I was. In my 20’s and probably into my early 30’s too.
Its not my fault, that was the time when the studies, magazine articles and media were going on about how bad fat is for you:
More fat in food = more fat in your body.
The fat is clogging your arteries.
Avoid saturated, and trans fats.
Grocery stores had ‘low fat’ alternatives to everything.
And honestly, if you didn’t know anything about how a human body breakdowns and uses up the food you eat, it kinda makes sense. Fat in your food, becomes fat in your body right?
The human body is way more complicated than that. Whether you have a burger or opt for a salad. The food you eat is fuel for your body so the type of fuel you give it matters. I discovered this doing my first whole30.
I also wrote this post about my grocery shopping tips. In it, I came up with this list of cooking oils to focus on for heart health:
Now I want to dig deeper into which cooking fat is good for you. And can even help you lose weight and maintain a healthy body.
Fat is good. And an important part of a healthy diet.
Fat is fuel for our brains and our bodies. The brain actually thrives on fat. They are a source of energy and help us absorb nutrients from our food. Fat is also an essential building block for our cells.
But before you go order that plate of extra large fries to go with your deep fried mars bar. It isn’t quite as simple as that.
Of course, there are good and bad fats. And too much of anything is never good. So keeping everything in moderation is always a good rule of thumb. But how much is enough? And which fats are good and which are bad? When I started researching what fats I should be using to cook, I was so confused: Trans fat, Saturated fat, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. Which one should I pick?
The really basic way I remember it is that the shorter the name of the fat the worse it is for me.
Trans Fats = The Bad
This is easy: Trans fats are the worst of the fats. No question.
Basically a trans fat is created when a healthy oil goes through a process called ‘homogenization’ which changes the oil from a liquid state to a solid state and prevents the oil from going bad. Things like margarine or vegetable shortening use trans fats to get their creamy consistency.
You can understand why it was so popular at one time, given the longer shelf life. That can be very useful when manufacturers need to make large quantities of a product like cakes, cookies, pastries, chips etc. Yup all the good stuff. There is no safe quantity to eat these and some countries have banned or limited the use of trans fats. Canada banned them in September in 2018 (yay!).
Basically a trans fat is bad because it increases the ‘bad’ cholesterol (LDL) in your blood as well reducing the ‘good’ HDL. Like a one-two punch for your body. They also create inflammation in the body leading to all the bad stuff like heart disease, stroke, diabetes etc.
I think you get it: Trans Fat is bad. Avoid.
Saturated Fats = The Okay
These are really in the middle of the road on the good v. bad fats spectrum. They are anything that is normally solid at room temperature, but then melts when heated – Coconut oil, lard, butter, cheese.
Too much saturated fat can cause the ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol to go up. So it is best to limit your intake of these fats. So you can go ahead and eat saturated fats, but keep these to a minimum.
Personally, I have a tsp each of coconut oil and ghee in my morning bulletproof coffee as my saturated fat for the day. Occasionally I will cook with ghee or coconut oil. And when I bake I do like to use butter. And enjoy some cheese, but again, these are all ‘sometimes’ foods for me.
Polyunsaturated fats and
Monounsaturated = The Better & Best
See the longer name? You know that means we into the good category.
These fats are found in vegetables, nuts, seeds, avocado, and fish. The oils tend to be liquid at room temperature.
Olive oil is a great monunsaturated fat. This is why you hear so much about the ‘Mediterranean diet’ being so good for you. They douse their food in olive oil.
If you focus on replacing most of the fat in your diet with more monounsaturated fats, you will be doing really well to reduce your risk of heart disease. I mostly use olive oil when I’m cooking and only use coconut oil or avocado oil when I need something to be cooked under high heat – like over 400*F (since olive oil will burn if it gets too hot).
If you use mostly corn, sunflower or safflower oil at home you are using a polyunsaturated fat. Polyunsaturated fats contain ‘essential’ fats. Essential fats are fats that our bodies can’t make on its own, and we to get them from our food. They are not all bad, but for the most bang for your health buck you want to stick to monounsaturated fats.
Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids fall into the polyunsaturated fat category.
Omega-6 fatty acids are important for the brain and muscles of the body but can also promote inflammation in the body, so we only need a very small amount. Corn, grapeseed, soybean and sunflower oils all contain lots of Omega-6 fatty acids. These tend to be used mostly in baking, or deep frying. But most of these oils tend to oxidize when heated and this can cause an inflammatory response in our bodies.
Omega-3 fatty acids, on the other hand can help to prevent and even treat heart disease, reduce blood pressure, improve HDL (the good cholesterol). We need to eat more of these. Omega-3 fatty acids are found in fatty fish like salmon, mackerel or sardines. And also in walnuts and flax.
Omega-3 fatty acids are the fats that help your body repair itself and reduce inflammation. You want to make sure you get lots of the good Omega-3 fatty acids overall. Supplementing with Omega-3 is also recommended by most nutritionists.
Note: Canola oil, while it is in the ‘good’ category as a polyunsaturated fat containing Omega-3 fatty acids, it can be very highly refined and processed, and also tends to contain GMO’s. Reducing the good effects. I tend to use this very sparingly. If you do like to use canola oil, try to find a non-GMO variety.
The bottom line: You want to focus on reducing your intake of trans or saturated fats, and try to replace these with mostly monounsaturated fats and get lots of Omega-3 fatty acids in your diet too.
And don’t worry, eating some fat in a balanced diet does not make you fat!
It makes your heart work better, your brain function clearer and reduces inflammation, when done right. In fact, both J and I have increased our fat intake significantly in the past year (we eat avocados everyday, and mostly cook with olive oil, ghee and coconut oil) and both of us have lost weight and our cholesterol levels have actually improved!
When it comes to cooking fats: don’t use trans fats (margarine & shortenings), reduce your use of saturated fats (those fats that tend to be solid at room temp and melt when heated up – like coconut oil, butter, cheese, ghee etc.), and try to replace these with mostly monounsaturated fats (olive oil, avocado oil) and get lots of Omega-3 fatty acids in your diet (fatty fish, walnuts and flax seeds).
Now excuse me while I go make myself a big ole salad with some avocado, walnuts and an healthy drizzle of olive oil.