Healthy fats are such an important part of your diet, and fats have long been demonized unfairly. You need fat for brain health, hormone health, joint health, satiety (read: it keeps you feeling full!), energy, and glowing skin. My guide to healthy fats will help you understand which fats to eat and which to ditch.
Remember the fat phobia craze in the 80s that spawned a litany of low fat and fat free snack foods high in sugar and other chemicals? People are understandably confused about “good” and “bad” fats. I frequently speak with clients who consider their diets to be healthy, but they consume refined products such as packaged and processed foods, sodas, fake butter spreads, and advertised low fat products. Many admit that they have cut foods that they love out of their diets, mainly meats, butter, and saturated fats, because of media info on fat’s role in disease.
The vegetable oil and food industries mounted an attack in 1988 on tropical oils, the main oils in food supply, eliminating coconut and palm oils from the market and wrongly pitting them as the bad guys. These oils contain saturated fats that were (wrongly) accused of causing cardiovascular disease. The tropical oils got a bad reputation for increasing cholesterol and heart disease. An unconfirmed rumor suggests that the soybean industry financed successful campaigns against tropical fats to kill imports and raise domestic soybean oil sales.
Researchers claim that the mega oil industry relied on flawed studies and kept info about health-destroying fats from public to continue profit from newer, less expensive and refined oils such as canola, cottonseed, and soybean. Low fat products blasted into the market with a food industry boom. Ad campaigns terrified everyone into buying low fat products, loaded with sugar and unhealthy fats to replace the saturated fat. Drug companies were making a fortune with cholesterol-lowering drugs.
Please understand: fat does not make you fat! The main culprit behind obesity and high cholesterol is too much SUGAR, soda, refined food, and man-made trans fats. Clearly, if fat was the culprit, we would all be thin and have low cholesterol thanks to the boon of fat free foods and warnings to avoid saturated fats. But we’ve never been fatter and more unhealthy as a nation.
Here is the important issue to note. You’ve heard of essential fatty acids like omega 3s and omega 6s. These are deemed essential because your body does not make them; you must get them via diet. And ideally we need an omega 6 to 3 fatty acid ratio of 2:1 in our diet for optimal health. The standard american diet is typically a ratio of 20:1, due to an increased rate of processed vegetable oils in refined foods.
Omega 6 fatty acids are high in vegetable oils and blends such as corn, peanut, safflower, grapeseed, soy, and cottonseed oils–you know, those plastic jugs of “vegetable oil” you see on grocery store shelves. Typically, these oils are processed at very high temperatures, which causes the oils to go rancid. Chemicals are used during the extraction process, and the resulting oil is then often deodorized. This makes for a highly processed and refined oil that is not health-promoting, and consuming rancid oils may actually contribute to arterial damage. Too much omega 6 in your diet can lead to diseases of inflammation such as high blood pressure and cholesterol, cardiovascular disease, and arthritis.
Omega 3s counter inflammation and have been praised for helping everything from mood swings to joint pain. Find it in flaxseed &hemp oils, cod liver oil, salmon, and walnuts. I often recommend fatty acid supplements, but you can add flaxseed oil to smoothies or take a fish oil supplement. When purchasing a supplement, remember that these oils are highly sensitive to damage from heat, light and oxygen. Choose a certified organic product that has been refrigerated and is packaged in a dark brown or green glass jar and be sure to store the product in your refrigerator or freezer.
A Guide to Healthy Fats
First off, purchase organic, hexane-free cold processed oils in glass bottles.
A healthy percentage of fat in your diet is about 30 percent of your total calories, depending on health and needs. Up to 70 percent has been shown to aid weight loss (oh, the irony). Special circumstances for eating more fat include blood sugar issues, infertility, epilepsy, candida, thyroiditis and auto-immune conditions. Therapeutic fats include fish oil, olive oil, butter, and coconut oil – these can help normalize blood pressure, increase metabolism, and treat eczema. Avoid vegetable oils due to their inflammatory effects.
Examples of great fats from whole foods include
- free range eggs
- grass fed beef (better omega 3 content, since grain fed is high in omega 6 fats)
- cold water fish, salmon, sardines
- walnuts, almonds
For stir-frying, you want to use stable oils that will not become rancid when heated. Saturated fats (tropical oils and butter or ghee) are the most stable, followed by monounsaturated (olive, sesame). Polyunsaturated (flax oil, hemp oil) should never be heated!
Oils for stir-frying:
BEST: stable saturated fats like butter, ghee, lard, tallow, duck fat, coconut oil, and tropical oils like palm.
OK: Olive oil is ok for low temp sauteeing, but best used at mid to lower temps and baking. Grapeseed oil contains omega 6 exclusively but does hold up well under high heat. I don’t recommend it due to the high processing during extraction, so use a saturated fat for baking/frying. Sesame oil is good as a salad oil occasionally, but also high in omega 6, so not good for exclusive use. I don’t use it for stir-frying, or regularly, for that matter. It is delicious though, yum.
- Use extra virgin olive oil, walnut oil, avocado oil for salads.
Avoid these oils at all cost
- Cottonseed, which is usually found in baked goods partially hydrogenated, contains toxic ingredients and pesticides and is unfit for human consumption.
- Soybean oil is mostly refined, often partially hydrogenated and usually genetically modified.
- Avoid vegetable oils and corn, canola, safflower, sunflower oil due to high omega 6 content.
- Avoid any hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oil!
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