Fat used to be a four letter word. Especially saturated fats, which were once—and still are in some cases—blamed as the reason people are fat, have elevated cholesterol, and/or heart disease. However times, and opinions, are changing. We are now learning that good quality fats, including saturated fats, are integral to many important bodily functions. In fact in recent studies the myth that saturated fat caused heart disease and elevated levels of cholesterol has been proven incorrect. ¹
Fats are part of every single cell in our body, and help us digest and absorb fat soluble vitamins, like vitamin A, D, E & K. It may even surprise you to learn that your brain is made up of 60% fat. I know it surprised me when I first learned it. Without fat you would become vitamin and mineral deficient.
For example, skim milk has around 0.1% fat, and added vitamin D and calcium. You can’t absorb the vitamin D without fat, and without absorbing the vitamin D, you also can’t properly absorb the calcium. So you can see why fat is so important, and why you should be drinking whole milk if you drink dairy to help get your daily dose of calcium.
Don’t Consume Dairy?
Calcium can also be found in all dark leafy greens, almonds, broccoli and kelp. Some other good sources include: filberts, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, salmon with bones, anchovies, sardines, dried figs, raisins, watercress, oranges, legumes, brussels sprouts, figs, blackstrap molasses and tofu.
Fat Soluble Vitamins
Vitamin A is an important antioxidant that enhances immunity, helps protect against heart disease and strokes.
Vitamin D aka the sunshine vitamin, increases calcium absorption and phosphorus in the intestinal tract, as well as regulates calcification and mineralization of the bones.
Vitamin E is necessary for the production of sex hormones in both males and females, and is also a powerful antioxidant.
Vitamin K plays a role in building healthy bones and in blood clotting, it’s usually produced by our gut bacteria.
Choose Your Fats Wisely
The quality and type of fat you consume is very important. I can’t stress that enough. Quality fats such as olive oil, flaxseed oil, avocado oil, coconut oil, pumpkinseed oil, grass fed butter, grass fed meats and cheeses, and grass fed or pasture raised eggs are excellent sources of quality fats, and provide your body with anti-inflammatory omega 3 fatty acids. Raw unsalted nuts such as walnuts, cashews, almonds, pecans, pine nuts, brazil nuts, and seeds such as flax seeds, chia seeds, pumpkin seeds and sesame seeds are also examples of good quality fats. Then comes one of my favourite healthy fats, the avocado – which is an easy snack (here is my favourite guacamole recipe) or addition to any meal, as well as a great source of good quality fat.
These are just some of the best examples of healthy fats.
Coconut Oil: The Healthy Fat Hero
Coconut oil is a very stable oil that doesn’t degrade from light or oxygen as easily as other oils do. Coconut oil is a medium chain fatty acid – fats that are mostly found in tropical oils and butterfat. These types of fats have antimicrobial properties, are absorbed directly for quick energy, and contribute to the health of your immune system. ² Coconut oil is my personal favourite. I use a lot for frying, baking, homemade chocolate, energy balls, and when making homemade beauty products, such as lotions, lip balms and deodorant. It’s a staple in my house.
Things To Watch For
There are three things that can make a good fat into a rancid fat. All oils except coconut oil should be purchased in a dark glass bottle. Rancidity happens when a less stable oil, such as olive oil, flaxseed oil, avocado oil, pumpkinseed oil and other nut and vegetable oils come into contact with light, heat or oxygen. This is why you want to purchase oils in dark glass bottles, with the exception of coconut oil which is highly stable. The dark glass prevents light from penetrating the bottle and the amount of heat an oil can tolerate varies from oil to oil. Saturated fats are highly stable and usually don’t go rancid, even when heated for cooking purposes. ²
Rancid oils are characterized by free radicals, which are extremely reactive chemically. They attack cell membranes and red blood cells, causing damage in DNA/RNA strands that can trigger mutations in tissue, blood vessels and skin. Free Radical damage to the skin causes wrinkles and premature aging, free radicals damage to the tissues and organs sets the stage for tumors, while free radical damage in the blood vessels initiates the buildup of plaque. ²
This is why oils, such as olive oil & sesame oil should only be used up to medium heat. When these oils are overheated, they become rancid and can contribute to free radicle damage.
