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 of 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 solid fats, which should be avoided. The healthy fatty acids found in vegetable oils are the longer the more in focus.
Combination is key
In order to maximise the benefits of vegetable oils in our bodies, they need to be produced in a gentle process and combined intelligently. Ensuring the right balance of different fats and oils in our diet contributes to avoid certain health risks such as heart disease and keeps us fit, slim and healthy. German, Austrian and Swiss nutrition associations all recommend that fats should account for a maximum of 30% of the daily calorie intake of adults: 10 per cent through saturated fats, 10 per cent through monounsaturated fats and 10 per cent through polyunsaturated fats. Similar reference values (1) apply in Great Britain, Scandinavia, France and the Netherlands.
Unsaturated, essential fatty acids are especially important for our health. They are classed as essential because our bodies cannot produce them independently. Unsaturated fatty acids are particularly healthy because they build further chemical compounds. They become saturated, for instance, binding free radicals and making them harmless for the body. The fatty acids that are essential for the human body include Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids in particular. 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.
Omega-3 fatty acids: healthy for heart and brain
Scientists have long been interested in the Omega-3 fatty acids DHA and EPA that are mainly found in fish. A recent study has shown that both fatty acids minimise the risk of cardiovascular disease and sudden cardiac arrest (2). The Omega-3 fatty acids also combat coronary artery diseases (3), reduce blood lipids, improve circulation and reduce blood clots (3). The focus on Omega-3 fatty acids has increased in the light of the positive effects they have shown on brain function, intellectual capacity and social behaviour. A pilot study in Singapore has indicated that Omega-3 fatty acids may improve the interaction of autistic children with the world around them (4).
Overfishing of the oceans has led to a change of approach and healthy vegetable oils are gaining in importance on account of their valuable Omega-3 ALA fatty acid content. Scientific studies showing the positive effects of vegetable Omega-3 fatty acid on coronary health (5, 6) are increasingly commonplace. An ALA-rich diet might reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease by as much as 10 per cent (7).
We now assume that the human organism converts up to 6 per cent of the amount of ALA consumed into EPA and 3.8 per cent into DHA (8). We can only benefit from these positive conversion values if we do not consume too many Omega-6 fatty acids at the same time. Although Omega-6 fatty acids have a positive influence on cholesterol levels, they still compete with the Omega-3 fatty acids and impede the synthesis of ALA to EPA and DHA. Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Canada and Australia (8, 9) therefore all recommend that the ratio of Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids should not exceed 5:1.
Healthy living with vegetable oils
A Mediterranean diet, rich in oleic acid and ALA, significantly reduces diseases of the coronary arteries. This was demonstrated by the findings of the Lyon study (10, 11) and the PERIMED study (12). 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 may prove 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 a high proportion of ALA. 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 (13). Virtually all vegetable oils have specific benefits if we use them correctly. Safflower 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.
100 g VIOGERM® wheat germ meets a large proportion of the daily requirement of folic acid and other vitamins and nutrients that are essential to life.
1) ESFA, Journal 2010: 8(3):1461
2) A Wagner et al: Omega-3 index levels and associated factors in a middle-aged French population: the MONA LISA-NUT Study. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition 69, 436-441 (April 2015) | doi:10.1038/ejcn.2014.219
3) Omega-3-Fettsäuren: Schutz vor Schlaganfall und Infarkt. Pharmazeutische Zeitung, Ausgabe 04/2004.
4) Y P Ooi et al: Omega-3 fatty acids in the management of autism spectrum disorders: findings from an open-label pilot study in Singapore.
5) Campos H et al: Alpha-linolenic acid and risk of nonfatal acute myocardial infarction. Circulation 2008; 118(4): 339-345.
6) Skeaff CM et al: Dietary fat and coronary heart disease: summary of evidence from prospective cohort and randomised controlled trials. Ann Nutr Metab 2009; 55(1-3): 173-201.
7) Geleijnse JM et al : Alpha-linolenic acid: is it essential to cardiovascular health? Curr Atheroscler Rep 2010;12:359–67.
9) Deutsche Gesellschaft für Ernährung; Schweizerisches Bundesamt für Lebensmittelsicherheit und Veterinärwesen BLV.
10) Lorgeril M et al. Mediterranean diet, traditional risk factors, and the rate of cardiovascular complications after myocardial infarction: final report of the Lyon Diet Heart Study. Circulation. 1999;99:779-785.
11) Kris-Etherton P et al. AHA Science Advisory: Lyon Diet Heart Study. Benefits of a Mediterranean style. National Cholesterol Education Program/American Heart Association Step I dietary pattern on cardiovascular disease. Circulation. 2001;103:1823-1825.
13) Giuseppe Grosso et al: Nut consumption on all-cause, cardiovascular, and cancer mortality risk: a systematic review and meta-analysis of epidemiologic studies. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, first published February 4, 2015, doi: 10.3945/ajcn.114.099515
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