One of the most confusing topics in my practice as a Holistic Nutrition Practitioner is the Great Fat Debate. What is a good fat? What isn't as good a fat? Which ones should we nix from our kitchen pantry? In this next in the series of #mondayhealthbasics, let's take a gander at this hotly debated topic, albeit in a bit simpler form.
These Monday blog posts are meant to be quick reads, and easy swaps or add-ins to your daily routine in order to support optimal health. And while I could talk for days on the topic of fat, I want to make this as succinct a blog post as I can. If you're looking for further reading and understanding of fats, I recommend some reliable sources at the bottom of this blog post, and invite you to peruse through those sources in order to best arm yourself with what makes sense for you. Every body is biochemically unique, and what works for one person won't necessarily work for the next.
I want to clear one thing up: FATS ARE GOOD. FATS ARE NECESSARY. They are a macronutrient category, much like Protein and Carbohydrates. These macronutrients are necessary for so many things, and one cannot just toss a macronutrient to the curb because they don't like the sound of it. Know this: there are good fats out there. Sure, we were misled. The news is lit up with stories, and you can do your own research there. I just want to provide you the good things to add without barraging you with studies and information. That stuff is already out there.
So why include fats?
They're a macronutrient. We need good fats as they serve as a concentrated energy source in our diet. We need them for cell membranes, hormones and hormone building. They play an integral role in our growing children's bodies, helping them to build each and every system especially their reproductive systems. They are necessary for proper immune health, and we need them to build bones and teeth. Without fats, our brains would not exist (60% of our brain is made of cholesterol, a type of fat!). We need fats to better absorb, assimilate and metabolize minerals. Fats are a necessary component of insulin production. Not only that, but saturated fats (a certain kind of stable fat = think solid at room temperature) protect the heart and liver against the damaging effects of stress. In Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride's book GAPS: The Gut and Psychology Syndrome, a book that explores the connection between the health of the gut and the health of the nervous system and how supporting improved digestion and assimilation can lead to improved health for the nervous system, she explains how big of a role good quality fats can play in contributing to reducing overall inflammation, including that found in the gut. We need fats to get the fat-soluble vitamins in our bodies: vitamins A, D, E and K which we need for healthy skin and mucosal linings (intestines! respiratory tract!), immune system, bone building and maintenance. One of my favourite things good fats can do is to help slow down the absorption of foods at mealtime. This means we feel fuller, longer, or satiated and this, in turn, helps balance blood sugars. Which is HUGE. (Anywhere you see blood sugar imbalance, think 'HANGRY', or brain fog, or inflammation, or adrenal drain, or blood cholesterol levels, or stress...)
So for you, dear friend, here are your healthy fat guidelines for this Monday morning
remove your liquid vegetable oils like canola, sunflower, safflower, peanut oil, corn oils from your pantry (keep your olive oil and flax seed oil, and your sesame oil too) as they contribute to the inflammatory picture going on
low to mid temp cooking with olive oil and avocado oil is great, but ensure you are buying good quality oils (my favourite is to go with a small locally-owned specialty shop that can best guide you in choosing the right oil)
add a pat of ghee or butter to your veggies
drizzle olive oil on your salads or soups
make pestos, homemade mayo
if you are eating pastured meat, do not discard the fat
if you are drinking milk or eating dairy, swap your skim milk and 0% yogurts for the higher fat products
Reach for real food, reducing your intake of pre-packaged foods (usual hidden culprits of rancid oils)
start introducing these healthier fats slowly
Having said all this, if you are new to cooking from scratch or making whole foods, start slow and add one good thing to your pantry a week. As you add the good, the bad will fall to the wayside. And you'll be doing it in increments that are do-able, and sustainable!
HEALTHY FAT SOURCES
BUTTER and GHEE (conventional –> good; organic –> better; grass-fed -> best)
raw nuts and seeds (pre-soak for easier digestibility)
olives and olive oil
coconuts and coconut oil
Dairy products like cheese, kefir, whipping cream, yogurt, creme fraiche if you can tolerate dairy
grass-fed meats and wild caught fish (from the ocean and freshwater)
unheated nut oils (keep them in the fridge)
fish oil, cod liver oil, krill oil
goose and chicken fat (shmaltz)
lard and tallow (bacon fat and beef fat, rendered)
avoid any packaged foods with 'soy bean oil' or the words 'hydrogenated oil' on it
Today's take-away: make sure to have a good fat at every meal and snack.
Have some nuts, seeds, or nut butter, or mix butter+honey=frosting!, have half an avocado with breakfast and drizzle it with olive oil, make sure to add cocoa butter to your smoothie or some yummy coconut oil.
If you're interested in reading up some more, may I recommend:
The Weston A. Price Foundation has done extensive research into the traditional uses of fats, and their applications in today's world. Read here for the full skinny on fats.