Confused with what is a healthy fat and what is an unhealthy fat? I’ll break it down for you so you know which fats you should be consuming and which ones to avoid!
Why We’ve Avoided Fat
For years, we’ve been told to avoid fats! “They cause heart disease and high cholesterol!” they say.
So for years, I was drinking skim milk and consuming margarine, low-fat yogurt, fat-free pudding, and any other fat free or low fat product I could get my hands on.
Even when I started to read that coconut oil was good for me, I still avoided it…a jar of it would last me over 3 years!
I was afraid to eat fat. I thought fat made me fat. I thought fat made me unhealthy.
Why did I believe this? Because we were told by our own government that fat was bad. Just look at the food pyramid!
Fats and oils are in the same category as sweets?!
Why were we told to eat large portions of grains and avoid fat? It’s not because science told us. It’s because many large corporations who have a vested interest in making money off of us have been responsible for making our country’s nutrition policy.
What is Fat?
Science has actually shown that fat is good for us! There is no correlation between eating fat and getting fat and cardiovascular disease. NONE! In fact, diets higher in fat have been shown to help us lose weight and increase our lean mass.
When we eat fat, our body processes it much slower than carbohydrates. This means that we stay satiated longer, which helps suppress ghrelin, our hunger hormone.
In contrast, when we eat carbohydrate-rich foods, we tend to over-consume these foods because they are sweeter and do not trigger our feeling of fullness. These foods are quickly burned for fuel by the body. You probably have experienced the effect of carbs on your body. You eat some carbs and a couple of hours later, you are tired and hungry again. This leads to cravings and more consumption of these foods to increase our energy levels.
Now that you know how fats and carbohydrates affect your body, let’s look at fats a little closer.
Fats are a collection of molecules made of carbon, oxygen, and hydrogen. These elements together form a chain called fatty acids. Fatty acids are absolutely necessary for our body to function properly. Fatty acids are essential to maintaining our health.
Here are some important functions that fatty acids have:
- They play the leading role in the construction and maintenance of all healthy cells.
- They protect the body against unhealthy outside agents.
- They transport nutrients through the body.
- They help with the absorption of vitamins such as A, D, E and K.
- They are the structural building blocks for our hormones .
- They help regulate metabolic issues within the body.
Types of Fats
Saturated fats contain no double bonds, meaning there are no “kinks” in the chain. This means they are packed closely together and are solid at room temperature. These fats are more stable and aren’t prone to oxidation or damage, even when heated.
Examples of saturated fats include coconut oil and butter.
Saturated fatty acids are the basis for most cellular membranes. They contain amazing vitamins like A, D, K2, and b12. They also help raise good cholesterol which helps us fight inflammation.
Saturated fats are also easy for our bodies to digest, which is why they are converted into energy right away.
It’s best to consume saturated fats right from their source. They can be found in many meats, coconut oil, and full fat dairy products. You can use them for medium to high-heat cooking. Some of my favourite saturated fats to use are coconut oil, butter, ghee, lard, and beef tallow. Make sure the sources of saturated fats you consume are organic, cold pressed, and/or grass-fed.
Monounsaturated fat is a fatty acid that has one double bond in it’s chain. It is an unsaturated fatty acid because it is not completely saturated with hydrogen. This causes a “kink” in the chain, which is why these types of fats are liquid at room temperature and are less stable and prone to oxidation when exposed to air, light, or heat.
Foods that are high in monounsaturated fats include olive oil, almonds, Brazil nuts, macadamia nuts, and avocados. You can use monounsaturated oils cold or in low-heat cooking. Always choose cold pressed and/or extra-virgin sources of these oils. Protect them by keeping them in an opaque glass container or in the fridge.
Polyunsaturated fat is a fatty acid that has more than one double bond in it’s chain. Because these fats have more “kinks” in their chain, they are always liquid at room temperature and are very unstable and prone to oxidation when exposed to air, light, and heat.
The two most popular polyunsaturated fatty acids are Omega-3 fatty acids and Omega-6 fatty acids. They are essential fatty acids, meaning our bodies can’t make them on our own.
Omega-3 essential fatty acids help us fight inflammation, support brain function, and even help reduce autoimmune conditions. Omega-3 fatty acids are found in wild fish like salmon, cod, and sardines, eggs (especially the yolks,) grass-fed and pasture raised meats, some nuts and seeds, and algae.
