The Simple Guide to Healthy Fats
Healthy fats are crucial for sustaining energy levels, heart function, healing, brain function, and hormone and cholesterol balance, for absorption of nutrients, vitamins, and minerals, for making food appetizing, and for satisfying the appetite; unhealthy fat is a knife to the heart – but the difference can be confusing. Consider this simple way to evaluate fats:
Your mama would approve of the way these healthy fats treat your body. Olive and avocado oils are monounsaturated fats. Monounsaturated fats are typically liquid at room temperature, but many kinds solidify or partially solidify in the refrigerator. Consume as desired and choose organic, high-quality varieties. For disease resistance and repair, replace other fats in your diet with monounsaturated fats.
Soybean, corn, cottonseed, and safflower oils are polyunsaturated fats and are typically liquid at room temperature as well as in the refrigerator. Omega-3 (good for you) and omega-6 (essential, but we already have too much) are polyunsaturated fats. Canola oil is a mixture of polyunsaturated and monosaturated. Think of polyunsaturated fats as peculiar because their impact on health depends on very specific qualities that are hard to assess standing in the grocery store or ordering off a menu. To err on the side of health, consume polyunsaturated fats in small amounts, and then be sure you only subject your body to non-GMO, organic, high-quality varieties.
Sometimes Spectacular Saturated
These are the animal fats like butter and lard, as well as vegetable fats that tend to be solid at room temperature, like coconut oil, are saturated oils. These fats were public enemy number one before people realized that cholesterol, in the right balance, is critical to an optimally functioning brain and body. Because saturated fats can certainly damage your heart, they are only sometimes spectacular. To keep them spectacular, consume in low quantities and only eat animal-derived saturated fats from the highest quality sources. This means free-range, naturally-fed, organic, hormone- and preservative-free.
Heinous hydrogenated/trans/unsaturated fats (the worst of the lot)
These are polyunsaturated oils that have been heavily processed to make them solid at room temperature, such as margarine and the fats commonly found in cookies and baked goods with long shelf lives. You can create your own partially hydrogenated oil just by deep-frying something. These are so bad that the FDA recently removed trans fats status as Generally Recognized as Safe. This means experts in laboratories and hospitals around the world agree: the heinous hydrogenated stuff is not safe to consume. So don’t.
Another way to figure out what fats are good for you is to think about the food, not the fat.
Good Sources of Fat
- Coconut oil—unrefined, cold-pressed, virgin, and organic
- Extra-virgin olive oil—unfiltered, stored in a dark bottle in cool temperatures
- Nuts and seeds—organic, eaten in small portions
- Lard and tallow—from grass-fed, organic beef, and pork
- Seed oils—expeller or cold-pressed
- Avocados and avocado oil
- Eggs—organic, free-range
- Oily fish—salmon, herring, sardines, mackerel, bluefish
- Butter—grass-fed, organic, eaten in small portions
- Ghee—clarified butter from grass-fed sources
- Natural meats (organic, free-range, hormone-free, naturally-fed)
And finally, my three dos and one don’t for eating healthy fats:
- Do use more olive oil and less butter.
- Do use organic canola or avocado oil for high heat.
- Do eat animal fats – as long as they’re from organic-like, free-range, grass-fed, hormone-free sources.
- Don’t eat trans fats like margarine, most vegetable oils, packaged baked goods, and deep-fried foods.
This simplified guide is enough to help you make good decisions in the fat department for the rest of your life, but if you want to make decisions that are tailored to your unique physiology, ask your doctor about a full heart panel to give you a clear picture of your individual lipid (fat) profile.