Fat is one of three macronutrients, the other two are carbohydrates and protein.
You may hear this shortened to ‘macros’ when someone is talking about tracking their macronutrients.
Not all fat is created equal!
First, there are monounsaturated fatty acids which support your good cholesterol HDL and lower the bad cholesterol LDL. Monounsaturated fats are typically liquid at room temperature: vegetable oil, avocado, nuts, and seeds.
Polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) are also liquid at room temperature. Omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids are PUFAs considered essential to our diets because we can’t synthesize them in the body.
Omega-3s help to reduce inflammation, symptoms of depression, and the risk of cancer, all while supporting heart health. Diets higher in omega-6 (linoleic acid) and lacking in omega-3, have been shown to promote inflammation. This is typical of the Standard American Diet and other western diets.
You’ll get your best omega-3 from fish, walnuts, flaxseeds, canola oil, and chia seeds. You might still be deficient in omega3 so it’s also best to take a supplement as well.
The American diet gets a lot of their calories from corn oil and safflower oil, two of the sources of omega 6 fatty acids.
Saturated fatty acids are generally solid at room temperature. Coconut oil is a plant-based source of saturated fat, but unlike animal-based saturated fats, it is also a great source of lauric acid and has beneficial antibacterial, antifungal, and even cholesterol-lowering properties.
Saturated fat was demonized in the 1960s and 70s for increasing the risk of cardiovascular disease and obesity. There are new studies, as well as revisiting the old studies, showing that not all saturated fats are harmful, some are even beneficial. To make it easy, if the saturated fat is from a natural source it’s fine in moderation. You should stay clear of all synthetic saturated fats.
Quality of the fat is really what you should be looking for. Fat from grass-fed cows will be better than a factory-farmed cow. As with all foods, try to find locally grown, organic, sustainable sources to ensure that what you are putting in your body doesn't have harmful toxins you don't want.
Trans fats were the real cause of cardiovascular disease and have since been removed from the USDA’s “generally regarded as safe” list in 2013. By the end of 2018, all food companies need to remove added trans fat from their products. It’s already banned in the EU. If the label says partially hydrogenated then it means there are trans fats inside. Margarine, Crisco, fried foods and processed baked goods are all examples where trans fat could be lurking.
We need fat, just like we need carbohydrates and protein. We need fat for proper absorption of fat-soluble vitamins. Fat also supports proper brain development, provides cushioning and insulation to internal organs, and plays a role in hormone synthesis and keeps us satiated after a meal.
In the past I always got a bit confused when it came to fats, good vs. bad. Why is olive oil good but fried food not? I have figured out an easy way to remember. If it’s processed at high temperatures it’s likely to not be good for your body. This is also true of olive oil!
Many oils are highly processed with chemicals and heat, you want to stick with minimally processed fats. I would just keep butter, olive oil and coconut oil on hand. I think you can do most everything with these in terms of cooking.
Where to Find Healthy Fats
Avocados, olives, and coconuts are great sources of healthy fat, along with wild salmon and omega-3 rich organic eggs.
Whole nuts and seeds, and their butter like almond butter or tahini
Look for the highest-quality organic oils when shopping. Words to look for: organic, first-pressed, cold-pressed, extra-virgin, and unrefined. Avoid expeller-pressed, refined, and solvent extracted.
How to Use Healthy Fats:
For cooking at high temperatures (stir-frying and baking), try butter, ghee (clarified butter), or coconut oil
When sautéing foods, try light olive oil which is meant for heating.
Oils like olive, flaxseed, sesame, toasted sesame, walnut, and pumpkin seed are best used unheated in sauces or dressings.
Try this delicious, easy recipe:
Prep Time: 3 minutes
Makes 1 cup
1 large peeled and pitted avocado
2/3 cup plain yogurt, goat yogurt, coconut yogurt, or almond yogurt
1 diced tomato
a squirt of lemon or lime juice
dash or two of cayenne pepper
sea salt and black pepper
Mash avocado with a fork until very smooth.
Add yogurt, tomato, cayenne. Blend until smooth. This may be done in a food processor, in a blender, or with a fork.
Add sea salt and fresh black pepper to taste.
Serve chilled with mixed raw vegetables. Tip: Best made a maximum of 1 hour before serving.
*Recipe reprinted with permission from Integrative Nutrition, Inc.