Omega-6 fatty acids are also important! They help support our immune system, brain function, and our overall health and development. Omega-6 fatty acids are found in vegetables, meats, grains, and some nuts and seeds.
Unfortunately, our society over-consumes Omega-6 fatty acids thanks to the introduction of highly processed and cheap vegetable oils, refined grains, and factory-raised meats. Since Omega-6 fatty acids stimulate inflammation, without the appropriate balance of Omega-3 fatty acids, the inflammatory response can be overwhelming.
Inflammation in our body means a potential increase in all inflammatory diseases such as Alzheimer’s, arthritis, fibromyalgia, cardiovascular disease, and more.
The clear bottles of canola oil you see on your supermarket shelf, or the soybean oil that is added to nearly every processed food have been exposed to a lot of air, light, and heat and is likely damaged fat.
Damaged or oxidized fats are very destructive in our bodies. They cause free radical damage and inflammation which is linked to everything from cancer to heart disease and even wrinkles. Yes, these fats cause us to age quicker!
It is best to consume whole food sources of Omega-3 fatty acids from foods such as wild caught fish and pasture-raised eggs and meat. It’s important to reduce our consumption of Omega-6 fatty acids by removing processed grains and industrialized oils including canola, soybean, corn, grapeseed, vegetable, sunflower, safflower, peanut, and grapeseed oil. It’s important to NEVER cook or bake with polyunsaturated oils or purchase processed foods with these oils in their ingredients (ALWAYS read the label!) Cold pressed polyunsaturated oils like sesame oil (not toasted) are okay to use for cold uses, and should be kept in an opaque glass bottle in the fridge.
You’ve probably heard of trans fats! Trans fats are unsaturated oils that have undergone “hydrogenation” where the double bonds are broken and hydrogen is artificially added back into the chains. This process turns oils like canola or corn oil into an unnatural saturated fat that is solid at room temperature. Think, margarine!
You know by know that trans fats are bad for us. Our bodies don’t recognize it as a food and therefore don’t know how to handle them, so rather than being eliminated from our body, they get stored in our cells, wreaking havoc on them! Trans fats are associated with inflammation, weight gain, cancer, and immune dysfunction.
Here’s the kicker: even if a product says it’s “trans fat free,” doesn’t mean it actually is. The government allows companies to label their products as trans fat free even if it has 0.5g of trans fats per serving!
But what’s even worse?
Since consumers are more aware that trans fats are bad for us, the food industry has come up with interesterified fats. Instead of going back to using healthy saturated fats, the food industry has decided to use interesterified fats which are oils that have been chemically altered. Enzymes or chemicals are used to modify the molecular structure of the oil in order to make it perform like a fat. The end result is a fat rich in stearic acid.
These fats are cheap and easy to make. The highly industrialized process of interesterification may result in a product that is trans-free, but that product will still contain chemical residues, hexanes, and other hazardous waste products full of free radicals that cause cell damage. Studies show that interesterified fat raises your blood glucose and depresses insulin production. These conditions are common precursors to diabetes.
The scary part is, interesterified fats are NOT required to be labelled on the ingredients list. Food manufacturers can use terms such as high stearate or stearic rich fats in place of “interesterified.”
It’s important to BAN all trans fats and interesterified fats! Check labels for words like hydrogenated, partially-hydrogenated, fully-hydrogenated, and palm kernel oil. Trans fats and interesterified fats can be found in foods like margarine, shortening, cookies, crackers, salad dressings, hummus, mayo, and more!
What Should You Do?
If you’re like most Americans, your diet consists predominantly of processed food. And eating processed foods, especially those with a long shelf life, means you’re consuming interesterified fats, trans fats, or some other type of man-made ingredient that your body was not designed to metabolize.
- If you want to avoid dangerous fats of all kinds, your best bet is to eliminate processed foods from your diet.
- Use butter instead of margarines and vegetable oil spreads. Butter is a healthy whole food that has received an unwarranted bad rap.
- Use coconut oil for cooking. It is far superior to any other cooking oil and is loaded with health benefits.
- Following my nutrition plan which will automatically reduce your modified fat intake, as it will teach you to focus on healthy whole foods instead of processed junk food.