Fats and oils have been blamed and defamed for myriads of health issues. They have also been praised as healthy components of our diet. There are diets that include them in great quantity and diets that totallyeliminate them. Undeniably, fats are a very misunderstood but critical component of a healthy diet. All cultures from the past have highly prized fats whether it been the fat from whales consumed by natives in the upper northern hemisphere to the Mediterranean diets comprised of abundant olive oil and fish. Polynesians health prospered on fats high in coconut oil and Native Americans consumed high amounts of animal fat from buffalo. People from India prize ghee (derived from butter) as an enduring medicinal oil. During the 20th century, the fats people had consumed for years underwent many transformations in order for fats to become more stable for long term storage and to make them available for greater consumption. This process of hydrogenation and refining our oils often turned them from something nourishing into a toxic ingredient which causes inflammation and contributes to many of the health problems we see steadily rising today.
Because there is such confusion about which fats are good and which are not, I have outlined below a short synopsis about which fats you should consume and which you should avoid.
FATS TO AVOID
All hydrogenated fats – This includes margarines and shortening. Hydrogenated fats have been chemically changed to become solid at room temperature for better storage qualities. These trans fats are inflammatory and should not be consumed. These include margarine and shortening.
Most vegetable oils (examples include soybean oil, corn oil, peanut oil, canola oil, safflower and soybean oil, grapeseed oil). With a few exceptions, most vegetable oils are polyunsaturated oils. Polyunsaturated oils are very fragile oils which, when exposed to heat, air and light, break down and become inflammatory to the body. Most of these oils are exposed to high heat during the refining process. Cheap vegetable oils such as those mentioned above should not be consumed.
FATS FOR HIGHER TEMPERATURE COOKING
Saturated fats are solid at room temperature. These are the ones that many people have been told are bad for us to consume. However, because their all their carbon bonds are saturated with hydrogen atoms they remain stable when exposed to heat, air and light. This means that they can handle much more heat without breaking down and becoming inflammatory to the body. These include coconut oil, Red Palm Oil and Ghee. Other saturated fats would come from animals such as lard and tallow. However, it is good to remember that all fats have a smoke point which is when they become do break down and become inflammatory. I don’t recommend deep frying anything as it is a more inflammatory cooking method because of the very high cooking temperature.
Coconut oil – Coconut oil is an easy to digest medium-chain fatty acid. It is nourishing to the thyroid, anti-fungal, anti-viral and excellent for high heat cooking. This fat is burned quickly by the body.
Red Palm oil – Another medium-chain fatty acid that is high in vitamins A & E and anti-viral and anti-fungal as well.
Ghee – This oil is high prized in Ayuervedic medicine. Ghee is butter in which the milk solids have been removed. It contains butyric and caprylic acid, has antimicrobial properties and provides quick energy to the body. You can buy it at the supermarket or make your own by melting butter and allowing the milk solids to appear at the top. Continue to heat the butter on low until the milk solids become hard and then strain the milk solids from the ghee. Since the milk solids are totally removed ghee may be stored at room temperature.
Lard and tallow – These saturated fats are more stable for high heat cooking.
LOW HEAT OILS AND NO HEAT OILS
Monounsaturated vegetable oils are more heat stable than polyunsaturated vegetable oils but less heat stable than saturated fats. Monounsaturated oils include extra virgin olive oil and avocado oil. Typically, these oils are pressed to release their precious oils. These can be used for lower heat cooking and no heat preparations such as salad dressings. Please make sure your extra virgin olive oil is good quality. Much of the olive oil imported into the United States is cut with canola oil and should not be consumed. Olive oil should be fragrant and deep in color. Good olive oil should have an acrid taste in the back of your throat when swallowed.
Pumpkin seed oil – This is an oil that we don’t want to heat. Styrian pumpkin seed from Austria is the most amazing tasting oil I have ever had. If you want to splurge on an oil, this would be the one. It is nourishing to the ovaries, bladder and digestive tract and a good source of zinc, iron and niacin.
Macadamia nut oil – This is a nice mild oil for drizzling over food. Do not cook with this one.
Walnut oil – This is another nice oil for drizzling over food and also nice for salad dressing. Do not cook with walnut oil.
OMEGA 3 AND OMEGA 6 FATTY ACIDS
Omega 3 and Omega 6 fatty acids are essential fatty acids. This means that our bodies cannot make them. We must include them in our diet! If the body has these two fats, it can manufacture the other important fatty acids it needs. Most of us get plenty of Omega 6 fatty acids from our diet because we consume mostly vegetable oils that contain a lot of Omega 6 fatty acids. Omega 6 fatty acids come from the polyunsaturated vegetable oils and also from olive oil and avocado oil and many nuts and seeds.
Sources of Omega 6 Fatty Acids
There are many sources of Omega 6 fatty acids.
The following are sources of beneficial Omega 6 fatty acids:
Walnuts, avocados, most nuts
Borage seed oil – This is an oil taken in supplement form.
Evening Primrose oil – Another supplement form of omega 6s.
Omega 3 fatty acids are what many Americans are deficient in. These are especially important for building cells, especially the cells of the brain and nervous system, the eyes, and the circulatory system, including the heart. Omega 3 fatty acids help reduce inflammation. Omega 3 fatty acids must be broken down into DHA and EPA to be utilized by the body. Many individuals today are not able to break down Omega 3s into DHA and EPA. Reasons for this may include low thyroid or digestive issues, including liver and gallbladder issues. In this case, we would want to get them directly from a supplemental form or from fish or marine algae or something like cod liver oil. The fish have kindly made this conversion for us.
Sources of Omega 3 Fatty Acids
Flax seeds and flax oil (don’t heat flax seed oil)
Direct Sources of DHA and EPA – I recommend everyone consume some form of these.
Oily fish – salmon or cold water fish, fish eggs, cod-liver oil, anchovies, sardines
Dietary supplements of DHA and EPA
Cod liver oil
DO NOT HEAT any of these supplemental oils as they are polyunsaturated and will oxidize with heat.
A FEW FACTS TO REMEMBER
Please use a variety of different oils in your diet. Each has different properties and nutrients vital to our wellbeing. Just as we would not relyon only one type of vegetable to give us all the nutrition we need, we cannot rely on only one oil in our diet to give us a complete nutritional profile. Don’t’ be afraid of saturated fats. They are important to include in our diet and have been used by people for millennia.
If you eat a lot of packaged food or eat out a lot, it is important to be informed about what oils you are consuming. Most restaurants are concerned more about their profit margin then your wellbeing. Therefore, most restaurants do not use high quality oils in their cooking. Most use refined vegetable oils because they are cheap. It is best to eat out occasionally for a special occasion rather than depend on others to make nutritious food for our bodies.
Also, remember that even manufacturers claim that they have no trans-fats in their cooking. This may not really be true. Food manufacturers are allowed to list zero trans fat on their products if the serving size has less than 0.5 grams of trans fat in it. So often what happens is that they lower the serving size to make it look like there are no trans fats in a product. Restaurants are not required to follow the trans fat label rule. So it is up to you to be the detective. Ask what fats the restaurants use in their cooking. Read packaging labels.
In summary, focus on natural unprocessed oils and fats. Look for extra virgin, cold pressed and unrefined oils. Remember, fats differ in the amount of heat they tolerate before they break down and become inflammatory. Learn how to use them according to their heat tolerance.
Enjoy healthy fats to feel your best!