Hopefully by now, most people are aware that fats are not the enemy of health.
If this is news to you, there’s this thing called the internet. On this internet is a website called “Google”. Type “dietary fat is healthy” and hit search.
I realize that most everyone is at least accepting of the concept of “healthy fats”. What I aim to cover in this article is what exactly that means. At least in the light of the most up to date scientific research divorced from corporate bias. I’ll explain the 4 kinds of fat. (saturated, monounsaturated, trans and polyunsaturated) We’ll cover what kinds of fats to cook with. Lastly we’ll cover what kind of fats to avoid.
The 4 kinds of fats.
- Saturated Fats – Main sources include: coconut oil, butter, ghee, lard, fatty cuts of beef, lamb, pork and egg yolks. Animal sources of fats are the most well suited for human digestion.
- Coconut is loaded with MCT (medium-chain triglycerides) which is a great source of easily digestible energy. MCTs don’t require bile for digestion and pass directly into your liver.
- Saturated fat intake needs are based on your individual tolerance. It does NOT cause heart disease. However, as an example, some people with APOE 4/4 genotype or with mutations in their LDL receptor or apolipoprotein B have trouble clearing LDL from their blood and may be more sensitive to the effects of dietary saturated fats.
- Monounsaturated Fats – Main sources include: macadamia nuts, olives/olive oil, avocados, almonds, egg yolks, lard, chicken & duck fat, tallow (beef or lamb) and butter.
- Keep in mind, some foods that are high in monounsaturated fats, such as nuts and avocados, are also high in linoleic acid aka omega-6.
- Omega 6 can be pre-inflammatory if consumed in large amounts, especially when a disproportionately low amount of EPA and DHA is included in the diet. (EPA & DHA are omega 3s)
- Trans Fats – There is only 1 good kind of trans fat and it comes from pasture grazing, ruminant animals digesting grass like cows and sheep: conjugated linoleic acid (CLA)
- CLA lowers the risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes and even cancer in research.
- CLA is in the dairy and meat from pastured (grass fed and grass finished preferably) ruminant animals.
- ALL artificial trans fats promote inflammation and INCREASE the risk of the diseases mentioned above.
The 4th type: Polyunsaturated Fats aka Omega-6 & Omega-3
You have to get polyunsaturated fats from food. That’s what makes PUFAs essential. We’ll start with omega-6 and then move on to omega-3.
- Omega-6 – The most important long-chain omega-6 is arachidonic acid (ARA)
- It’s produced in our bodies using linoleic acid or found in animal products like meat, poultry or eggs.
- ARA is present in cell membranes, is involved in cell signaling, is necessarry for growth and repair of skeletal muscle tissues and along with DHA, is the most abundant fatty acid in the brain.
- Linoleic acid (LA) is in stuff like nuts, seeds, poultry and avocado but is also contained in concentrated amounts in industrial seeds oils. There’s some debate in the research community about the effects it has on our health:
- On one hand, the argument is that eating too much linoleic acid is a huge factor in the exponential increase of modern chronic disease because of how much it promotes inflammation.
- On the other hand, the argument is that that linoleic acid intake is only important to consider when consumed in largely disproportionate amounts when compared to EPA & DHA (omega 3s). The optimal ratio being between 1:1 and 3:1 of omega-6 to omega-3. On average for American diets today that ratio is closer to 20:1.
- My answer to both of these is: yes. I think they’re both right.
Omega-3s – Plant based vs. animal sourced.
- Omega-3 – Found in green leaves and algae. (and the animals that eat them)
- ALA (alpha-linoleic acid) is what you’ll get from non-animal based versions of omega-3. It’s important to note that the body’s ability to convert ALA to the long chain versions (EPA & DHA) is at best 0.05% in healthy adults.
- Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) & docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) are the long chain versions that are usually associated with most of the omega-3 health benefits such as:
- Reducing your risk of heart disease
- DHA specifically is essential for proper brain development & function
- Decreasing overall systemic inflammation
- Cod liver oil can be a good whole food way to supplement your intake of omega-3 while also getting a good dose of fat soluble vitamins A & D.
- Chugging flax seed oil will not get you anything but health problems. Stick with cold water, fatty fish or shellfish. You’ll get plenty of ALA in your diet, don’t worry.
Cooking with fat: stability > smoke point.
So as far as the whole “smoke point” debate is concerned with cooking oils, it’s pretty simple. Your list needs to start with how stable a fat is first. Then, you look at smoke point.
Sure, highly refined industrial seed oils might have high smoke points. They’re also extremely unstable and become rancid from exposure to air and sunlight easily. Keep in mind, fats that are high in polyunsaturated fats will not typically be good for cooking. Polyunsaturated fats are quite unstable and will be quick to oxidize. Even the newly touted king of cooking oils, avocado oil, is still refined at temps around 350 degrees to make it suitable for high heat cooking. Refining (aka expeller pressed) means a loss of nutrients every time. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with expeller pressed avocado or coconut oil for cooking. I’m just saying there are better options.
Saturated fats are much more stable and actually protect from oxidation. Another thing to note is that from a health standpoint, we don’t need to always be cooking things at high heat. Low and slow should be the motto. Here’s a quick list of recommended cooking fats and they’re relative smoke points:
Cooking fat choice order of priority:
- How it’s made – choose minimally processed, naturally occurring options first
- Fatty acid composition – the more saturated they are, the more stable/less likely to be oxidized or damaged
- Smoke point – tells you what temperature the oil will begin to break down
- Note: the infographic has the fats ordered based on smoke point, not best choice. Make sure to prioritize fatty acid composition over smoke point.
Kinds of fats to avoid.
Hopefully you’ve picked up on what the big no-no’s are throughout this article. In case you missed it, skip the highly refined industrial seeds oils. These are things like soybean, canola, safflower, sunflower, corn oil, etc. Avoid all vegetable shortening. Any artificial trans fats are terrible. This stuff will kill you. No joke. It’s in everything. Read labels if you’re buying anything packaged. Bad juju. No bueno. Got the point? If you’re questioning my listing of canola read this.
Another knowledge bomb!
So again, this is a lot to digest. Dig in and learn this stuff. It’s so important to understand your fats especially with the big keto kick everyone’s on lately. If nothing else, just try to start incorporating some of the fats recommended in the infographic. Clean out the junk oils from your pantry. If they’re in a clear plastic bottle, they’re likely rancid. Above all else, just take it one step at a time. If that’s just buying some ghee to cook with, great!
If you have questions, leave a comment! I’d love to get a discussion going! What’s your favorite cooking fat? I’d love to hear! Stay tuned for the 3rd and final installment of the macro series on protein coming up in about 2 weeks!