What About Fat?

 

“Every human being is the author of his own health or disease.”  Buddha

Back in the late 80’s when the “fat free” weight loss trend was just starting to get a good hold, my sister-in-law said to me, “Fat makes you fat.  You can’t get enough fat out of your diet.”  It sounded so logical and she seemed so well-informed that I was convinced. Certainly people were losing weight on low fat diets but the reality was that by cutting the fat out of their diet they naturally cut out sugar as well and sugar is, and has always been, the main culprit to weight gain. It wasn’t long before companies were providing low-fat products, but they were adding sugar to make up the difference in flavor, so America ended up fatter than ever!

The other villain that goes out with a low-fat diet is hydrogenated oils. Hydrogenated oil is made by forcing hydrogen gas into oil at high pressure. Both animal and vegetable fats can be, and are, hydrogenated. Generally the more solid the oil is, the more hydrogenated it is. The most common examples of hydrogenated oil are shortening and margarine. In the 1990’s, it was realized that these products might have deleterious health effects, including weight gain, an irony since they were originally produced and promoted as being healthier than conventional oils. We should all have zero tolerance for hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils.

Eating fats from natural sources will not make us fat, but more importantly, dietary fat plays a critical role in our diet. Fat is crucial to many of our body’s processes and many nutrients are fat soluble.  Fat is crucial for brain and nerve function, healthy skin, and other tissues.  It is also a good source of sustained energy and can keep us feeling satisfied longer, which means it can actually help us lose weight!  About 20% of your calories in every meal should come from fat.

Each source of  fat contributes something different to our nutritional needs so get your fats from a variety of sources.  Each of the following oils have great nutritional qualities and contribute to a healthy diet.

Coconut Oil

Coconut oil had a bad reputation for a while because it is a saturated fat but the fatty acids in coconut oil are medium-chain triglycerides, which are easily metabolized by the body.  Some research suggests that these fatty acids boost metabolism, promote weight loss and increase HDL, the protective cholesterol.  Coconut oil is antimicrobial, antibacterial, has cancer fighting properties, improves digestion and improves immunity.  It can also be used as an emollient to soften and moisten skin. Use coconut oil for medium heat cooking and any place you might use butter. Remember it will taste a little like coconut, especially when used cold. For more uses and benefits of coconut oil here is a long list by Balance Me Beautiful.

Olive Oil

By now most you have heard about the value of olive oil and are using it regularly.  Olive oil  protects against bad cholesterol (LDL), is good for your heart, promotes healthy digestion, eases symptoms of ulcers and gastritis, and has all the vitamins and nutrients of olives including vitamin E and antioxidants.  Make sure you buy high quality, cold pressed, extra virgin olive oil. It is better used at room temperature or low heat. Olive oil has a low smoke point and once it is reached it will lose many of its benefits.

Macadamia Nut Oil

Macadamia nut oil is mostly monounsaturated, rich in omega 3’s, contains oleic acid which has been shown to reduce inflammation, increase testosterone and reduce symptoms of asthma. It is also one of the good cholesterol sources, it helps lower LDL levels (bad cholesterol) and increase HDL (good cholesterol).  It is easy to see why it is becoming the next wonder food, or at least wonder oil. What makes it most appealing to me is that is can be used at higher heat. You can heat it 40 degrees hotter than you can olive oil.

Peanut Oil

This oil is also great for high heat cooking. Peanut oil is high in omega-6, so not everyone is a fan. We need omega-6 but our modern diet contains too much of it so we counter by trying to get more omega-3’s.  If we have an otherwise healthy diet, peanut oil can be a good option. The health benefits of peanut oil are that it is a good source of plant sterols, especially B-sitosterol , which may reduce heart disease and may support prostate health; it contains resveratrol which has been found to protect against degenerative nerve disease, Alzheimer’s, cancers and viral/fungal infections.  This oil also contains Vitamin E and anti-oxidants.  If you are dying for a french fry try Five Guys.  There fries are cooked in peanut oil and there are no chemical additives.

Butter

If butter made you fat or increased heart disease, the French would all be obese and dead! At the turn of the 20th century, heart disease was rare and by 1960’s it was the number one killer.  Yet during that time butter consumption had decreased from 18 pounds per year to four!  What had increased drastically was our dependence on hydrogenated oils like margarine and shortening.  Some health benefits to real butter are that it contains an easily absorbed form of Vitamin A, as well as Vitamins E and K;  it contains anti-oxidants, selenium, iodine, helps absorb minerals, helps with stiff joints, hardening of the arteries, cataracts and may promote fertility in women. It also contains CLA (conjugated linoleic acid) which has several health benefits one of which, ironically, may be weight loss.  If you are feeling adventuresome you might try ghee. Ghee is clarified butter and commonly used in Indian cooking.

Foods for Fat

It’s always best to eat our fat as it occurs naturally in food. Some great food sources for fat are raw nuts, peanuts, avocados, seeds and “oily” fish like wild salmon.

There are many more fats out there and a lot of opinions about what is good and what isn’t. You will be bombarded with different theories. In deciding what fats to eat use the same criteria as we do in all food: Ask where did it come from and how was it processed. If it has a parent or grows in the ground and is reasonably unprocessed your body will recognize it as food and utilize it well.

               “He who has health has hope; and he who has hope has everything.”  Arabic Proverb

By Sherry Stirling Fernandez

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