By now most of us have heard that healthy fats are important for our health, but we seem to get lost in the perception of what is healthy. We’re just emerging from a period of low-fat thinking that still makes it hard to decide what to eat.
For more than 60 years, Americans have been inundated with low-fat or poor-fat diet guidelines. During that time we have seen obesity rates skyrocket while degenerative diseases have become the norm. This approach was first promoted in the 1950s and was based on a flawed theory that saturated fat causes heart disease. Unfortunately, this is still a core belief among mainstream dieticians, clinical nutritionists, and doctors, but the tide is turning.
Since then many studies have debunked the low-fat diet paradigm and shown us how important fat is to our wellbeing. We also know that a low-fat diet has many health risks, including poor brain function, compromised heart health, hormone imbalances, depression, weight gain, and more.
Why do we need fat in the first place?
- Fats are critical for so many functions in our body. Here are just a few:
- Satisfy our appetite and help prevent us from overeating
- Act as a building block for every cell membrane in the body
- Keep our energy consistent and prevent blood sugar crashes
- Are necessary for healthy liver function and hormone production
- Are required for absorption of fat soluble vitamins (A, D, E, K) and minerals that help keep our bones strong and our arteries clear
- Regulate, metabolize and assimilate protein – that’s why they’re together in nature!
- Protect our organs and joints
- Manage inflammation
- Make food taste great!
Characteristics of fats
Fats are made of fatty acids that are classified as saturated, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated. All fats are a combination of all three fatty acids, but their classification is determined by the highest percentage of fatty acids. For example, chicken fat is classified as a monounsaturated fat because it is 31% saturated, 49% monounsaturated, and 20% polyunsaturated. The human body needs a balance of the various components of saturated and unsaturated fats to be healthy.
Saturated fats are highly stable in nature and do not turn rancid or become denatured easily – even at higher temperatures. Saturated fat molecules are straight and stack together tightly to form a solid or semi-solid fat at room temperature. These fats are great for cooking! Look for grass-fed or pastured animal fats like ghee, beef tallow, and suet, and tropical oils like coconut and palm oil.
Monounsaturated fats are somewhat stable and do not go rancid easily. They are liquid at a warm room temperature, but become solid if they’re refrigerated. They should only be used for very low-heat cooking. Buy cold-pressed olive oil and oils from almonds, pecans, cashews, and avocados. Also look for fat from pastured ducks, chickens and geese.
Polyunsaturated fats tend to become oxidized or rancid when subjected to heat, oxygen and moisture. Conventional vegetable oils are polyunsaturated, which is why they can’t withstand heat processing and should be avoided. These oils are in a liquid form and should never be used for cooking. But there are also healthy polyunsaturated fats that are found in nuts, seeds, and fish. These include omega-3 fatty acids, which are important for heart and brain health.
What types of fats should we avoid?
For those of us who did not join the low-fat diet craze, we may have been persuaded to eat vegetable oils as a “healthy” alternative to saturated fat. Despite what the name suggests, vegetable oils are not actually made from vegetables at all. They’re made from seeds that are heated at exceptionally high temperatures before they’re bleached and deodorized. This process forms carcinogens and other toxins that are quite harmful to human health. These oils are unrecognizable to the body and cause inflammation that is linked to many serious health conditions. So, dump these oils if they’re still lurking in your home:
- Canola oil
- Corn oil
- Cottonseed oil
- Grape seed oil
- Peanut oil
- Safflower oil
- Soybean oil
- Sunflower oil
Let’s embrace healthy fats and start feeling good!
Healthy fats are real foods not a lab project. They’re what our ancestors ate! These are the foods your body needs at a foundational level, which is why they help you look and feel wonderful. So, which fats are you going to eat? Try these*:
- Coconut oil
- Egg yolks
- Grass-fed beef
- Macadamia nut oil
- Olive oil
- Pastured poultry
- Palm oil
- Raw nuts and seeds
- Wild salmon or mackerel
*Look for organic and sustainably produced whenever possible.