Food Freedom Friday Edition 117 - Fat Facts

A few fast facts about fat:

  • Fat is one of the 3 macronutrients in the food we eat (the other two are protein and carbs)
  • Fat contains 9 calories per gram (protein and carbs contain 4 calories per gram each)
  • Fat is required for the absorption of some vitamins (the fat-soluble vitamins – A, D, E, and K)
  • Fat is essential for the production of hormone

From here is can become a little more complex

I have often discussed how some fats are 'good' and some fats are 'bad.' Most people agree about that.

However, when it actually comes down to what makes a fat good or bad, people start to disagree.

If you dive down the 'good fat/bad fat' rabbit hole, be prepared to get lost in it for a little while.

Personally I find the science is fascinating but if your goal is to get a healthy gut AND actually live your life while you do it you might not have the time or interest to go there. 

Here are some simple rules that I follow (and a few of my favorite fats to use)

I have two basic rules I use to answer any questions I have about eating a plant fat or oil.

  1. If you don’t eat the plant, don’t eat the oil
  2. If you can’t squeeze the oil out yourself, don’t eat the oil

Think about one of the most common oils we see in grocery stores or on ingredient lists: canola oil.

Now ask yourself – when was the last time you ate a canola plant?

Your answer is most likely never because canola is not a food humans eat.

What about another common oil – corn oil! Humans do eat corn.

So now think about standing in a corn field. You pluck an ear of corn off the stalk. How do you get the oil out? Can you squeeze it out? Not really, right? If you squeeze the corn you get a watery, sweet mash. To extract corn oil, manufacturers have to use heat and heavy machinery.

Now think about olive oil. People eat olives. If you stand under an olive tree and pull off an olive, you can squish it in your hand and you will have oil all over your hand.

You can see how these 2 rules work together. I admit they are not foolproof, but together they provide a great starting point. If a plant oil or fat fails either of these rules, you should reconsider if you want to eat it.

Top 5 Fats To Avoid

These 5 fats are the most common dangerous fats you’ll find on store shelves and in processed and restaurant foods.

  1. Hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils of any type
  2. Canola & Other Vegetable or Crop Oils
  3. Peanut Oil
  4. Conventional lard and tallow
  5. Soybean Oil

My Favorite fats

Replace these above unhealthy fats with these healthy fats – you’ll find there is a healthy fat for every purpose!

1.     Virgin Coconut Oil

Why I Love It

Coconut oil is made up of about 60% of a unique kind of saturated fat called medium chain triglycerides (MCTs). MCTs are unique in that they are more easily digested than other types of fat. Your body sends MCTs directly to your liver (bypassing the normal fat digestion process) where they can be consumed efficiently. This makes MCTs a great choice for anyone who has trouble digesting fat, including those with gallbladder disease or IBD. Coconut oil also has anti-fungal, anti-microbial, and antibacterial properties. Virgin coconut oil has a slightly-sweet coconut flavor that adds a tropical flair to dishes.

How To Use It

Coconut oil liquefies at 24.5C (76F). Depending on your room temperature, your oil may be a clear liquid, a white solid, or a semi-solid. No matter its state, it works very well for high-temperature cooking and can be used up to 230C (450F). It also makes a great addition to smoothies.

Where To Buy It

Coconut oil is easy to find at most health food stores. I recommend using only virgin coconut oil (avoid refined or processed, deodorized oils). Look for organic, fair trade, and ethically sourced which is really important for coconut oil as it is harvested in some of the most beautiful and delicate ecosystems in the world.

2.     Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Why I Love It

Extra Virgin Olive Oil (EVOO) is one of the only foods just about everyone on earth agrees is healthy, no matter what dietary philosophy you subscribe to. It has a blend of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs and PUFAs) that have many health benefits. Studies link EVOO to everything from lowering the risk of cancer and stroke to decreasing inflammation. Its polyphenol content provides food for the good bacteria in your gut.

EVOO has a bright, peppery flavor that goes well with just about everything. Many are unaware the this oil a high smoke point and is great for high-temp cooking like sautéing and roasting. (The idea that EVOO oxidizes and becomes dangerous if heated is a myth!)

How To Use It

Use it cold, straight from the bottle to make salad dressing or as a topping for roasted veggies. It’s also safe to cook with at higher temperatures. Studies demonstrate that it retains its nutrients even after 36 hours of cooking at 175C (350F)! EVOO should be stored in a dark bottle away from light and heat (the windowsill or on your stove are far from idea).

