Recently a friend of mine came to me and asked how to navigate which fats are good for you and which should be avoided.
She had read a study showing that polyunsaturated fats were bad for you but when trying to google the issue she found numerous websites saying that they’re good for you! I understand the confusion because both can be true. This is a really common question and really important topic so I’ve turned our conversation into a blog post.
Here’s how it works (and WHY)
A fat molecule is basically a string of chemical bonds.
- If every bond has a hydrogen molecule on it it’s considered “saturated”
- If one bond is missing a hydrogen molecule it’s “monounsaturated”
- If many bonds are missing a hydrogen molecule it is “polyunsaturated”
Fat molecules get damaged (or become “rancid”) when they’re exposed to heat or light. However, the hydrogen molecules are like little pieces ‘armour’ or ‘reinforcements’ protecting them from damage. So the more “saturated” a fat is, the more stable it is.
The exception to this rule is when an unsaturated fat has been artificially saturated using a process of hydrogenation. Artificially saturated fats (such as margarine) are terribly damaged and terribly bad for your health.
Which fats can you cook with?
Cook with saturated fats only. Organic lard, tallow, ghee, butter, duck fat, coconut oil, sustainable palm oil… Any fat that naturally is solid at room temperature.
Save cold pressed oils such as olive oil, avocado oil and various nut and seed oils for salads.
Toss any oils that have been exposed to heat or light straight in the trash and never look back.
Avoid canola oil, vegetable oil, soy bean oil or cotton seed oil at all costs.
Is store bought animal fat ok quality?
Cooking with animal fats from the supermarket is one hundred times better than using the polyunsaturated fats you can buy there, however if you’re aiming for perfection – organic, pasture raised animal fats are much better.
Animals (and humans) hold a lot of our toxins in the fat cells. If the animal has been exposed to hormones, antibiotics and other ‘undesirables’, a lot of those toxins and junk would remain in the fat.
Furthermore, due to the diet and lifestyle of the animals, pasture raised animal products will be higher in vitamins and minerals and they’ll have a better omega 3 to omega 6 ratio, which is essential to immunity and antiinflammation.
My advice would be to start off wherever you can. Keep it easy for yourself and edge towards better quality as your time and budget will permit.
Why does it matter?
Every cell in your body, as well as a lot of functions, structure and hormones are built on fats, so if you’re eating fats that are all busted up and rancid, your cells don’t function as well. It damages your liver, your hormones, your cognition and the list goes on.
As an added bonus, saturated fats tend to be animal fats. Aside from being more stable, animal fats are also more like the fats we have and need in our body. If you’re eating plant fats only, your body would need to do more work to transform those fats into the form it needs, whereas animal fats are already in a more usable form.
Here’s just one example: Cholesterol is needed, by the body, to manufacture fertility hormones. There’s no cholesterol in plant foods (at all), which means if you’re not consuming dietary cholesterol in the form of animal fats, your body needs to take those plant fats and manufacture them into your own cholesterol before it can make your hormones.
- Sometimes your body will just do it
- Sometimes your body will do it poorly
- Sometimes it’ll be be too difficult and your body simply resign and say “oh well, I just don’t have what it takes to have offspring this month/year/ever. Too bad.”
What is my favourite saturated fat?
I have in my home: Tallow (which is beef fat), lard (which is pig fat), ghee (which is milk fat), butter, palm oil, coconut oil and duck fat. These are all examples of healthy fats.
I don’t enjoy coconut oil as much as the others because of its fragrance, so I rarely use it, except sometimes on chicken breasts or fish fillets.
Butter is great for lightly cooked oven meals but I find that if I’m using it to fry something, the milk proteins in it often burn and smoke before whatever I’m frying is ready.
Tallow and Ghee are my favourites because their flavours and fragrances are not overpowering to the meal. I tend to choose which fat I want to use based on which one will complement the flavours of what I’m cooking.
So, what’s the bottom line?
Unsaturated fats are fine to eat if they have been produced using “cold pressed” processing and are not exposed to light. (So you should be buying it in a tin or dark glass – and it’ll say on the label if it’s cold pressed.)
Once you get it home, never cook with it (even olive oil) and try to store it in a cool dark place.
Cook with Saturated fats only and be sure to include a lot of healthy fats in your diet overall.
Need More Guidance?
I can help you to get more fats into your diet in a safe and healthy way during one-on-one Nutritional Therapy Consultations. Alternatively, you could call or email me, and I’d be happy to talk through an action plan with you.