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S5E33 Oils and Fats with industrial chemist Mike Newton

Listen to S5E33: Oils and Fats with industrial chemist Mike Newton


Welcome to Living Well with MS, where we are pleased to welcome Mike Newton as our guest! 

Mike is an industrial chemist and follows the Overcoming MS Program. He lives in Australia and has been following the recommendations of Dr Roy Swank and Professor George Jelinek for 25 years. He talks to Geoff about the difference between saturated and unsaturated fats, heating oils and his Overcoming MS journey.

Watch this episode on our YouTube here. Keep reading for the key episode takeaways.

Topics and Timestamps:

01:13 Defining oils, fats, triglycerides and lipids from a cooking and chemistry perspective.

07:35 Fats to avoid and include in your diet.

12:54 What’s the difference between plant, animal and fish triglycerides or fats?

16:44 Why do we want to increase our Omega-3s and decrease Omega-9s?

19:24 The difference between monoglycerides and diglycerides is in the melting point, lower melting points are better for brain health.

22:50 Overcoming MS and Dr Roy Swank

Selected Key Takeaways

Defining Oils and Fats

01:40 “Triglycerides are the encompassing description of all oils and fats, whether they are from plants or animals, and whether they are liquid or solid. The terms oil and fat are more for the layman and the cooking man. Oil is a liquid at room temperature, and fat is a solid at room temperature.”

Hydrogenated fat in commercially produced foods

16:09 “The reason that they use hydrogenated fats is to give the [food] structure so that they can make a pie that you can eat with ease without it all collapsing around you while you’re eating it. So, it’s purely done for your mouthfeel and structure, so you can eat it (more easily).”

Roy Swank’s theory on fat and MS

24:27 “Swank took the theory that the brain is made of a very high percentage of fat and cholesterol. If [your brain] is rock hard like this candle, then when it’s rattling around in your head, the lesions in your brain will be scraping against your skull or another very hard piece of brain, causing more symptoms than that you would get if your brain was fluid and malleable.”

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Read the episode transcript

Overcoming MS  0:01 

Welcome to Living Well with MS. This podcast comes to you from Overcoming MS, the world’s leading multiple sclerosis healthy lifestyle charity, which helps people live a full and healthy life through the Overcoming MS program. We interview a range of experts and people with multiple sclerosis. Please remember, all opinions expressed are their own. If you enjoy the show, please leave a review. These are quick to do and really help us. And now here’s your host, Geoff Allix.

Geoff Allix  0:34 

Welcome to the latest edition of the living well with MS podcast. Joining me on this edition is Mike Newton. Mike is an industrial chemist who worked for Unilever in natural oils and fats and their chemical derivatives. And we supply these into many industrial and food applications. So he is an expert in a field in the field of oils and fats. Mike is also someone with MS who follows the Overcoming MS protocol. So he has particular knowledge and interest in our diet and fats, and the fat part particularly about diet. So welcome, Mike.

Mike Newton  1:10 

Thanks, Geoff.

Geoff Allix  1:13 

Think we’re gonna we’re gonna jump straight into the technical side of this. So we talked about oils and fat. So I think we just use the terms, a lot of us don’t fully understand what the differences are. So just to get some some understanding what is the difference between oils and fats, but also more complex terms like triglycerides and lipids.