Where To Buy It

Olive oil is one of the most counterfeited foods in North America. Buyer beware! This healthy fat is in such high demand that unscrupulous sellers will put almost anything in a fancy bottle and sell it to you as EVOO. I do not recommend buying any olive oil without first researching the seller. A high price tag or beautiful bottle is not enough to ensure a high-quality, genuine EVOO. One of my favorite brands is Kasandrinos which is small-batch made, quality guaranteed and absolutely delicious.

3.     Avocado Oil

Why I Love It 

While olive oil and coconut oil are both incredible, they are both rather strongly flavored! Even when the flavor is as good as EVOO or coconut, sometimes you need a neutral background to let other flavors shine through. Hello avocado oil. It is full of healthy fats but also has a really subtle flavor.

How To Use It

This MUFA is liquid at room temperature and is perfect for making emulsions (like healthy, homemade mayonnaise). It has a high smoke point of 270C (520F)! Use it to roast, fry, or sauté meats and vegetables, coat meat before it goes on the BBQ, or any other type of high-heat cooking.

Where To Buy It

High-quality avocado oil is made from ripe avocados that are pressed by hand. If it is made correctly, it will be bright green and look like olive oil when you pour it out of the bottle. Avocado oil like this is hard to find in stores (most avocado oil manufacturers use reject, over-ripe avocados). Primal Kitchen and Chosen Foods are good brands to source.

4.     Tallow & Lard

Why I Love It

You might be shocked to see tallow on this list (there is still such a stigma attached to animal fat consumption), but high-quality tallow from grass-fed animals is actually one of the BEST sources of healthy fats. Tallow is rendered animal fat (tallow can come from any animal except pork which is called lard). Consuming tallow allows me to eat more sustainably by using every part of the animal.

How To Use It

Tallow has a very high smoke point and is perfect for high-heat cooking. Think sweet potato fries or other crispy foods.  It is safe to use up to 215C (420F).

Where To Buy It

Look for tallow when you’re purchasing grass-fed and pastured meats. Do NOT buy conventional tallow or lard. To be healthy, tallow must be sourced from healthy animals. You can also render your own tallow at home.

5.      Grass-Fed Butter

Why I Love It

Butter is one of the best tasting fats and makes everything better. Beyond tasting good, it actually has amazing health benefits. If you tolerate dairy, you can incorporate grass-fed butter into your diet. Grass-fed butter is a wonderful source of fat-soluble Vitamin K2, which is otherwise hard to get. It also is a source of the powerful short-chain fatty acid butyrate, which is critical for a healthy gut. Butter contains the fatty acid conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) which studies show may help with weight loss and even prevent cancer.

How To Use It

You probably already know how to use butter. It has a smoke point of 148C (300F) and should not be used for high-heat cooking.  

Where To Buy It

Look for grass-fed butter that is yellow – not white. Like tallow, you can technically make butter at home with grass-fed milk and a churn. Kerrygold and KiwiPure are popular brands.

6.     Ghee

Why I Love It

Ghee has all the same benefits as butter, but it is better tolerated by those who are sensitive to dairy (or sensitive in general!) Ghee is made by clarifying butter. This means heating butter over a low temperature so that the dairy solids separate from the fat and can be skimmed off the top. Properly prepared ghee is a bright gold color and keeps for long periods of times. As with butter, you want to ensure your ghee comes from grass-fed cows to get all its benefits. It has a much higher smoke point than butter. If you are intolerant to dairy, you likely can tolerate ghee. If you are allergic to dairy, please talk with your healthcare practitioner before consuming ghee or any other dairy product.

How To Use It

Ghee has a milder flavor than butter, but can be used in all the same ways. It is safe to heat to 250C (485F), and can be used for high heat cooking like roasting, sautéing, frying, and grilling.

Where To Buy It

You can make ghee at home using grass-fed butter or buy it online.

Enjoy Healthy Fats

The sheer volume of health and nutrition information available can become overwhelming. I trust that in the area of fats, there is a little more clarity in what to choose, how to use it and what to avoid.

Remember, too, that diversity is an important part of any healthy diet.  Don’t just rely on one type of oil, try a few in different ways. You may discover the amazing taste and flavor benefits of adding extra fats to your meals too!

Michal Ofer