The hate-on for dietary fat seems to come in waves. Lately, I’ve noticed a plethora of low-fat recipe websites popping up, shunning fat once again. As someone who has a background in anatomy, physiology, biochemistry, cellular biology and preventive & holistic nutrition, I’ll share with you my knowledge on why we need fats in our diet and why in fact, we can’t live with out them!
It’s easy to get confused about good fats vs. bad fats, how much fat we should eat, how to avoid pro-inflammatory harmful fats and what role omega-3 fatty acids play when it comes to our health.
While over-consumption of bad fats has been linked to inflammation associated with heart disease, cancer and obesity; a deficiency in omega-3 fatty acids has been linked to depression, ADD, chronic fatigue, dermatitis, memory problems, arthritis, macular degeneration and Alzheimer’s.
Functions of Fat in the Body
• Fats are needed for the absorption of fat soluble vitamins A, D, E and K.
• Fats are crucial to the health of the bones and teeth because calcium needs fat to be absorbed!
• Fats help form the myelin sheath: the protective fatty covering around the nerves.
• Fats are needed for hormone, protein, prostaglandin and neurotransmitter synthesis.
• Fats are an essential component of cell membranes and the internal fatty tissues that protect our organs.
• The human brain consists of 60% fat. Studies have shown that a lack of healthy fats in the diet can lead to early cognitive decline. It has also been documented that pregnant women who have a diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids have healthier, smarter babies!
• Dietary fat is essential to keeping us feeling satiated and full and provides a slow burning energy. When fat is completely cut from the diet, there is a tendency to binge on refined carbs, which can lead to weight gain.
The Right Kind of Fat
As a holistic nutritionist and advocator of a whole foods diet, I believe the healthiest fats are those that come from whole foods sources like nuts, seeds, avocados, beans and legumes. Healthy fats from whole foods such as these contain vitamins, minerals and antioxidants like vitamin E that protect the natural oils from oxidation and free radical damage.
Oils are not a whole food and should only be used in moderation. Oils are 100% fat, highly processed, refined and heated to high temperatures which destroys the vitamins and antioxidants – the very substances which give them nutritional value when they exist in their whole food form. Additionally, heating and cooking with oils produces many toxic substances above and beyond trans-fatty acids. Due to their chemical structure and unstable bonds, no monounsaturated or polyunsaturated oil is truly safely for frying.
Heating and frying oils exposes them to three damaging influences:
As oils are heated and oxidized, toxic products and free radicals are formed, which damage tissues and cells, create inflammation and can lead to accelerated aging, impaired immune function and increased cancer risk.
Harmful Fats and Oils – The Worst Offenders
Diets providing too much Omega-6 fatty acids and not enough Omega-3 stimulate inflammation in the body. The main sources of inflammatory fat in the Standard American Diet comes from animal fats, hydrogenated oils, trans fat, margarine, vegetable shortening, canola oil and other processed vegetable oils.
✓ The Good Fats
Including the following foods in your diet will supply you with a good amount of healthy, anti-inflammatory fats. Many of these foods are also great sources of calcium, magnesium, fiber, protein and plant sterols.
*Note: Nuts and seeds should always be eaten raw and stored in air-tight containers in the refrigerator to prevent the oils from going rancid. Avoid roasted, salted and glazed nuts. The more you enjoy these foods closest to their natural state, the more you will come to appreciate their fresh, wholesome flavour!
Hemp seeds • chia seeds • flax seeds • pumpkin seeds • sesame seeds • sunflower seeds • almonds • walnuts • brazil nuts • macadamia nuts • cashews • hazelnuts • pecans • chickpeas • navy beans • red beans • avocado • bananas • olives • coconut • oats • peas • lentils • brown rice • quinoa
If one chooses to continue using oil, here’s what to look for to make the healthiest possible choice:
• Always buy cold-pressed, extra-virgin oils in dark, glass bottles.
• Store oils in a cool place out of direct sunlight.
• Buy oils in small quantities and use quickly to avoid additional oxidation.
• Never heat flax, hemp seed oil or any other polyunsaturated oil.
• Avoid canola or generic vegetable oils.
• The vegetable oil industry is big business and one of the heaviest users of pesticides and chemical fertilizers. Always buy organic to lessen your exposure to these harmful toxins!
• If cooking with oil, add a bit of water to reduce the temperature and avoid heating oil to a smoking point. *Do not add water to hot oil already heated in your pan. Begin by adding the oil and water together at the same time, then slowly bringing up the heat.
• Vegetable broth makes a good substitution for oil in many recipes.
• Coconut oil, being a saturated fat, is more stable under high temperatures and more suitable for cooking with as far as oxidation/inflammation is concerned.
• Broil, bake and steam foods instead of frying.
How Much Fat Should We Get in Our Diet?
The amount of fat each of us should consume is going to vary from person to person based on age, health concerns etc. A general guideline to follow is to consume no more than 20% overall calories from fat a day.
For example, based on a 2,000 calories a day, this would mean 44 grams of fat.
1. Multiply 2,000 by 0.20 (20 percent) to get 400 calories.
There are 9 calories in a gram of fat, so divide the number of calories by 9.
2. Divide 400 calories by 9 (calories a gram) to get 44 grams of fat
I didn’t nearly cover everything I could have said regarding fats in the diet but hopefully I’ve provided enough info to give you a good idea of the kind of fats that are most beneficial to our health.