For most of people’s lives, they’ve been living in fear of fat. The messages that fat will make you gain weight, fat will cause heart disease, don’t eat a lot of eggs or red meat, and saturated fat is bad have kept us away from eating fat for decades. After the release of new scientific studies on fat consumption, those warnings are getting debunked and the truth about fat is finally getting its day.
Why We Need Fat
Fat plays a wide variety of roles in our bodies and affects nearly every organ system. They line and protect our organs, help absorb fat soluble vitamins A, D, E and K, increase the feeling of fullness, are a sustaining energy source, and make food taste good. Most importantly, fat is essential for creating and maintaining healthy cell membranes and hormones.
Organs in your body also need fat to function well. Your brain is composed of 60% fat, and needs dietary fat in order to maintain healthy function. The gallbladder also depends on fat as well. Your gallbladder stores and secretes bile your liver makes, which helps digest the fat you eat and allows it to be absorbed into the small intestine and your body. Without healthy fat in your diet, your bile starts to get thick, doesn’t flow well, and doesn’t break down fat or allow for its absorption.
Having a balance of omega 3 and 6 fatty acids also keeps the inflammatory and anti-inflammatory cycle in check. Inflammation is a necessary process the body goes through to protect us from infections. Without enough omega 3 and omega 6 ( omega 6 fats are more prevalent in processed foods) in proper ratios, you become susceptible to more inflammatory issues because there’s less of the anti-inflammatory omega 3’s to balance them out.
Better Sources of Fat
Like with other foods, there are better choices than others when it comes to eating and cooking with fats. Just with like your produce, look for higher quality and organic options.
If you’re looking for the healthiest and more nutrient dense options from animal sources, look to grass-fed (feeding ruminant animals grass and allowing them to graze adds a significant more CLA, omega 3s, fat soluble vitamins and antioxidants to their meat and butter) and pasture-raised animals.
Animal-Based Fats To Eat
Fat from eating pasture-raised and grass-fed animals
Sustainably Caught Salmon
Sustainably Caught Tuna
Sustainably Caught Sardines
Grass-fed, pasture-raised Butter
Grass-fed, pasture-raised Ghee
Grass-fed, pasture raised animal cooking fats (beef tallow, pork lard, duck fat)
For plant-based sources, also look for unrefined, extra virgin, and cold pressed options for oils, and organic raw nuts and seeds. If the nuts and seeds are roasted, make sure they’re roasted in an unrefined and organic oil. By having less refined fats, you’ll be closer to the whole food and won’t be exposed to rancidity, trans fats, or hydrogenated oils.
Plant-Based Fats To Eat
Unrefined, organic, extra virgin coconut oil
Cold pressed, organic extra virgin olive oil
Organic, Cold Pressed Sesame oil (unheated and stored in the fridge)
Organic Raw Pistachios
Organic Chia Seeds
Organic Raw Pumpkin Seeds
Organic Cold Pressed, Unrefined Avocado Oil
Organic Raw Almonds
Organic Palm Oil
Fats to Avoid
There are some fats to avoid. Too many of these fats can contribute to health issues and do damage to your body. Highly refined and partially hydrogenated oils have been altered to stay in liquid form (saturated fat can be solid or semi-solid, depending on the room temperature) and be used at higher heats. By partially hydrogenating fats, trans fats are produced, which have been linked to increasing the risk of heart disease.
Vegetable oils are very processed and high in Omega 6s, which like mentioned above, can negatively affect your body’s ability to inflame and anti-inflame. Without a more equal balance of omega 6 and omega 3s, the body can’t regulate anti-inflammatory processes. This can lead to more inflammation and, by extension, more inflammatory issues.
Vegetable oils are also not very shelf stable and can go rancid very easily by light or heat exposure. Vegetable oils can also oxidize when cooked, which when ingested can introduce free radicals that can harm the body.
Fats to Cut Out and Avoid
Vegetable Oils (Corn, Canola, Cottonseed, Peanut, Soybean, Vegetable)
Hydrogenated or Partially Hydrogenated Fats and Oils
Shortening made from Vegetable Oils
Non-Butter “Butter” or Spreadable “Butter” Spreads
Refined versions of any of the fats in the “To Eat” sections
Now that you’re aware of what fats are better for your health than others, go through your pantry and see how many of each you have. If you’ve got vegetable, canola or any other highly refined oils, throw them out and replace then with less refined options from this article. Look at the ingredient lists of the foods you’ve bought as well and consider swapping out foods with less refined and organic options.
Get the highest quality of the plant and animal-based fats you can afford. If the grass-fed options are slightly too expensive, look for organic options. If sustainably caught whole seafood is out of your budget, look to canned tuna and sardines that are sustainably caught and low in mercury. Focus on what you can afford and keeping the fats to avoid out of your kitchen and diet as much as possible.
If you’re more used to a lower fat diet, start incorporating at least one fat in your meal, whether it’s what you’re cooking with or a component of the meal. Eating whole, unrefined and organic foods as much as possible is the easiest way to not worry about what’s in your food and ensure you’re getting a quality fat in your diet.
Aimée Suen is a Nutritional Therapy Practitioner who shares nourishing, gluten-free recipes and nutrition wisdom at Small Eats. She is driven to help others enjoy whole foods and empower them to find their own healthy in all aspects of life, one small step at a time. When she’s not in the kitchen, she’s practicing yoga, in the gym, or learning something new. You can find Aimée on Instagram, Twitter and Pinterest.
Main Photo Credit: Craevschii Family/shutterstock.com; Second Photo Credit & Fourth Photo Credit: Oleksandra Naumenko/shutterstock.com; Third Photo Credit: Amarita/shutterstock.com