Avocado oil on the other hand can be used safely at a higher heat. While coconut oil is especially great for high heat cooking and baking. Flaxseed, walnut, and pumpkinseed oils should only be used in salad dressings, smoothies or added to a dish after it’s done cooking, as all of these oils are easily altered by heat.
I’m sure that you’ve heard of omega 3 fatty acids, and maybe omega 6 and 9’s as well. Most people will get enough omega 6 fatty acids from their diet, while omega 9’s can be produced by our body and found in almost all natural fat. The ratio of omega 6’s to omega 3’s is very important. If you have a higher ratio of omega 6’s to omega 3’s it can lead to inflammation in your body. ³ Omega 3’s are considered the anti-inflammatory fatty acid, so you want to make sure that you consume enough of them.
Omega 3 fatty acids occur naturally in such foods as, wild salmon, (the grey layer on the bottom of salmon has the highest concentration of omega 3s so make sure to eat this part too) cold water ocean fish, grass fed meat, chicken, cheese, eggs, chia seeds and flax seeds.
Omega 6’s are obtained from vegetable oils, and since a lot of processed foods, (as well as anything fried, baked or deep fried) often contain low quality vegetable oils with high doses of omega 6s, the ratio of omega 6’s to omega 3’s in your body can be much higher.
Bottom line? Try consuming omega 3’s everyday to make sure your ratio to omega 6’s is 1:1.
Healthy good quality sources of saturated fat are grass fed butter, grass fed beef, chicken and cheese. Cows and chicken’s who eat grass are able to convert that grass into omega 3s, which you will then absorb when you consume these proteins. This is why consuming grass fed animal products has a better impact on your health, compared to regular beef and chicken which is fed grains that are high in omega 6 fatty acids.
Hydrogenation, complete or partial, is a chemical process that turns vegetable oils which are normally liquid at room temperature, into fats that are solid at room temperature. This process makes these oils a trans fat. These oils are made into margarine, or added to baked goods to create a long shelf life. Altered partially hydrogenated fats made from vegetable oils actually block utilization of essential fatty acids, causing many deleterious effects, including sexual dysfunction, increased blood cholesterol, and paralysis of the immune system. 4
Consumption of hydrogenated fats is associated with a host of other serious diseases, including cancer, atherosclerosis, diabetes, obesity, immune system dysfunction, low birth weight babies, birth defects, decreased visual acuity, sterility, difficulty in lactation and problems with bones and tendons. So you can see why it is recommended that you avoid them.
Know Your Fats
Fats are not a black or white topic. Each type has its own benefits and rules around cooking, heat and quality. Fats are incredibly important for our overall health, but also act as an intestinal lubricant and help to build tissues and body cells. Fats improve skin, hair and nails, improve moods and preventing diseases like dementia, heart disease and even cancer.³ Fats stay in your digestive tract for a longer period of time giving you a full, satisfied feeling after a meal. Fat insulates all internal organs, improves neurological function and coats your nerves. Fat like protein also helps to stabilize blood sugar. Fat is also found in all body cells in combination with other nutrients. It’s quite literally a part of you.
Fat is a hot topic these days. As a result many doctors, naturopaths and health practitioners are trying to change how people view them, educating people on why it’s so important to consume good quality fats regularly. If you’d like to learn more, there is a Fat Summit happening January 25th to Feb 1st. This is a free online event where 30 of the world’s top experts (scientists, doctors, naturopaths) will be getting together to talk about fat, and what it really takes to lose weight, feel great and reverse chronic disease naturally. Click HERE to learn more.
If you have any questions or thought about fat that you’d like to share, I encourage you to leave a comment on this post. Or reach out to me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Here’s to happy, healthy and informed eating!
2. Nourishing Traditions – Sally Fallon
3. Prescription for Dietary Wellness – Phyllis A. Balch
4. Holman, R T, Geometrical and Positional Fatty Acid Isomers, E A Emkin and H J Dutton, eds, 1979, American Oil Chemist Society, Champaign, IL, 283-302; Science News Letter, Feb 1956; Schantz, E J, et al, Journal of Dairy Science, 1940, 23: 181-89.
5. Enig, Mary G, PhD, Trans Fatty Acids in the Food Supply: A Comprehensive Report Covering 60 Years of Research, 2nd Edition, Enig Associates, Inc, Silver Spring, MD 1995; Watkins, B A et al, Broiler Poultry Science, Dec 1991, 32(5): 1109-1119.