fruits and vegetables and meats. You also need to get enough cysteine, sulfur, and selenium to make it. Include protein foods for cysteine, cabbage family and onions for sulfur, and brazil nuts are the best source of selenium.
The older we get, the less we make of this, and if you take statins, you might want to consider this. Foods do contain it, Meats, Salmon, Tuna, Herring, some oils — canola, soy. Fruits and vegetables contain very small amounts of it.
Alpha-Lipoic-Acid is a fat that is found in every cell of the body. It’s used to turn glucose into energy but its also a very powerful antioxidant and can be used to reduce your risk of heart disease. Unfortunately, it’s only available in very small amounts from some foods, which means that it needs to be taken as a supplement. Some studies confirm its beneficial effects, especially if you are at high risk.
There are two main kinds of fiber — soluble and insoluble. Both kinds have health benefits. Soluble fiber is the type that helps to keep your heart healthy. One of the main ways soluble fibers help reduce heart risk is by helping your body to get rid of old cholesterol from your bloodstream. Soluble fiber swells to a gel inside your bowels and in the process it traps substances that make cholesterol. It doesn’t trap cholesterol directly — it traps bile and bile is used to make cholesterol. Once trapped, bile just gets excreted out of the body. At this point, the body needs to make more bile — so cholesterol gets pulled from your bloodstream for this purpose. Viola — you have lowered your cholesterol.
Flax seeds, sesame seeds, curly kale, broccoli, strawberries, apricots. Lignans are the one kind of insoluble fiber that does seem to play a role in heart health. There is some evidence that lignans help heart health by reducing fats in the blood, aka triglycerides and increasing HDL cholesterol. There are many food sources of lignan’s but the highest source of lignans is found in flaxseed followed by sesame seeds. Flax seeds need to be ground up though otherwise, you will not digest them. Forget sprinkling whole seeds on your salads or cereals it just won’t work. The best thing is to grind them daily in a coffee grinder kept just to grind seeds. The next best thing and much
more convenient is to grind up a bunch of it (or buy it already ground) and to keep it airtight and refrigerated. Curly Kale and Broccoli are two other good sources of lignans, and in the fruit department, you will get low to a fair amount of lignans from strawberries and apricots. Olive oil is another reasonable source. When these foods are used regularly they can add up to appreciable amounts in your diet. If you want, you can also buy Lignan as a supplement.
Pectins and gums
Citrus fruits like grapefruit and oranges, apples, apricots, legumes agar-agar are good foods for pectins and gums. Like other soluble fibers, they swell up and catch bile to reduce cholesterol. Agar-agar is a seaweed gum. It’s an excellent replacement for gelatin in recipes.
Kelp, Irish moss, flax seeds — grind them, chia seeds, cactus. This type of soluble fiber that is found in most plants and will help to bring your cholesterol level down.
Oats, barley, rye, wheat, shitake mushrooms, bakers yeast. Beta-glucans are very effective at reducing LDL cholesterol and total cholesterol.
Inulin: Jicama, Chicory root, artichokes, asparagus, agave. Get inulin from food, there are issues with this as a supplement. This soluble fiber helps protect the heart by changing the types of fats that your liver makes. It lowers a cholesterol carrier called VLDL or very-low-density lipoprotein. It also has other benefits that help the heart. It helps to stabilize blood sugar which is very important for keeping a healthy heart.
Nuts, seeds and oils, especially rice bran oil and the vegetables Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, and broccoli. Sterols lower cholesterol because they look like cholesterol molecules to the body and get absorbed by the same receptors that absorb cholesterol. When sterols are present in your body they compete with cholesterol and because they get absorbed instead of cholesterol — you wind up with a lower cholesterol level. Phytosterols are available in supplement form.
This is used as a supplement. It is very effective at lowering cholesterol levels and is the main ingredient in Metamucil. You can get it as capsules, wafers, powder or in the natural husks. Be aware that you need to drink plenty of water when you take psyllium. Make sure that it’s washed down into your stomach. Not to be recommended for people who have any kind of swallowing problem. If you are taking medications then check with your doctor. There might be interactions.
