The Ultimate Guide to Healthy Fats
DISCLAIMER: I'm not a doctor, nor do I pretend to be one on the internet. This post, and anything else you find here is intended for informational purposes only and is not intended to treat or diagnose any condition. If you'd like to view my full disclosure & disclaimer, you can click here.
I have been thinking about writing this post since my practice began and I believe it is well overdue. I want to talk about FAT today, because I think there are a lot of misconceptions around it - How to safely use and store it, and the best and worst types of fat for cooking or consuming raw. So I’d love to share a few of my own personal thoughts on the subject.
Are you ready? Let’s do it!
Yeah but… Isn’t fat bad for me?
I think it best we begin this post by busting a few myths first and foremost, because our perception of what fat is and what it does is grossly skewed. Fat is probably the most demonized macronutrient of the last 30 years (although “carbs” are definitely starting to gain their fair share of media these days too), and the truth is, there are so many fats that actually provide a wide array of health benefits. The fact remains, however, that not all fats are created equal.
So first of all, why consume fat? Well, fat is a nutrient that can help us to absorb vitamins and minerals from the food we eat (ever heard of “fat-soluble” vitamins?"), which means a sweet potato with a little grass-fed ghee on top can be superior to a plain sweet potato without any fat.
Fat also helps us to feel fuller longer, and it provides a more long-term and usable form of energy for the body than carbohydrates. Certain types of fat can help lubricate our brain, reducing the chance of developing dementia, and it can provide more fluidity in the joints of the body, reducing pain from things like arthritis. Fat is even required in maintaining the structure of every single cell and hormone in our body. No big D, right?
Now without getting too sciency on you guys today, I want to share a few of my favourite types of fats that I use in my diet and how I use them.
My top picks
1. The Essential Fatty Acids
You may have heard of Omega 3 and Omega 6 before, and we call them essential because the body can’t produce them itself and must obtain them from food. So let’s start by talking about Omega-6. This type of fat is commonly found in corn and other grain products as well as any grain-fed livestock. As I’m sure you can imagine, this means we typically get PLENTY of omega 6 in our diet. While omega-6 does play a crucial role in our health, it’s also important to understand that it is a highly inflammatory type of fat.
So what keeps these inflammatory fats in check if we consume them so often? The other half of the puzzle which is Omega-3! The omega-3’s are an anti-inflammatory fat found in things like nuts (especially walnuts), fish, flax, pumpkin seeds and certain types of algae, and they’re important for supporting healthy circulation, brain function, and digestive function. They can even ease symptoms of depression, anxiety and ADHD because our brain’s solid mass is around 60% fat. The best material to build a healthy brain? Omega-3 fats, baby.
So how does do these two fats work together in the body? Well, omega-6 is inflammatory, and omega-3 is anti-inflammatory, and it is recommended that we get a ratio of about 1:1 of omega 3 to omega 6 fats in our diet. Any guesses what the average person currently gets?
Well, since omega-6 is found in pretty much everything (anything with grains in it, our meats and eggs if they’re grain fed which they usually are, etc), the ratio of the average person looks to be more like 1:26.
In other words, we as a society are chock full of the one thing that many people believe is the root cause of every single condition out there. Inflammation.
So my biggest tip for you here: Ensure you’re consuming omega-3 fats, and if inflammation is a very real issue in your life, you may even benefit from reducing your consumption of grains. Choose grass-fed if it’s at all possible when purchasing meats, and try things like hemp hearts, chia seeds, walnuts, sardines and wild salmon. And when all else fails, you can always consider adding an omega-3 fish oil to your daily supplement routine. When searching for the best fish oil supplement, I typically recommend looking for one that comes from smaller fish like sardines and mackerel because they tend to have a shorter lifespan and thus less of an opportunity to hold toxicity. (I prefer my healthy fats without the added dose of mercury, thank-you-very-much!)
2. Avocado and avocado oil
I love to slice avocado fresh and put them in salads, mash them up with some lime juice for a quick guacamole to dip my veggies in, or I even blend it into smoothies to make them extra creamy! And avocado oil is usually my #1 pick for cooking with because it handles high heat very well and it is heart healthy - BUT beware of the avocado oil mimickers out there! There are oils and margarines out there that contain mostly canola oil with only a small splash of avocado oil and they market themselves as “health foods.” I assure you - They are not. (I’m lookin at you, Becel!)
