With so many oils to choose from and so much talk about the different types of fat, it’s difficult to know which ones to use.
Dietary fat, also known as fatty acids, is found in foods from both plants and animals. Some are linked to negative effects on health, while others have been found to offer significant health benefits.
Either way, there’s a lot of confusion out there about the health effects of different fats and oils. As a nutritionist, my job is to help separate fact from fiction.
Fats are vital for health
Without the right ones, your body cannot function properly. For example, many important vitamins such as A, D, E and K are fat-soluble and therefore require fat to be absorbed.
Fats also protect against addictions of all kinds, including sugar dependency and nibbling. They help balance blood sugar levels and promote lasting mental and physical energy. Because fats take longer to digest than carbohydrates and proteins, they are unique in their ability to make you feel full and satisfied after a meal – so you can stop thinking about food for a while! You also need to eat fat to burn stored fat. So, while eating too much fat of any type can tip the scale the wrong way, they are also essential for helping maintain an ideal weight.
The good, the Bad and the Ugly
All foods and oils contain a mixture of fatty acids, but the predominant type of fat they contain is what makes them “good”, “bad” or even “ugly”. Here’s a simple guide.
Essential Fatty Acids (EFAs) are vital for health, but since your body can’t produce them you need to obtain them daily from your diet. Most of us aren’t getting enough. These polyunsaturated fats are essential for the flexibility of your cells and for your body to work properly.They also help produce the skin’s natural oil barrier, critical for keeping your skin hydrated, plumper, and younger looking. Widespread consumption of processed foods (most containing vegetable oils) means that most people get far too many omega-6 fats and not enough omega-3 fats, a major contributor to the ongoing inflammation underlying most chronic diseases seen today.
Omega-3 fats also help boost metabolism, promote cognitive function (think brainpower!) and help relieve depression. Deficiency symptoms include dry, flaky skin, fatigue, allergies, poor memory and irritability. We need both plant and animal derived omega-3 fats for optimal health. Good plant sources are walnuts, flax seeds, chia seeds and algae. Good animal sources are oily fish like wild salmon, mackerel, trout and sardines. As plant sources contain a less active form of this essential fat and since many people don’t eat enough fish, I often recommend omega-3 supplement to my clients.
Monounsaturated Fats are a rich in vitamin E, a powerful antioxidant that reduces free radical damage, fights inflammation and helps prevent premature aging. Research consistently shows that eating foods high in monounsaturated fat can improve your cholesterol levels and decrease your risk of cardiovascular disease. Fortunately, this comes naturally for those of us following the Mediterranean diet, which is rich in olive oil, avocado, nuts and seeds.
Saturated Fats are primarily animal-based and are typically found in high-fat meats (beef, pork, dark chicken meat and poultry skin) and dairy products (whole milk, butter, cheese, cream). While some saturated fats are necessary to produce hormones and for proper immune and brain function, a diet high in saturated fats is not as safe as recent high-profile reports (and fans of the ketogenic and LCHF – low carb, high fat diet) would have us believe. Most medical experts hold that overconsumption of saturated fats is an important risk factor for high cholesterol, coronary heart disease and early death.
Another reason that saturated fats get a bad rap is because they often go hand in hand with foods high in refined carbs and sugar– think biscuits, cakes and ice cream. A simple rule is to make sure your intake of saturated fats does not exceed more than 5 to 6 percent of total calories. It’s also important to eat animals that ate foods that were natural to them. Grass-fed beef, pastured eggs and organic dairy from grass-fed cows are much more nutritious and have more fat-soluble vitamins than their “conventionally” raised counterparts.
Trans and Hydrogenated Fat are toxic by-products of food processing and are a true danger to health. Avoid them as much as possible since they contain carcinogenic chemicals and increase the risk of heart disease, cancer and other degenerative diseases. They also increase LDL (bad) cholesterol, lower HDL (good) cholesterol and interfere with the absorption of essential fatty acids. Avoid any food with “partially hydrogenated oil” on the label – it guarantees the presence of trans fats. These toxic fats are also formed during cooking with partially hydrogenated fats at high temperature – another reason to stay clear of fried junk food!
Canola Oil (huile de Colza) is marketed as healthy as it is low in saturated fat and high in unsaturated fats, including Omega-3 fatty acids. True on the surface, but canola oil is also made with a highly unnatural processing method that involves high heat, deodorization and the toxic solvent hexane. Because it’s partially hydrogenated, significant amounts of trans fats are formed during this process. It’s an industrial oil better suited for making candles, soaps, lipsticks, lubricants, inks, biofuels and even insecticides. Most of the world’s canola crop is genetically modified. Stay away.
What’s the best oil to cook with?
Saturated fats are the best choice for cooking at high heat because they are more stable and aren’t damaged by high cooking temperatures.Butter and coconut oil are both good options.Many commercial coconut oils are refined, bleached and deodorized and contain chemicals used in processing. The best coconut oil to use is extra virgin coconut.
Polyunsaturated vegetables oils, such as corn oil, safflower and sunflower oil are the worst oils to cook with because of the dangerous trans fats produced during the hydrogenation process.
And speaking of Coconut Oil
Organic virgin coconut oil may be a saturated fat, but it is made up mostly of heart-healthy fats that help manage weight as they can quickly be broken down and used for immediate energy. Its many health benefits include increased immunity and promotion of healthy cholesterol levels.It’s used extensively in Ayurveda because of its anti-fungal, anti- microbial and antibacterial properties.
Get more Omega-3s (take a good quality supplement if necessary), eat plenty of olive oil, avocado, nuts and seeds. Eat saturated fats in moderation, cook with coconut oil and avoid refined vegetable oils. It’s as simple as that!
Fornutritional consultations on a wide range of health issues contact Susan Tomassini, Licensed Nutritionist BSc (Hons) Dip BCNH @ 06 17481114
The Clever Kitchen’s Gorgeous Granola is a delicious way to get lots of healthy omega-3 fats into your diet
Enjoy with fruit and your favourite non-dairy milk.
- 2 cups oats- gluten free if possible
- 1/2 cup ground flax
- ½ cup walnuts (leave out if allergic to nuts)
- 1 cup mixed seeds (chia, pumpkin, sunflower, sesame)
- 1/2 cup maple syrup
- ½ cup coconut oil
- 1 tsps. Vanilla bean powder or 2 tsps. extract
- 1 dash cinnamon
- 1/4tsp Himalayan salt
- 1cup dried cranberries or apple or papaya chunks
1. Preheat the oven to 170°C.
2. In a blender add the seeds and walnuts and quickly whizz to chop slightly, or leave chunky- as you prefer. If your oats are chunky you might like to blend these a bit too – it will depend on the make of oats you use.
3. In a bowl add all dry ingredients and mix well.
4. Melt the coconut oil and add the maple syrup and vanilla.
5. Mix wet and dry ingredients together ensuring everything is well coated
6. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and evenly spread out the granola mixture. Make sure it is not too thick – about 1 cm is fine.
7. Bake for about 25 minutes giving it a good stir half way through.
8. Leave to cool on the tray for at least 30 minutes. Cooling it on the tray will form nice clumps of the granola mixture.
9. Store in a sealed container for up to a month.
Try these combinations too: spice it up with adding a little cinnamon, nutmeg and ground ginger or swap half the seeds for shredded coconut, add goji’s or mulberries or dates, mix up the nuts try almonds & pecans, or add dark chocolate nibs/chips for a real breakfast treat.