Contrary to old-school popular belief that ‘fat makes you fat,’ eating healthy fats actually does the opposite. Certain fats help you boost your metabolism and lose fat along with many other amazing benefits.
It can sometimes be challenging to understand why are fats all of a sudden called ‘healthy’ now, after having been told that they are ‘bad’ for years, you are not alone. ‘Fat is bad’ has been the mantra for over 40 years. To add to the conundrum if ‘healthy fat is considered a food to include in your diet, what exactly constitutes a ‘healthy fat’ anyway?
WHY FAT IS GOOD FOR YOU
Fat is one of the top four macro-nutrients essential for human energy, vitality and life (the others include protein, carbohydrates, and the often forgotten, water).
Fats are divided into one of three types (similar to how proteins are divided into “complete proteins”—like meat and eggs and incomplete proteins—like beans and nuts, or carbohydrates may include “starchy tubers,” “grains,” “fruits and vegetables”). It should be noted that all fats contain each type but a fat is classified by what constitutes the majority.
The 3 Types of Fats:
Saturated Fatty Acids (SFA’s) – Highly stable in nature; do not turn rancid (spoil) easily, even at higher temperatures. Help support immunity and hormone health. Saturated fats include butter, egg yolks, ghee, coconut, fatty meat, full-fat dairy.
Monounsaturated Fatty Acids (MUFA’s) – Relatively stable; do not turn rancid easily. Liquid at room temperature, but semi-solid upon refrigeration. Monounsaturated fat molecules are often referred to as the “healthy” fats (although saturated fats are actually good for you too). Monounsaturated fats include avocados, olives, extra virgin olive oil.
Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids (PUFA’s) – Unstable at even room temperature; easily damaged by heat, light, moisture and oxygen exposure; refrigeration required; turn rancid quickly and easily. Polyunsaturated fat molecules have two bends, which will not allow them to stack together well at all. Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids fall in this category. Polyunsaturated fats are found predominantly in foods such as wild-caught fatty fish, nuts and seeds, hydrogenated (vegetable) oils, nut oils.
For optimal health, you need all three types of fats—in the right amounts.
BENEFITS OF FAT
There are numerous benefits to adding generous amounts of healthy fats in your diet. These include:
Energy: Fat is the densest source of energy you can consume. From a “calorie counting” standpoint, there are 9 calories for every 1 gram of fat, as opposed to 4 calories for every gram of protein or carbohydrate. Calories are not a bad thing. Calories are simply energy, and fat gives you lots of energy.
Optimal Brain Function. Your brain is composed of 60-percent fat and cholesterol, and for peak functioning, you need to eat fats to develop, sustain and promote brain power.
Cholesterol: Contrary to popular belief that cholesterol is ‘bad’ for you, your body actually needs cholesterol to function. If you had no cholesterol in your body you would cease to exist: No cells, no bone structure, no muscles, no hormones, no sex, no reproductive system, no digestion, no brain function, no memory, no nerve endings, no movement, no human life – nothing would or could exist without cholesterol. Higher cholesterol levels are also linked to improve memory and cognitive skills and protect against neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s, while low blood cholesterol is associated with poor cognitive performance.
Improving Digestion. Healthy fats help transport your food through your system, and keep your digestion humming along as it should. Think of it as that “slippery” substance that moves your food along. Fat helps your gallbladder produce bile, which is essential for elimination and proper digestion.
Supports Vitamins & Nutrients Absorption. You have probably heard that Vitamin A is good for vision and healthy skin, Vitamin E helps with wound healing, and Vitamin K is necessary for blood clotting. However, in order to actually absorb any vitamins in the first place, your body needs healthy fats. Fats also help transport your vitamins from your digestive tract to where they are needed in the body.
Produces and Supports Hormones. Your hormones are built from fat and cholesterol. Chances are if your hormones are out of balance, your fatty acids are out of balance too. This can lead to low libido, amenorrhea, irregular cycles, poor strength gains and recovery from exercise, moodiness and off-mood, and infertility.
Boosts your Metabolism. Healthy fats in your diet help trigger hormones that release fat, and eliminate toxins that make it hard for your body to otherwise have a fiery metabolism or shed unwanted pounds.
Healthy Skin, Hair & Tissues. Dry skin, dry eyes, brittle nails, dry hair are all directly attributed to fatty acid deficiencies. Consider assessing your fat intake (versus your sugar and processed food consumption) if you are struggling with acne or eczema. Fats help your skin keep aglow.
Satiation & Staving Off Cravings and Hunger. Fats help you feel satisfied. Which do you think is a longer lasting source of energy: Eggs over easy, fried in bacon fat with creamy avocado on top, or a bowl of dry pebble-like cereal in a splash of skim milk with sliced strawberries?
Stronger Immunity. Saturated fats (i.e. butter, coconut oil, and red palm oil) contain the fatty acids lauric and myristic acid that are anti-microbial, anti-viral, and anti-fungal, with the ability to decrease infection rates by killing bacteria and harmful yeasts.