Beans, whole-grains, plantains, green bananas, raw potato, cooked and cooled potato and whole-grain pasta. Resistant starch lowers your cholesterol and your triglyceride levels. As a bonus, it decreases your appetite.
This is the most hotly debated, controversial and complicated topic in nutrition. The fact is it’s just not all about the fat. You can eat the healthiest kind of fat in the world but if you are overweight then you will have more inflammation in your body. Unlimited healthy fat is not going to be a lot of help to you unless you drop some weight.
Certain types of fats are not very stable and even though they produce less LDL cholesterol they also are inflammatory. There is more and more evidence that increased inflammation is the real issue with heart disease. The answer lies in the whole diet. You should lose weight if you need to and you should be pulling cholesterol out of your body to get rid of the old oxidized cholesterol. Keep your cholesterol healthy with lots of antioxidants: Beta carotene, E, C, and selenium. And, you need to eat the kinds of fats that do not increase inflammation.
Trying to sort out different kinds of fat is confusing because fats and oils are not only one type. They all contain some variation of elements making them mostly saturated or mostly unsaturated. And they will contain some omega 3 and some omega 6 fats. Mostly there is more of one kind than another and that is how it gets its name. It gets even more complicated with omega 6 because there are inflammatory omega 6 fatty acids and anti-inflammatory omega 6 fatty acids. So if you are confused, I don’t blame you. I’m going to do my best to make this topic a bit clearer.
There are four main kinds of fats, saturated and polyunsaturated, monounsaturated (also called Omega 9 fats) and Trans fats. And there are the Omega 3 fats and Omega 6 fats that we hear about all the time. These Omegas are polyunsaturated fats.
Saturated fats are solid at room temperature. Unsaturated fats are liquid at room temperature. There is an exception to a discussion of how fats fit into the diet and that exception is Trans fats — the synthetic or ‘man-made’ kind.
Trans Fats — There are two kinds, synthetic and natural.
Synthetic Trans Fats — Margarine, is in all kinds of commercially baked products like cookies and cakes, candies, soups, frozen foods, packaged foods, breakfast cereals, toppings dips, and crackers. Trans fat contributes to inflammation in the body. Synthetic Trans-fat is unsaturated fat — an oil — that has its chemical structure changed by the addition of a hydrogen molecule. This is how margarine is created. You take oil, add some water for the hydrogen molecule, whip it around at a high speed, add a bunch of gunk like food coloring and chemicals and there you have it — a new solid fat.
Trans fats are very hard on the heart. They were invented, supposedly to help prevent heart attacks but they did not have that effect at all. Heart attacks increased as margarine became more popular. Trans fats bring a double whammy to your cholesterol figures. One of the effects they have is to increase your LDL cholesterol and reduce your HDL cholesterol. Compare this to saturated fats which increase your LDL cholesterol but and increase your HDL cholesterol.
You have probably seen plenty of labels with Zero Grams Trans Fat written on the label. This is a sneaky marketing tactic you need to be careful about. It’s quite legal for the manufacturer to put this on the label even when it does contain trans fats. If the food has less than half a gram per serving of trans fats, the manufacturer is allowed to call it zero grams trans fat. That’s per serving. Now, who do you know that looks at the label and serves out exactly one serving of the food, according to the label serving size? I don’t do it and I don’t know anyone who does. And if you eat several different types of foods that contain 0.499 grams of trans fats or less — that can up to several grams of trans fats per day. This is a very sneaky trick to get you to think that a product is better quality because it’s free of Tran’s fats — when in truth, it is not.
Read the ingredient list: If you see the word ‘partially hydrogenated fats’ then you will know the product has trans fats in it. You might also see the words ‘fully hydrogenated fats’ this is a synthetic fat that has a slightly different chemical configuration- some say it’s not as dangerous as trans fats. Its still a synthetic fat and should be avoided. The reason companies like to use these types of fats is because they are cheap and because they have a very long shelf life. Meaning more profits for them. It’s got nothing to do with saving your heart.
Trans Fats- the natural kind.
