Polyunsaturated Oils and Heart Disease Risk

Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States, and is therefore a major public health concern. Diet and other lifestyle choices, particularly the degree of physical activity that people undertake, greatly affects the risk of developing this condition. In the past, unhealthy fats, particularly saturated fats, were considered to be the major dietary concerns, however, polyunsaturated fats have emerged as a new type of fat.

Polyunsaturated fat is a natural fat substance that can be found in various oils when they are extracted from the meat and fat of cold water animals. The major oil producing countries are the United States, South America, and Russia. The United States ranks first in total terms of total oil production, and second overall in the world for oil consumption. South American countries are also major producers of oil and thus are also major exporters of this commodity.

Polyunsaturated fats are commonly categorized as unsaturated. The main classifications of polyunsaturated fats are those fats that remain liquid at room temperature, margarines, or oils having a mixture of saturated and unsaturated fats. It is worth noting that although a fat might be labeled as ‘unsaturated’, it may still be rich in saturated fat.

Polyunsaturated fats are thus classed as healthy fats, and are recommended by the American Heart Association as part of a heart healthy diet. It is not considered to be part of the essential fatty acids that are the better choice for heart healthy diets, and some research has even shown that this type of fat may be better for your general health than the essential fatty acids.

Polyunsaturated fats are not as absorbable as the essential fatty acids, but the necessary fatty acids can be made in your body from polyunsaturated fats. Also, polyunsaturated fats are partially hydrogenated, which means there is a greater amount of the naturally occurring Omega-3 fatty acids hydrogenated to provide the health benefits.

High levels of polyunsaturated fats can be found in cold water fish and fish oils, and the American Heart Association suggests that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) should require that these particular oils be listed on food labels.

Consumers have the option of soy and vegetable oils, and cold water fish, but these are not the only sources of the Omega-3 fatty acids. Salmon and other oily fish are also sources of the Omega-3 fatty acid. According to one study, 1 gram of fish-based oils provides the fatty acids EPA (Eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (Docosahexaenoic acid); a second study found that using fish oil supplements provided the best source of the Omega-3 fatty acid.

Soybean oil contains the greatest amounts of the Omega-3 fatty acid; several studies have been conducted on the effects of the Omega-3 fatty acid in soy products. Research done on the isolated isoflavones present in soy protein for instance, reveals that isoflavones from soy provide the best cardiovascular benefits.

Your options with soy are many, and while some are not beneficial to you health, others can actually be beneficial. Like other oils, soybean oil contains trans fatty acids, and trans fatty acids are bad for your heart. Trans fatty acids are believed to be the culprits in elevated “bad” cholesterol levels. By controlling the amount of trans fatty acids in your diet, you can reduce the risk for elevated levels. If you want to use soybean oil, is definitely the best option.

For vegetarians however, soy is the best option for you. All plant foods have some amount of Omega-3 fatty acid. Plants store this nutrient for the duration of the seed, so a diet rich in soy means more Omega-3 rich foods for you. Also, soybeans, though high in soluble fiber, also contain a lot of soluble fiber which deals with cholesterol and sugar in your body. This is great news for your cardiovascular health. It means soybeans can help reduce your levels of LDL “bad” cholesterol, and at the same time increase your levels of HDL “good” cholesterol.

Using soy regularly in your diet can help you reduce body mass index, control diabetes, and reduce the risk of cancer. All of these incredible benefits mean that soy is one of the best super foods that you can include in your diet. So, instead of eliminating foods with soy, why not add others to the list?