3. Coconut oil and other coconut products
Coconut oil is a great anti-fungal and it also handles high heat well meaning it can be a good choice for cooking with. I also love using whole coconut, coconut flakes, and coconut butter in all kinds of recipes. Coconut contains saturated fat which has been completely demonized by the food industry. There was recently a campaign released by the American Heart Association about how coconut oil was dangerous to our health...Guess who funded the study that came to that conclusion? MAZOLA - A company who sells canola oil, which is one of the most dangerous, highly GMO and chemically laden brands of fats on the market. (Oh HEY politics, how YOU doin’?)
The truth is, saturated fat is a highly stable type of fat, meaning it doesn’t have the same tendency to go rancid as the fats from plants such as peanut oil, soybean oil and yes, even mazola! They even tend to stay stable when heated.
Saturated fats also serve critical roles in the human body. They make up ½ of the membrane structure of our cells, they enhance calcium absorption and immune function, and remember those essential fatty acids we were just talking about? Well saturated fat actually aid’s in the body’s ability to utilize them properly!
And last but not least, they provide (dun dun dun) cholesterol. Speaking of words that have a dark, ominous tone, cholesterol too has been highly demonized in the food industry, hasn’t it? Has anyone ever told you you shouldn’t eat more than 2 eggs a week because they’re high in cholesterol? Well here’s a little fact: Your liver produces FAR MORE cholesterol than you could ever get from a couple of eggs a week! So eating cholesterol usually doesn’t equate to the body HAVING high cholesterol. If anything, I think when it comes to having high cholesterol we need to be pointing our fingers to the high amount of inflammatory omega-6 fats combined with sugar from things like baked goods, store-bought cookies, crackers, breads, and even all of the crazy chemical additives that can be found in our food supply today. BUT I DIGRESS. Just don’t believe everything the media tells you, k?
4. Grass-fed ghee or clarified butter
Ghee is butter that has been cooked in a pot until all of the actual milk solids (or dairy) floats to the top and is skimmed away, leaving a beautiful, golden yellow fat. Ghee is also great for cooking at high heat, it tends to be tolerable by those with lactose intolerance (because again - the actual dairy part has been removed), it’s rich in Vitamin A and E, it provides an easy energy source to the body, it promotes a healthy immune system, it’s anti-inflammatory, and it even contains butyrate which can be beneficial for anyone with any sort of digestive condition because often their ability to produce it is impaired. Oh - And did I mention that it’s delicious?
Butyrate is important for supporting the actual walls and lining of the intestine, which is why it can be worth incorporating into your diet if your digestive system is giving you trouble.
And why grass-fed if at all possible? Well, grass is the preferred diet for cows, and the resulting ghee that comes from grass-fed cows has more vitamins, minerals, omega-3 and conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) which has been shown to have powerful effects on health and is even sold as a weight loss supplement thanks to its ability to support a reduction in brown fat - The type of fat that tends to accumulate near the midsection and internal organs. Grain-fed cattle have a completely different physical makeup and so the resulting dairy is also completely different.
To better explain this, have a peek at the image below. The butter on the left is grass-fed, and contains roughly 10-13 times more vitamin A (great for the immune system and gut health). It’e beautiful, bright orange colour truly speaks for itself!
5. Olives and olive oil
I love adding black olives to all sorts of recipes, but here’s my disclaimer: Check the ingredients to be sure you know what they’re packed in! Oftentimes they are packed in canola oil - which is probably the least healthy fat on the market, thus rendering the olives themselves not so great. Canola products are in just about EVERYTHING these days, which is why it’s so important to read the ingredients lists as often as we can. Ah, but true, real olives packed in olive oil or water - Now THAT’s the good stuff!
As for olive oil, this one can be tricky! Much like the honey industry, the olive oil industry has it’s flaws. From my understanding, olive oil is expensive to produce and ship, and so it is often cut with less expensive oils such as canola and palm oil. To ensure you’ve got the real deal, look to a reputable company or oil and vinegar bar if you are lucky to have one nearby! An easy indicator as to whether your product is legit is to simply look at it and smell it. If it’s bright yellow, it’s likely cut with canola. If it doesn’t have that distinct, rich smell, it may also be cut with other oils.