The best source, Grass-fed beef and milk, and lamb meat. This kind of trans fat is anti-inflammatory. Natural trans fats form something called conjugated linoleic acid or CLA. There is a hot debate at the moment about CLA. There is some evidence that CLA is heart-protective, cancer-protective, enhances immune function and helps you lose weight. It is marketed for these conditions and you buy this as a supplement. Recently there have been concerns about using it as a supplement because it is shown to raise LDL cholesterol and there are other side effects. Getting CLA naturally is the way to go. If you eat beef and drink milk then grass-fed is the best way kind to get, albeit pricey.
Saturated Fat — Butter, cream, sour cream, lard, any animal fat, palm oil, and coconut oil. So how bad are these fats for you? As always, when they are implicated in heart disease other things are going on that are overlooked. The evidence for saturated fat and heart disease is relatively weak on its own. Mainstream nutrition recommendations lag behind current research and eventually, there is likely to be a re-evaluation of standard nutrition guidelines.
A diet that is high in saturated fat, high in sugar and high in junk food and processed food is a recipe for disaster. But the fact is if you replace that saturated fat with a so-called healthy fat — like olive oil but don’t change anything else you are still a prime candidate for heart disease.
More than that if you switch to a low-fat diet, eat less saturated fat and eat a more refined carbohydrate like white bread, white rice, and pasta and more sugars — your small dense cholesterol — the bad kind — will increase, and your risk for heart disease will go up.
So you can see its not a simple matter. It’s the whole approach that’s important. Eating saturated fats increases large buoyant LDL or the fluffy kind, which are less likely to become oxidized than the small LDL. In moderation butter is OK. It’s a much better choice than margarine that’s for sure. It’s also a lot more delicious. Saturated fats are safe for cooking because they are stable at high temperatures.
Coconut milk and coconut oil are a very healthy type of saturated fat because it helps prevent inflammation. They contain medium-chain triglycerides which help to kill viruses and bacteria. This is important for heart disease because of the inflammatory effects of viruses and bacteria create in the body.
Coconut oil is good for weight loss. For most of us, this can only be good news for the heart. Again, it’s the medium-chain triglycerides that are responsible. Coconut oil is one of the best fats you can use for cooking because it is very stable.
Monounsaturated Fats: avocados, hazelnuts, macadamia nuts, Olive and olive oil. This type of fat increases your HDL cholesterol and has an overall positive impact on your cardiovascular system. This especially true when you eat the whole food. Whole foods contain all kinds of other benefits including the phytochemicals that repress disease and promote health.
This section can get pretty confusing because the names of the different fatty acids that either cause inflammation or stop inflammation are so very similar. Here are some definitions
Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) — an omega 3 fatty acid — anti-inflammatory
EPA –omega 3 found in animal/fish flesh — anti-inflammatory
DHA — omega 3 found in animal/fish flesh — anti-inflammatory
Linoleic acid (LA) — an omega 6 fatty acid — inflammatory
Arachidonic Acid (AA) — formed from LA — inflammatory
Polyunsaturated Fat/Omega 6. Vegetable oils, mayonnaise, sunflower seeds, and oils. Too much omega 6 is inflammatory. It contains linoleic acid. Much of the fat that we use daily is omega 6 — our mayonnaise, our cooking oils, margarine. Most of the oils in prepared foods are omega 6. We do need some of this is our diet — having inflammation is necessary for the immune response. But these days we just get way too much of it.
Polyunsaturated Fat/Omega 3s Walnuts, Chia seeds, flax seeds, fatty fish, fish oil, krill oil. If you can’t get enough of this from your food then it’s a good idea to take a supplement.
There is a difference between omega 3 from seeds and nuts and omega 3 from fish. In plants this omega 3 is called ALA in fish it is called EPA and DHA. ALA from plants can’t be used directly and needs to be converted by our body to EPA and DHA. This takes a lot of enzymatic work. You need plenty of Niacin, pyridoxine (B6), vitamin C, magnesium and zinc for your body to perform this enzymatic task.
There is another benefit to eating plant forms of omega 3. When you eat either Omega 3 from plants or omega 6 both are going to be converted by the body. But they need the same vitamins and minerals to get converted. If you are eating a lot of nuts and seeds, then the body will be using up all of those vitamins and minerals to convert them to EPA and DHA, leaving less available for the body to make the inflammatory arachidonic acid.