Mike Newton  1:40 

Okay. Well, triglycerides is really the encompassing description of all oils and fats, whether they be from plant animal, and whether they be liquid or solid. They’re all triglycerides, they all have the same chemical structure, and that’s the chemical name for them. The term oil and fat is more for the layman and the cooking man. And oil is a liquid at room temperature. And fat is a solid at room temperature. So I prefer to just refer to all of them as triglycerides, and explain the difference between the triglycerides and why their melting point, why they’re solid or why they’re liquid is virtually or totally up to the structure of the triglyceride. Sterols is another medical term, which is used for triglycerides, waxes, diglycerides, monoglycerides, and other products other things which do not dissolve in water, they hydrophobic and they don’t like water. And that’s called sterols. You might see that sometimes in your blood analysis or something. But I have no expertise in sterols, I only have the expertise in the triglycerides bit, which is the main part of sterols anyway. So the triglyceride is really the best way to describe it is a three legged stool. So at the top of the stool is a glycerol molecule. And then the three legs, long carbon chains. The only atoms or products that are in triglycerides, are carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen. And most of it is carbon and hydrogen. So they’re long legs. They’re all in even numbers, nature, animals, everybody makes triglyceride carbon chains, and only even numbers, and they start at 12 long, and go right through to 22 long. So and each each stoll, the length of the carbon chains, most of the time is a different length, they’re not all the same, sometimes two of them might be the same and one different. But most of the time, the three different types. So when they go into your body, in your gut, they will not pass through into your system without being broken down into fatty acids first. And so the enzymes in our gut, break the fat into fatty acids, which is the three legs of the stool and the glycerol seat if you like and you need water for that. And you also need an enzyme and there’s enzymes in your body that does that. This reaction is equilibrium. In other words, it can also reform the fat in some cases. So for the fat to pass through into your working system and make other chemicals in your system, it breaks down into a fatty acid. And then when it gets through your system, it may go back into fat or not. Now, there’s three types that we we talk about with fats. First of all, we’ve talked about the length. And second one is a saturated fat. And the saturated fat is where all of the carbons in the in the chain, whether it be 12, or 22, have no double bonds, and are saturated with hydrogen atoms. And I’ve made a moment a little model here, of the type of thing that are saturated fat looks like. Each carbon must have four bonds. So they have one join, what two joining one another carbons on each leg. And then the two red dots are the hydrogen atoms that are going and these are spinning around. They’re not stationary. And at the end, there’s three hydrogens because there’s no carbon at the end. Interestingly, the one at the end is where you start counting the length of the chain. And we’ll talk about that when we come to omega fatty acids. The next one is the SIS chain where there is a double bond. And you can see because there’s a double bond, there are two hydrogens missing. And you can see that the two hydrogens that are there on the double bond are on the same side. And cys- is a Latin prefix for being on the same side. And these typically have a low melting point, then the next model I’m going to show you, which is the trans, the trans might have the same number of carbons in the same double bonds in the same spots. But the hydrogens are on the other side. That’s the Latin prefix for trans for one, one down and one up. Now these have a very high melting point. And that’s why when we talk about don’t eat foods with trans fatty acids in, it’s because they have a very high melting point, regardless of the length of the carbon chain, or how many double bonds are in the carbon chain. We’ll talk about that in a minute as well. So that’s that’s sort of covered that the basic chemistry of triglycerides. And we’ll move on to the next question.

Geoff Allix  7:35 

So just just to clarify a little bit that so I was just assumed that I trans fatty acid, I thought the trans Was it something that humans have done to it? But is that a natural? So you get these trans fatty acids, that’s, that doesn’t necessarily mean that they’ve been anything has been done to them.

Mike Newton  7:58 

No, it’s particular plants or animals, and that is purely by chance that they are on opposite sides or on the same side.

Geoff Allix  8:08 

Okay, so you’ve mentioned saturated triglycerides. So what’s an unsaturated triglyceride oil.

Mike Newton  8:15 

An unsaturated triglyceride is exactly was as I showed you, where there’s a double bond. And because there’s a double bond, those two carbons can only have four bonds. So they only have one hydrogen each. So they are not saturated with hydrogen. When they’re saturated with hydrogen, they have no double bonds, and they each have two hydrogens coming off that one going to the another carbon and one to the other carbon. fully saturated drying chain of red dots and no double bonds.

Geoff Allix  8:54 

Okay, and then the other thing that was certainly when I was growing up was a big thing. They were talking about polyunsaturated fats. And that being a good thing, which I don’t know what that is now, but it was always your your, your spread was always polyunsaturated. So what does what’s polyunsaturated?

