Updated: Oct 19, 2022
Are you someone who is afraid of consuming fats? If yes, you are definitely not alone. Fats have been vilified in different countries for couple of decades. Therefore you have seen and still see in grocery stores products like for example dairy with low fat or no fat. What's important to know that not all fats are created equally. Our bodies need healthy fat in order to survive, it's one of the macronutrient our body needs on a daily basis.
In the below article I cover what are healthy fats and unhealthy fats, why does our body need fat and what oils and fats to use with what cooking methods.
Why is fat needed for the body?
Fat is one of the primary energy sources for the body. Fat has an important role on weight management, absorbing nutrients from the food, regulating body temperature, insulating your internal organs, supporting immune function, for hormonal balance and for maintaining healthy skin and hair. We also need fats in order to absorb the fat-soluble vitamins from the plant foods we eat- like vitamin A, D, E and K. Since fat is the most calorie rich macronutrient (9kcal per gram), it provides as energy as well as turns off our hunger hormones. Many healthy sources of fat are also fat-burning foods.
Low-fat diet can lead to hormonal imbalances, weight gain and overeating, higher rist for insulin resistance, gut issues, poor brain function, heart health issues, higher risk for depression and anxiety. Modern diets often contain too many grains and carbohydrate rich foods (including foods with sugar), that spike blood sugar, whereas other foods like meat, fats, poultry, vegetables, eggs do not. Inflammatory diet, that contains a lot of sugar, refined carbs, processed vegetable oils, low-quality proteins is more damaging to your health than eating a diet high in fat.
Which fats do we need to consume on a daily basis?
The below fats have all different effects on the body. It's generally recommended that unsaturated fats should make the majority of your fat intake. However, both saturated and unsaturated fats have their health benefits.
Lower triglycerides and make LDL cholesterol particles larger and less risky for health
Increase good HDL cholesterol
Form the foundation of cell membranes
Reduce inflammatory substances that promote heart disease
Important for bone health as they helps absorb calcium into bones
Protect liver from damage, including from toxins and chemicals
Help to burn fat (CLA- Conjugated linoleic acid found in grass-fed beef, raw dairy and other animal products
Reduce leaky gut and repair the gut
Reduce the risk of stroke
Lauric acid (in coconut oil) has antibacterial, anti-fungal, antiviral properties
Since they increase calorie expenditure and temperature in the body, they promote weight loss
Which foods contain healthy saturated fats?
Lower blood pressure
Reduce LDL cholesterol and triglycerides
Protect against heart disease
Lower inflammation and reduce general oxidation
Improve insulin sensitivity
Decrease the formation of blood clots at higher heats
Help you lose weight
May reduce cancer risk
Which foods contain healthy monounsaturated fats?
Extra virgin olive oil
Raw peanuts (make sure to read the label when purchasing peanut butter, that it contains only peanuts and sea salt)
Rapeseed oil contains monounsaturated fats, but it also contains erucic acid, which is known to cause health problems.
Support brain health and cognitive function
Play a structural role in your body's brain and cells
Help prevent anxiety and depression
Keep heart healthy
Aid in cellular function, regulate gene expression and form cell membranes
Support healthy bones
Reduces menstrual pains
Promote better sleep
Which foods contain healthy polyunsaturated fats?
Flaxseeds + oil
Canned tuna in oil
Though vegetable oils like corn oil, soybean and safflower oil also contain polyunsaturated fats, they are often highly refined, heavily processed and rich in inflammatory omega-6 fatty acids (we do needs some of these fatty acids in our diet, but people tend to consume too much). Vegetable oils are also easily oxidised- they break down and deteriorate when exposed to high heat. This can increase the formation of free radicals, that cause inflammation and oxidative damage to our cells.
These are fats that you want to cut out from your diet completely. Though some foods contain naturally trans fats (meat and dairy products of ruminant animals), you want to avoid the artificial ones produced through a process called hydrogenation. Food manufacturers add hydrogen molecules to liquid vegetable oils to extend shelf life, enhance flavour and create a more solid texture in foods. You can find trans fats mainly in processed products.
Impact on health
Increase your risk of heart disease
Raise bad LDL cholesterol
Lower good HDL cholesterol
Increase risk of diabetes
Which foods contain trans fats?
Packaged chips and snacks
Packaged baked goods
Packaged and refrigerated dough
Fried meats and fast foods
Nondairy coffee creamers
The best way to avoid trans fats is to eat a diet full of fresh vegetables, fruits, organic meats, legumes, nuts and seeds.
How much fat should you consume?
It depends on your age, activity level and health, but roughly if you get around 40 percent of your calories from carbohydrates, 30 percent from protein and the rest 30 percent from healthy fats. Consuming more fats make you feel fuller between meals and therefore you have less cravings for sugar and carbohydrate rich foods. Your energy levels are also more constant throughout the day. I often follow my hand when plating my meals- whole hand size vegetables, greens; palm size protein and thumb size fat.
If you have high LDL cholesterol levels, it's good to keep the intake of saturated fat in moderation. It's recommended that you don't consume more than 5-10% from your daily calories from saturated fats.
What fats to use with what cooking methods?
It's important to keep cooking oil smoke point in mind depending what cooking method you plan to use. Cooking oils that have a low smoke point, can break down under high heat, leading to creating free-radicals harmful for our health.
Saturated fats are better too use for high heat cooking than polyunsaturated fats, as they are more resistant to oxidation and damage caused by high-heat cooking methods. Polyunsaturated fats are better to top of cooked meals, salads, add to dips, salad dressings.
For cooking, roasting, baking, sautéing, frying:
Red palm oil
For topping salads, ready made meals, in dips, salad dressings, spreads:
Extra virgin olive oil
Hemp seed oil
Walnut oil is great to drizzle over grilled fruits, potatoes and other veggies, poultry dishes, pasta, cooked meat, seafood
Sesame oil- use it as a finishing oil to burst flavour of food. Works wells with noodle, rice, poultry and meat dishes
I hope the above gives a good overview of fats, why we need fat in our diet, what type of fats we should consume and which ones we should avoid.