Welcome back to Macronutrient Monday! Fats are one of my favorite things to talk about because there are still so many myths out there about them. Fats are a vital part of our daily diet, but most people are confused about what types to eat (if any) and in what quantity. While some fats are finally being revealed as healthy (hello, egg yolks!) I want to help you understand exactly what fats are, and why we should be eating them.
Fats compose about 15% of our body weight. We can obtain healthy fats from both animal and vegetable sources, and they provide a concentrated source of energy in our diet. While this is somewhat contrary to popular belief (at least in some communities), a fairly high percentage of fat in the diet is required for optimal health.
Roles of Fats:
Provide a source of energy
Building blocks for cell membranes and hormones
Required for absorption of fat soluble vitamins A, D, E and K
Required for the adequate use of proteins
Serve as a protective lining for the organs of the body
Play a role in slowing the absorption of food for proper energy regulation
Make food taste good!!!
The last one is probably my favorite : ) And I’ll tell you why it’s important. Vegetables by themselves can sometimes taste a bit bland…okay maybe you are one of the people that enjoys plain steamed broccoli, but have you ever added butter or ghee on top of it? It turns something that tastes “okay” into something absolutely delicious. Also, a salad without some sort of dressing is actually just upsetting, and unnecessary! Throw some healthy fats on there- it will help you get the most benefit out of your food and you will be much more likely to want to eat vegetables when they taste good.
People get so confused about fats mostly because of the myths and lies we have been told about them. Fats are extremely GOOD for us and we NEED them. The thing is, we need them in the correct proportions and we need the right types of fats. I will do a whole post about the different types of fats in depth, but for now, we can quickly just talk about the different classifications.
First we have saturated fats. These are your highly stable fats and are found in animal fats and tropical oils. Think meat, butter, coconut oil, etc. These are great for cooking because they are stable and don’t go rancid easily.
Next are our monounsaturated fats. These fats are relatively stable and can be heated to some degree, but certainly not to the extent of the saturated fats. These would be your olive oil, peanut oil, avocado oil, etc.
Last are the polyunsaturated fats. These should never be used for cooking and they go rancid easily. These are found in flax, nuts and seeds, and fish oils. These are what comprise your Omega 3 and Omega 6 fats (which you may have heard about before). These Omega 3 and Omega 6 fats are incredibly important for normal growth and the health of our skin. Deficiency can cause dryness, eczema, as well as a reduction in the absorption of other fat soluble vitamins.
All fats are some combination of saturated, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids. So for example, coconut oil is not 100% saturated. It is about 90% saturated and 10% monounsaturated. But because it is primarily saturated, that is the category it gets grouped into.
Understanding what type of fat you are eating is beneficial so that you know how you can cook with it, how you should properly store/ handle it, and also what quantity you should eat it in. In today’s culture, we eat a lot of polyunsaturated fats, and most of these come from Omega 6 fats. This is problematic as those types of fats should be in the proper balance with Omega 3 fats or else many other problems can occur down the line. As a general guideline, we can strive for about 30% saturated fats, 10% polyunsaturated fats, and 60% monounsaturated fats. This can vary greatly depending on your blood type and heredity, but is generally a good place to start.
About 30% of your daily calories should come from good fatty acids. Remember, this isn’t a ton of fat. Since fats provide a higher calorie count per gram, you can eat less of them and be more satisfied than you would be from a calorie from carbs or protein.
Some great examples of fats include:
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Flaxseed oil (about 1 teaspoon a day)
Nuts and Seeds
Cold water fish
Although I talk all about how healthy fats are, there are some fats that we want to avoid at all costs. One point I will stress is that we want to avoid these fats because of the way they are processed, not because they are inherently bad. However, some exceptions to this includes canola, soy and cottonseed oils (they did not exist for our ancestors) which should always be avoided.
Anything that is hydrogenated, partially-hydrogenated, highly processed, or foods that have been fried should never be consumed. I don’t like to give such ultimatums but this is such an important point. These types of fats are extremely damaging to our health. Hydrogenation produces trans fats and are highly toxic. These fats can interfere with many of our bodily processes and have been linked to heart disease (see this article from Chris Kresser ). Some examples of these bad fats are canola oil, soybean oil, margarine, corn oil, and safflower/ sunflower oil.
It is imperative that you read all of your labels (keep your eyes out for an upcoming post on this topic!). These fats often times are hiding in items like bread, cereals, packaged snacks, salad dressings, spaghetti sauce, and so many more. They are used because they are cheap, but this is at a great cost to our health.
When you think about fats, think about what your ancestors would have used. Your grandmother probably cooked in butter (remember to use grass fed!) and we want to go back in time to think about the foods people were eating when all these health conditions weren’t rampant.
Question time: what is your favorite type of fat to use for cooking?