If your diet is deficient in these vitamins and minerals you will not reap the full benefit of plant sources of omega 3 and it is advisable to take a supplement. Krill oil is the best one to take because it doesn’t go rancid as easily as fish oil does and its 100% digestible whereas fish oil is not nearly as well absorbed.
Fats and cooking
For High heat cooking: Saturated fats are very stable: Ghee, Palm Oil, Coconut oil. Use these for sautéing and frying, although it’s not a good idea to eat too much-fried food. Most of us don’t need the calories.
For Light sautéing, simmering and stir-fry.
Olive oil, sesame oil, avocado oil, macadamia nut oil are best
Olive oil, hemp oil, pine nut oil, walnut oil, grape seed oil, flax oil,
How to make your fats work for you and not against you.
You get what you buy for — buy quality oils
Only cold-pressed, never expeller expressed
In dark or opaque bottles to limit exposure to the light
Use the right type of fat/oil for cooking
Eat less Omega 6 and more Omega 3
Eat less polyunsaturated and more monounsaturated
Eat moderate amounts of saturated, especially coconut milk
Store polyunsaturated oils in the refrigerator
Store all oils in a dark bottle or cupboard
Avoid cottonseed oil
It’s genetically modified and high in pesticides
Avoid Trans Fats that are ‘man-made’
Avoid Canola oil
Even though it is high in monounsaturated oil an omega 3, it is very highly processed and becomes rancid easily.
Avoid vegetable oil corn, peanut, safflower, soybean and sunflower oils
They are very high in linoleic acid which is a type of Omega 6. It contributes to inflammation.
Subclinical, chronic inflammation is the largest culprit in creating conditions for heart disease. It creates conditions where arteries get damaged. Damaged arteries need to be healed and this involves the creation of plaque. Plaque is a problem when it gets so thick it clogs pathways where blood needs to travel, or where it breaks off the cell wall, but it is a response to the body’s need to heal where the vascular system has been damaged. Preventing inflammation is an important part of preventing heart damage.
A lot of the foods we eat contribute to inflammation. Too much of the wrong kind of carb leads to obesity which has set up its problems for inflammation. Refined carb and simple carb increase triglycerides, cause high blood sugar and lays the foundation for heart disease through inflammation. Avoiding and reducing inflammation requires that we eat the right kind of fats, maintain healthy body weight and avoid spikes in blood sugar. Spikes in blood sugar can be avoided by limiting how much you eat of certain foods at a single time. The worst foods for spiking blood sugars are high glycemic foods. White potato, white rice, white pasta, corn, certain fruits and sugar in its many foods.
Today’s food is laden with sugars of different names. Anything that includes the word anything that ends in ‘ose’ — dextrose, sucrose, glucose, etc.; anything that ends in syrup- corn syrup, maple syrup, etc.; honey, sugar, fruit juice, cane juice sorghum, treacle, sweetener. Wheat especially refined wheat is very quickly turned to sugar in the blood — donuts, cakes, cookies; pastries are large contributors of fat (Trans fat) and refined carbohydrate. If you want to eat bread the denser the bread the longer it will take to turn to sugar in the blood. Look for bread with nuts and seeds. If you are a lover of bread, pasta, and rice, then it’s best to eat it in small portions to prevent such severe spikes in blood sugar, combining them with other protein foods. White bread, white rice, and white pasta have no place in our diets. They will do you more harm than good. Even whole-grain pasta, brown rice, and bread will increase blood sugar quite quickly if eaten in large portions.
Replace sugar with other natural options. If you are new to these then don’t expect them to taste like sugar because they aren’t, but your taste buds adjust after a few exposures. Stevia is a good choice. It’s calorie-free and doesn’t raise blood sugar. It tastes a lot like an artificial sweetener. To get used to it you can add a little bit of table sugar to the stevia and gradually cut it down. Stevia is about many times sweeter than sugar — if you use the liquid kind a few drops is plenty. There are a variety of different flavors including plain and the flavored type is very acceptable in foods. Other options you can try include Monk Fruit; also called Lo Han This is also no calorie. Other good options are coconut syrup, and coconut powder — these have calories but do contain valuable nutrients as well. I often blend the stevia and coconut powder or coconut syrup to get the sweetness that I want without an artificial flavor.