Mike Newton  9:12 

Okay, well, with a carbon chain, as I said, going from 12 to 22, the first length of the carbon chain that can have a double bond, and be unsaturated is a 16. So 12 and 14 don’t have double bonds, but 16 do and they have, they can have one double bond, and that’s unsaturated. And because it’s only one double bond, it’s called mono unsaturated, meaning one. When you get to 18 carbons long, you can have actually three double bonds. You’re gonna have one, as I said, the carbon chain or the foot that the length of this stoll leg At the bottom of the leg is your last carbon, that’s when you start counting. And you count up from the bottom carbon, and you go 1, 2, 3. In between three and four, that can be a double bond. And between six and seven, there can be a double bond andn between nine and 10. There can be a double bond. Don’t ask me why. But that’s the only places where nature allows them to fall between the three, six and nine carbon going up the chain. And when you’ve got two double bonds, or three double bonds, that’s meaning that’s poly unsaturated, because that means many unsaturation.

Geoff Allix  10:46 

Okay, and I think we’ll probably get on to the technical health side of it. But is there was an implication that polyunsaturated was better. So is that many double bonds it would it be better for your health to be polyunsaturated,

Mike Newton  11:04 

Mono, double, or triple bonded chains have a much much lower melting point than saturated chains. So that’s why it’s better for your health. It is a lower melting point.

Geoff Allix  11:24 

And then the final one I want to ask you about is one we hear a lot about now is hydrogenated fats or hydrogenated triglycerides.

Mike Newton  11:32 

Right, so those double bonds that I showed you in the chain, we can’t make those, we don’t know how to do that commercially, that’s nature makes those double bonds. But what we can do is we can destroy them, and add hydrogens across those. So it becomes a fully saturated chain again. And we do that by bombarding the triglyceride, with hydrogen at very high temperatures with a catalyst involved. And that makes all of the fats and oils or the triglycerides that are in the tank, fully saturated, and you end up with something like this. And that’s a candle. And that is 55% C 16, fully saturated, and 45% C 18, fully saturated, and it’s as hard as a rock. And that’s what you can get when you eat saturated fats. Because that’s fully saturated 100%.

Geoff Allix  12:43 

So that’s and that’s done in light industrial chemically. By blasting with hydrogen.

Mike Newton  12:50 

Yes, it is.

Geoff Allix  12:54 

So to get on to the more sort of natural side of things, what’s the difference between a a plant or an animal or a fish triglyceride or fat?

Mike Newton  13:08 

Okay, well, they’re all completely different. Every every animal is a different, different composition of triglycerides. Every plant is a different composition. Every peanut or ground nut is a different composition, as is every seed that’s grown. So for example, sunflower, safflower, canola. They’re all slightly different, but they’re all different. And then you go right down to the bottom end coconut oil completely different. And then beef, beef tallow or beef triglyceride is different from lamb triglyceride is different from pig triglyceride, so they’re all completely different. And it would take me hours to explain the differences. But the ones from animals, and coconut are mainly saturated. That’s why in OMS, we don’t go near coconut oil, or animal fats at all. And then interestingly enough, there’s some in the plant area, which we should avoid as well. And the one that, you know, you need to look them up and see how much of their, what percentage of them is, is saturated. And but, you know, this, there’s some nuts that as that got too much saturation, and you wouldn’t go near them. And there’s other nuts that have got some interesting, unsaturated fats, which would have a low melting point. So you need to examine them and see, but typically what Overcoming MS says says, don’t eat foods which have more than 2% saturated fats, that’s so look on the pack. It’s got more than 2% avoid it.

Overcoming MS  15:06 

Have you signed up to the new Overcoming MS app? If not, download the Live Well Hub in your app store and join the Overcoming MS community, get support, find connections and feel motivated to live well with MS. Download the Live Well Hub today.

Geoff Allix  15:24 

I mean, that is and that’s like, chemically, that’s absolutely fine. So I mean, that’s what I do I look, the great thing now is pretty much everywhere. And actually, it works in any language as well, because they tend to always be fat followed by saturated fat. So even in like German or French something, I can still work out what it is. And it almost always has per 100 grams. How much have you got an either? Okay, if it’s 1.3? Well, that’s okay. But yeah, you’re right, something, some things are marketed as vegan and healthy food, but they have crazy high numbers. And yeah, if you look at coconut, it’s, that’s very high.

