I have great news: fat does not equal unhealthy! Infact, all natural foods contain some fat that our body needs in order to remain healthy. Fat is also the preferred energy source to fuel the body. The skin, eyes, and brain in particular need healthy fat in order to properly function. Below I share examples of what makes a fat healthy and how to incorporate a variety of them into your meal planning and preparation.
In the 1990s, the misinformed idea that eating fat = being fat and at risk for heart disease had people storming the aisles of their local supermarket for anything labeled “low fat” or “fat free.” Fat-free ice cream, butter-substitutes, cereal…anything that seemed to somehow limit its fat content became a favorite for weight-conscious women and men across the country. The problem is, not only are these highly-processed foods stripped of the positive qualities fat carries, they are pumped full of sugar and flavor substitutes loaded with high-fructose corn syrup…all in an effort to make them palatable, not healthy. These are the substances that do significantly contribute to weight gain and modern-day health conditions.
It turns out, your grandmother was right! She wasn’t sending her loved ones to an early grave by feeding them foods cooked in butter or lard. If you have previously written off foods like these, now is the time to give them another chance.
And remember, practicing moderation is always recommended because any extra dietary fat is converted to body fat and stored in fat cells.
Not all fats are created equal
- Monounsaturated fats found in foods like olives, nuts, seeds and avocado are among the healthiest, due to their anti-inflammatory, heart-healthy and nutrient-dense properties. Use the oils that are made from these healthy plants (see below).
- Omega-3 fatty acids are vital components of good health. These are found in cold-water fish, such as salmon, mackerel, herring and halibut.
- It’s hard not to sing ALL the praises of coconut oil, which is rich in medium chain fatty acids (MCFAs), which stimulate your body’s metabolism and help you trim off excess body fat. It has scientifically demonstrated health benefits, including healthy support for your heart and brain, skin, immune system and thyroid; and it has antiviral, antibacterial and antiprotozoal properties.
- Animals raised on pastures (think grass-fed, grazing in the sunshine, and being part of nature) contain saturated fats that are rich in vitamins A, D and K2.
The bad and the ugly
The real culprits in the fat = bad discourse are those that are manufactured or unstable, and therefore do harm to our bodies.
- Trans fats (printed on food labels as “partially hydrogenated oils”) are industrially-modified substances, designed to enrich the flavor and consistency of various processed foods or act as substitutes for natural fat-sources like butter. They raise cholesterol, clog arteries, increase the risk of developing type 2 diabetes and are even linked to low birth weight for babies. Trans fats deserve the bad press they get!
- Oils like canola, corn, soybean, sunflower and butter-substitutes are so unstable they can be highly inflammatory in our bodies and can lead to weight gain. Also, most of these are made from genetically modified (GMO) plants.
These are the oils to kick out of your pantry once and for all.
Cooking with fat (your best oil options)
A common source of healthy fat for many of us is the oil we cook and bake with. But, just like with all fats, not all oils are created equal.
Here are some general guidelines for which oil to use depending on the purpose and cooking or baking method:
Very high heat (400 degrees and higher):
Avocado, coconut (refined does not have a taste), grapeseed and sesame oils can each be used for frying in high heat or in marinades when grilling.
Medium heat (350 – 400 degrees):
Almond oil, organic pasture-raised butter or ghee, extra virgin olive oil and naturally refined walnut oil are great options for a quick pan-fry.
Raw (salad dressings or to drizzle on vegetables):
Hemp oil, flaxseed oil, extra virgin olive oil, sesame oil and any nut oil are your best choices.
Coconut oil, butter and grapeseed oils all lend a unique flavor to recipes.
It is important to pay attention to the degree of heat a particular oil can withstand. Heating an oil too high can turn it rancid and cause free radical damage. Also, with any fats, avoid chemically extracted, a process that introduces toxic solvents. Mechanically pressed is a preferable method for extraction.
Be a discerning consumer
This article gave you some do’s and don’ts for fats. Read labels when shopping so you can be confident you’re avoiding the unhealthy fats and also getting a good dose of the healthy ones. Look for the harvest or press date of oils and then consume them within one year of this date. Cooking at home gives YOU the control over what is in your food!
I’d love to chat about how you can incorporate more healthy fat and proper nutrients into your diet. Contact me to schedule a free consultation.