This post was originally written for and published on MarthaStewart.com on June 30, 2016.
Eating fat makes us fat, right? Turns out, it’s not quite that simple.
In the late 70s, the United States government, in an attempt to halt the rise in weight gain and other diseases, started pushing so-called low-fat diets. Fat = evil! Soon thereafter, we saw a rise of non- and low-fat food items in the marketplace to replace the fat-containing counterparts we ditched — products like butter substitutes, frozen dinners, crackers, yogurts, and chips. As a result, we’ve seen an upswing in refined carbohydrate intake and a subsequent rise in obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular-related deaths. Oops!
Although there is still progress to be made in educating the general public, more individuals and even trusted authorities are beginning to recognize that not all fats are the disease-causing villains that they once were portrayed as.
The truth is, not all fats are the bad guys. As a nation, we’ve erred on generalizing all fats into the same category. While there are fats that people should still avoid, there are healthy ones that we should really add back to our diets.
Let’s take a deeper look at different types of fats.
The main categories of fats are classified as: monounsaturated, polyunsaturated, and saturated. Olive oil is an example of a fat containing mostly monounsaturated fatty acids. Some types of oils containing more polyunsaturated fatty acids are: corn, safflower, and soybean (also known as vegetable oils). In the saturated fat group, there are coconut and palm oils. It is the saturated fats that have had a negative connotation attached to them. As the use of vegetable oils and margarine increased, saturated fats were denounced and deemed taboo — artery-clogging, fat-causing, heart-damaging agents.
But not all saturated fats are bad!
Coconut oil is predominantly composed of saturated fatty acids yet touts a multitude of health benefits and uses. It is a unique type of fat — saturated, yet not animal derived, therefore containing no dietary cholesterol. Due to its high content of medium-chained triglycerides, the body metabolizes these fat compounds differently than other types of fats — an easier digesting fat and a readily available source of energy. It’s also a preferred fat choice to cook and bake with due to its stable structure.
Experts are in agreement that synthesized fats like hydrogenated oils and trans fats used in many packaged and processed baked goods, crackers, cakes, and fried foods are the ones to avoid and cause disease.
Sarah Collette, health food industry veteran and owner of Sarah’s Skinny Sweets says, “Coconut oil is a superior oil choice that I use to make my cookies not only due to the amazing, subtle flavor the oil yields in baking but also due to the health benefits it provides. It supports healthy metabolism, is a nourishing fat, and will not contribute towards weight gain like other types of highly refined vegetable oils on the grocery store shelves.”
A Quick Guide to Choosing the Right Fat
Each fat possesses a different quality and chemical makeup. Many vegetable oils are unstable, making them more prone to rancidity while heat and light can provoke that process. On the other hand, saturated fats like coconut, palm, and butter have a more stable structure, making them more resistant to heat and light and therefore a better option for cooking with at high temperatures.
Other types of healthy fats to consume that are nutrient-rich and should be included as part of a well-balanced diet are:
Good-quality, humanely-raised, antibiotic, and hormone-free meats.
Choosing high-quality fats over inferior ones really does make all the difference. Deep-fried potatoes that are cooked at a fast food restaurant (most likely fried in refined, genetically modified oil that has been reused and reheated multiple times) are not as nutritious as homemade potatoes fried in a high-quality fat like organic, extra virgin coconut oil. Or, eating processed deli meats containing artificial preservatives and nitrites from non-organic sources would not be as nutritious as meat from a pasture-raised, antibiotic-free animal.
Rather than shunning all fats, investigate the types you are consuming and choose unprocessed and unrefined oils and organic meats and dairy products to ensure that you are getting optimal benefits and nutrition from the food. Since toxins are stored in the fat of many animals, if conventional meats or dairy products are your best option, not eating the fat may be wise. However some healthy fats in the diet can be nourishing, providing a feeling of fullness as to not overeat, and are necessary for many critical body functions like hormone production, supporting a healthy brain, as well as helping to balance blood sugar levels. Keep the beneficial ones around and toss out the dangerous ones.
If Not All Fats are Bad: a Quick Guide to Choosing the Right Fat was helpful, please share this post with a friend so that they too may learn something from reading it.
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I am a nutrition educator/consultant and not a physician. As such, I do not diagnose or treat disease, rather I support lifestyle balance and health with my work. Please understand that any information provided on the relationship between nutrition and health is not meant to replace competent medical treatment for any health problem or condition.