Mike Newton  16:09 

Yes, well, the reason that they they hydrogenated fats is to give them structure, so that they can make a pie that you can eat with ease without it all collapsing around you while you’re eating it. So it’s purely done for your mouthfeel and structure, so you can eat it. It’s not done in a mischievious way. It’s more done for a practical way of allowing you to have a nice meat pie or something like that, without having to use a knife and fork.

Geoff Allix  16:44 

And as an Australian, you obviously meat pies are important part of your culture. Australia. We have the same thing where I live with with pasties, Cornish pasties. So yeah, that’s one thing. I had to adapt my own version, then you never can. But you’re right. You don’t get the structural side of it. So flaky. So the other thing we hear about is omega three, six, and nine. So we’re always we’re looking to actually increase things like flaxseed oil. So that’s another number that is in there as well. I mean, I’m just guessing here that the three legs whether that’s connected to the three, six or nine, but so what’s the difference between omega three, six and nine triglyceride?

Mike Newton  17:34 

Well, that’s a good question. So if you take one of the legs, omega means 18. So it’s 18 carbons long, right. And if you start from the bottom of the leg, and you go 1, 2, 3, and then there’s a double bond between number three carbon and number four carbon, that’s omega three fatty acid, or part of the fat, but it’s one leg we’re talking about. If you go for omega six, that means that there’s a double bond between carbon number six, and carbon number seven. And omega nine means 18 carbons long again, nine and 10. Now they’re called essential fats. And the reason they’re called essential is because in our body, we don’t make them. So the only way we can get them into our body is to ingest them. So that’s why people say you should have omega fats. And fish oil is a good example. Linseed or flaxseed oil is another good example where there’s a high proportion of omega fats.

Geoff Allix  18:50 

And does it matter which Omega fats we have, or it’s just the fact that we require them for a healthy living, so we need to have the correct amount.

Mike Newton  18:59 

That’s beyond my expertise, which ones we should have.

Geoff Allix  19:02 

We can’t produce them.

Mike Newton  19:07 

We can only get them in oily fish, fish oil, and flaxseed oil. Predominantly, they are in everything, but in miniscule amounts. Those are the ones which have the most amount.

Geoff Allix 19:24 

And so you’ve mentioned mono glycerides and diglycerides. So, what’s the difference between those?

Mike Newton 19:40 

That’s a good question. And it’s a it’s a bit sneaky on the packaging, to look at those because they, they can have a very high melting point. As you know, our brain temperature is 37 degrees centigrade, or 98 degrees Fahrenheit. So the fat in our brain, or the triglycerides or diglycerides, or monoglycerides. In our brain, we’d prefer their melting point to be lower than the 37 or 98 degrees Fahrenheit, and diglycerides, basically two legged stools, meaning di-. Triglycerides is three and mono is one. So if that leg of the stool is saturated, you will have a very high melting point. If it’s unsaturated, or polyunsaturated, you will have a low melting point. And they don’t tell you which one they are, they just say they’re diglycerides, or monoglycerides. And the reason they put them in, is because they’re fantastic at emulsifying things. So you can whip up a lot of air in them, and you can whip up a lot of water in them. Your classic example is when you buy mayonnaise, or ice cream, ice cream as a lot of diglycerides or Monique was right, specifically put in them to allow to get as much air and water in it when you buy it.

Geoff Allix  21:22 

Just to clarify emulsifying, that’s when you can mix water and oil without them separating. Yeah.

Mike Newton  21:30 

But this actually helps you in the emulsifying process. And allows them to get even more water and more air in it. So that the cost of what they’re selling you is lower. They’re not mentioned as saturated fats, or unsaturated fats on the packaging, they will be I think the number that they use universally is 417. So if you look at the ingredients, and you see 417 in it, that’s diglycerides or monoglyceride, emulsifying agents.

Geoff Allix  22:13 

So it’s more complicated than just looking at the saturated fat percentage.

Mike Newton  22:19 

There will be a very low percentage of emulsifying agents because they’re quite the main in reverse. So you turn your fat or your triglyceride into fatty acids. And then you react them again with glyserine to make a one legged stool or a two legged stool in industry, they can do that. And therefore you get a specific emulsifying agent. And it’s only in very small percentages in both products.