Fat Simply Tastes Good (Like Really Good). No questions about it, fat makes everything taste better. Drizzle the olive oil on your asparagus, grab a spoonful of coconut butter, sauté potatoes in duck fat or ghee, dip baby carrots in guacamole, toss olives or pecans on your salad, crust your fish with coconut flakes, add full-fat organic creamer to your coffee—the options are limitless.
BEWARE OF BAD FATS
There are two sides to every story. While most fats are amazingly healthy and beneficial for you, there are a handful of outliers that will not do your body any good and may even cause harm:
Processed fats and oils (vegetable oils, hydrogenated oils, processed foods)
Rancid fats (bad olive oil, fish oil, highly-heated fats)
(Too many) Omega-6 fats (found in processed foods, farmed fish, and high consumption of nuts and seeds—pumpkin, hemp, peanuts, peanut oil)
Since these fats are either highly processed, inflammatory or the fatty acids are already destroyed, your body has a hard time breaking them down, leading to more inflammation, poor function, poor immunity and digestive distress.
FATS TO AVOID
Conventional vegetable and/or seed oils like soybean, canola, and generic vegetable oils are terrible for inflammation in the body.They only become more rancid and inflammatory when used with high-heat cooking. Most restaurants choose to use these as they are more cost effective. Likewise, most processed foods are made with these fats rather than healthier options. And most were probably cooked in it at some point.
Avoid these rancid, hydrogenated and processed fats to avoid their inflammatory effects:
• Canola Oil (hydrogenated and in many processed foods)
• Corn Oil
• Soybean Oil
• Safflower Oil
• Olive Oil (Avoid if: expired after one-year, with no expiration date listed, cold-processed or ‘rancid’—if you smell a pungent smell, it’s probably no good)
• Grapeseed Oil
• Peanut Oil
• Vegetable Oil (Crisco)
• Any ingredient containing the words “hydrogenated” or “partially hydrogenated”
MY FAVORITE FATS
Replace these above unhealthy fats with these healthy fats – you’ll find there is a healthy fat for every purpose!
Virgin Coconut Oil
Coconut oil is made up of about 60% of a unique kind of saturated fat called medium chain triglycerides (MCTs). MCTs are unique in that they are more easily digested than other types of fat. Your body sends MCTs directly to your liver (bypassing the normal fat digestion process) where they can be consumed efficiently. This makes MCTs a great choice for anyone who has trouble digesting fat, including those with gallbladder disease or IBD. Coconut oil also has anti-fungal, anti-microbial, and antibacterial properties. Virgin coconut oil has a slightly-sweet coconut flavor that adds a tropical flair to dishes.
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Extra Virgin Olive Oil (EVOO) is one of the only foods just about everyone on earth agrees is healthy, no matter what dietary philosophy you subscribe to. It has a blend of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs and PUFAs) that have many health benefits. Studies link EVOO to everything from lowering the risk of cancer and stroke to decreasing inflammation. Its polyphenol content provides food for the good bacteria in your gut.
EVOO has a bright, peppery flavor that goes well with just about everything. Many are unaware that this oil a high smoke point and is great for high-temp cooking like sautéing and roasting. (The idea that EVOO oxidizes and becomes dangerous if heated is a myth!)
While olive oil and coconut oil are both incredible, they are both rather strongly flavored! Even when the flavor is as good as EVOO or coconut, sometimes you need a neutral background to let other flavors shine through. Hello avocado oil. It is full of healthy fats but also has a really subtle flavor.
Tallow, Lard & Duck Fat
You might be shocked to see tallow on this list (there is still such a stigma attached to animal fat consumption), but high-quality tallow from grass-fed animals is actually one of the BEST sources of healthy fats. Tallow is rendered animal fat (tallow can come from any animal except pork which is called lard). Consuming tallow also allows one to eat more sustainably by using every part of the animal. Duck fat and lard are both delicious for cooking or roasting vegetables and adding to sauces for extra flavor.
Butter is one of the best tasting fats and makes everything better. Beyond tasting good, it actually has amazing health benefits. If you tolerate dairy, you can incorporate grass-fed butter into your diet. Grass-fed butter is a wonderful source of fat-soluble Vitamin K2, which is otherwise hard to get. It also is a source of the powerful short-chain fatty acid butyrate, which is critical for a healthy gut. Butter contains the fatty acid conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) which studies show may help with weight loss and even prevent cancer.
Ghee has all the same benefits as butter, but it is better tolerated by those who are sensitive to dairy (or sensitive in general!) Ghee is made by clarifying butter. This means heating butter over a low temperature so that the dairy solids separate from the fat and can be skimmed off the top. Properly prepared ghee is a bright gold color and keeps for long periods of times. As with butter, you want to ensure your ghee comes from grass-fed cows to get all its benefits. It has a much higher smoke point than butter. If you are intolerant to dairy, you likely can tolerate ghee. If you are allergic to dairy, please talk with your healthcare practitioner before consuming ghee or any other dairy product.
ENJOY HEALTHY FATS
The sheer volume of health and nutrition information available can become overwhelming. I trust that in the area of fats, there is a little more clarity in what to choose, how to use it and what to avoid.
Remember, too, that diversity is an important part of any healthy diet. Avoid relying on one type of oil, try a few in different options. You may discover the amazing taste and flavor benefits of adding extra fats to your meals too!