With all of that being said, I do love using real olive oil! It’s such a delicious, heart healthy oil that works beautifully in salad dressings or sauces. I tend to only use my olive oil raw or if I am lightly sautéing things because it has a lower smoke point. In other words, it tends to go rancid when exposed to high heat. And those oxidized fats have no business making a home in your body!
6. Nuts and seeds
Consuming a bit of nuts and seeds each day (with peanuts being an exception) will not only provide a great quick source of energy and flavour, but they’re also loaded with minerals and those anti-inflammatory omega-3s we were chatting about. One trick through: Try to consume your nuts and seeds raw if you can, and be sure to store them in the refrigerator. Unlike the fats that I mentioned earlier which handle high heat very well, nuts and seeds do not. What does this mean? It means that the fats within them oxidize fairly quickly and easily, so they become rancid and we are unable to taste it. When consumed, these oxidized fats can promote inflammation, cause damage to brain cells, and even increase our risk for diabetes and cardiovascular disease! So when it comes to consuming these more delicate forms of fat, keep them raw and keep them cool! And of course, check the ingredient labels for added oils like soybean oil, excess MSG and other chemical additives.
So now that we’ve talked about my favourite types of fat and what I use them for, let’s get down to brass tax and talk about the not-so-good guys.
Fats I avoid
1. Trans fats
These can be found in margarine, peanut butter, anything that has been deep fried, baked goods like cookies and crackers and even things like chocolate chips and non-dairy coffee creamers. Look for the words “hydrogenated” or “partially hydrogenated” on your ingredients list and you’ve probably got yourself something containing trans fats.
When I met my husband, he was all about the margarine. I mean, it does taste good and it spreads much easier than butter, doesn’t it? So when I was completing my studies in Holistic Nutrition, I started researching to find out just how much trans fat was considered safe for consumption.
The answer? ZERO. Not even one bite.
So what makes it so toxic? Trans fats or hydrogenated fats are combined with chemicals which help to modify them in a way that makes them more spreadable and shelf stable. In other words, a tub of margarine will pretty much last on a shelf forever, HOWEVER it will also wreak havoc in the bodies of those who ingest it.
You see, our bodies don’t recognize this new chemically altered fat, and so it has a hard time eliminating it. The trans fats are then absorbed through cell membranes where they initiate a disorder in the cell’s ability to metabolize. In other words, they get inside of our cells, and impact their very livelihood! They have also been associated with inflammation, hardening of the arteries, diabetes, obesity and immune system dysfunction among other things.
There is also evidence that trans fats can cause our abdominal fat tissues to redistribute themselves, even if we aren’t eating more calories. What this means is that the fat we currently hold in our body can potentially distribute itself around the internal organs. An increased amount of abdominal fat has been associated with a higher risk of heart disease.
And have you ever bought something that proudly stated, “Trans fat free!” on the front of the label in the big letters? Well here’s a fun fact: The food industry can still claim that their food is trans fat free as long as there is no more than ½ a gram of trans fat per serving in the product. So YES, there still may very well be trans fat in what you’re eating. Be sure to always check your food labels for the words “trans fat, hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated.”
2. Canola Oil
Canola oil is one of those ingredients that seems to make its way into just about every single food imaginable! It’s in our olive oil, it’s in crackers and cookies and bread and desserts. So what makes it so special that the food industry uses the heck out of it? Well for one, it’s cheap to produce because it is highly GMO. This not only contributes to the environmental issues of monocropping (which I feel is detrimental to the health of our soil, and thus, the health of the planet). To produce the oil, it goes through a significant amount of chemical processing, rendering it, in my humble opinion, TERRIBLE for health. My best advice? Read your ingredients lists and avoid, avoid, avoid!
Bringing it all together
Here is a little infographic for you with the basics of everything outlined in this blog post. Feel free to save it to your desktop or hover over it to pin it to your favourite Pinterest board!
Thanks for reading! I’m curious about your thoughts on this. What is your take on the topic of fats, and which ones do you prefer to use/avoid? Let me know in the comments!
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