Geoff Allix  22:50 

Well, that’s the thing is, I think, from what you’re saying they’re trying to sell you air a lot of the time there. So that yeah, they’re actually trying to sell you stuff that’s almost free. Yes, there we go. So if we stick with a whole, a whole food diet, then we don’t have that sort of issue with those. So to go back then in the Overcoming MS. side. So prior to Overcoming MS. There was Professor Roy Swank, who, whose work really inspired George Jelinek that there was this link, particularly between fats and health for people with MS. So how did Professor Roy swank discover a link between MS and hard fats or saturated fats?

Mike Newton  23:42 

Before I came across the OMS i in the early ’90s, when I was diagnosed, I read most of thevSwank information. And particularly his eulogy is very if you read his eulogy, you see that he was studying in Germany, and he noticed that a lot of people that had MS in Germany, were also overweight. And he put the theory that overweight people got MS. Then he went back to Canada, and he refined the theory to people that eat saturated or hard fats seem to have MS more than people that don’t. And he took the theory that the brain is a very high percentage of fat and cholesterol. And that if that’s rock hard like this candle, then when it’s rattling around in your head, the lesions in your brain will be scraping against your skull or scraping against a very hard another piece of brain and causing more symptoms, then that you would get if your brain was fluid and malleable and so on. So he studied 300 people on this particular diet. And most of the people that had relapsing remitting MS, which I don’t have. They went for many years without any sort of relapse, because their brain stayed malleable. That was his theory, whether it’s true or whether it works or not. The evidence is there. But you can’t really prove that that’s why that’s happening.

Geoff Allix  25:42 

No, I mean, I guess Yeah, it’s studying people’s brains while they’re alive is a bit of a tricky isn’t it? But I mean, that but there is huge. I mean, the numbers now and it’s with George Jelinek’s work as well, it’s the numbers are massive, that have lower saturated fat diets. And they do so when you look around the world for other areas where naturally, people’s diet is lower saturated fat to tend to have lower,  instances of MS. So yes, there is a huge moment there, isn’t it? I think that that has been fascinating, because I mean, I’ve gone with the follow Overcoming MS. So I have a low saturated fat diet. And I have fish oil, but I haven’t really understood at all why these things are what they are. So that’s absolutely fascinating. And I think and to have someone who actually understands the chemistry of it, and has MS and is backing those theories up there is some science behind it. So with that, I’d like to thank you very much for joining us, Mike Newton.

Overcoming MS  26:54 

Thank you for listening to this episode of living well with MS. Please check out this episode’s show notes at you’ll find useful links and bonus information there. Have questions or ideas to share. Email us at [email protected] We’d love to hear from you.

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Mike’s Bio:

Mike is 69 years old and happily married to his very supportive wife Fiona. They have two daughters and two grandchildren. He also has a very supportive identical twin brother and younger sister. Mike has spent most of his life in Melbourne apart from three long expatriations to Asia, Europe and the USA.

Mike graduated as an Industrial Chemist and spent the next 30 years in the chemical processing of animal fats and vegetable oils into fatty acids, glycerol and their chemical derivatives with the same multinational company under three separate ownerships, advancing his way to Director level.

Mike’s MS Diagnosis

Mike first developed pins and needles in his arms and legs in 1990 and was diagnosed with MS in 1991. His first five years consisted of no treatment. The first medication regime was in 1997 of weekly intramuscular injections of Interferon B for 15 years, followed by infusions of Ocrevus every six months with a two-year break during the Covid pandemic in Melbourne. The past 32 years have resulted in a very, very slow paralysis of his right leg and foot drop. Other symptoms such as poor balance, pins and needles in his arms and legs have been consistent all the time.

Lifestyle and adopting the Overcoming MS Program

In the mid-1990s, Mike studied Dr Rory Swank’s experiments and together with his chemical knowledge of natural fats and oils he immediately started following Swank’s recommended diet. Shortly after Mike attended a compelling presentation in Melbourne by Professor George Jelinek about the Overcoming MS recommendations and added exercise and vitamin D3 to his lifestyle habits. Mike has strictly followed the Overcoming MS Diet for approximately 25 years and plans to stay with it.