Fats 101: because who else out there is cofuzzled???

Yesterday I posted my fave sneaky swaps for getting your diet a little more nutrient-dense and toxin-free, but without having to make major changes or give up all your fave foods. The list by no means was exhaustive and I’ve got plenty more tips to share, however I thought before I do a part 2, we’d better have a conversation about cooking fats and the hidden oils in virtually all commercially produced foods.

Virtually all of us have grown up in the low-fat era right? We’ve been told to avoid eggs, swap butter for margarine, cut all the fat off our meat and steam/grill/poach everything. Our dairy should be “low-fat” after the age of 5, and the “rule of thumb” is to buy the “lite” versions of everything; ice-cream, mayonnaise, coconut milk, you name it. Times are thankfully a changing, however for many members of the general public (and this might even include your lovely self), the low-fat dogma is still heavily and deeply ingrained in their psyche and old habits/thought-patterns die-hard.

I think we’ve turned a corner when it comes to plant-based whole food fats and oily fish. We know that avocado is the freakin-bomb, that nuts and seeds are simply amazeballs (and provide solutions to just about everything; “milks”, flours, butters, cereals, crumbs, creams) and that salmon, mackerel, sardines etc. are super-duper important for keeping us strong and healthy. Oh and thanks to the numerous studies of the Mediterranean Diet, we all know how beautiful cold-pressed extra virgin olive oil is.

Two and a bit years ago, Time Magazine finally published a feature article about fat and how “science” got it wrong, that butter won’t kill you and a bit of fat on your steak may not be such a huge deal after all. This year the papers published evidence that the sugar industry has always known that its their refined white nothingness that is causing chronic disease and they’ve put a lot of time and money into publishing “research” pointing the finger at saturated fat. Many naturopaths, holistic nutritionists, thought-leading dietitians and forward-thinking medical doctors have been trying to spread this message for years and finally the media are coming on board.

Every cell in the human body has a phospholipid bilayer in the cell membrane … what does that mean in layman’s terms? Fat is a structural component of every cell in the body. Our hormones are made of fat, our brain is 60% fat (or thereabouts) and without a bit of padding, life would be very uncomfortable (imagine sitting and lying down with direct bone banging against the chair … ouch). Traditional cultures all around the world have included fats as a normal part of their diet forever. It’s seriously only been in the past 60 or so years that the human race has miraculously started avoiding this vital macronutrient.

“So let’s get some things straight”

Saturated fats from grass-fed meats, organic chicken skin, organic full fat dairy and pure coconut products won’t increase your chances of developing chronic disease … Can too many be pro-inflammatory?… Sure can (but then again, too many carrots can turn your skin orange so nothing was designed to be eaten in excess right?). When eaten in high quantities along with excess amounts of sugars will they contribute to weight gain? … Most-likely. Should we ditch all plant fats in favour of animal-based ones? … Not at all. But there are virtually no studies actually linking saturated fats from quality sources with heart disease, diabetes, autoimmunity etc. … and the ones that hint slightly at this fallacy have been horribly manipulated. Just Google “7 country study – Ancel Keys” and you’ll see what I mean.

(Good) Fat doesn’t make you fat … not directly anyway. If you’re constantly eating way more energy than you’re burning (and fats are super-dense in energy) then you will store the excess energy as fat. However fats such as olive oil, avocado, nuts/seeds, oily fish, quality butter, coconut, grass-fed meats, organic eggs etc. support a healthy metabolism and regulate hormones granting you satiety and appetite control. The trick is to lessen your intake of sugars and refined carbohydrates as you increase your high-fat foods – as these foods provide energy but little nutrition. Put simply, this will stop your body from using fats as an energy source (because generally speaking your body will always burn available glucose first). Plus fats make veggies (the number one priority in most people’s diets) tastier. Olive oil on greens, avocado in salad, coconut oil roasted pumpkin or my broccoli coconut rice, make it easy to bulk your meals out with these fibre-rich, nutrient-dense options, so you won’t even have room for a side-serve of bread or those cheeky after-dinner biscuits (which by the way – if you are still in the mood for a nibble – you can swap for some 85% dark chocolate or a homemade bliss ball– more good fats without a serious sugar hit)

We all naturally gravitate towards different eating styles and thus different whole food sources of fats (and this can change at different points in our lives) … Everyone has their own individual tolerance when it comes to fat consumption. Some of us thrive on high fat diets, others moderate, and there are some people that fare better when limiting their fats, but we all need at least a little bit. Same goes for the types of fats; some thrive with plenty of saturated fats and others do better with more monounsaturated fats (olive oil, avocado, macadamias etc.). Some thrive on grass-fed beef tallow, others on high-fat dairy, others on coconut. At the moment I’m loving coconut cream, oily fish and nuts and seeds, this time last year I was all about the coconut oil, avocado and beef tallow. The bottom line: there’s no one size fits all, we are changing all the time, and it’s best not to get hung up on grams of fat, the serving size of your butter slab, whether your saturated:unsaturated ratio follows the guidelines listed in some book you borrowed at the library … relax lovely one … nutrition isn’t an exact science or maths equation

If we want to get hung up on fats, let’s turn our attention to processed vegetable oils and margarines … you know the bright-yellow, urine-coloured plastic bottles of “vegetable oil” at the supermarket. These cheap and nasty lipids are totally worthy of taking the wrap for negative press associated with fatty foods. You see fats are pretty vulnerable to oxidation (going rancid when exposed to heat and light) and unsaturated fats such as those in canola, soybean, safflower etc. oils are probably the most at risk of oxidising, especially when removed from their whole food form where the outer-shell acted as a protective layer. To extract the oils from their whole food state, they are exposed to heat and light … uh-oh. They get transported and sit on supermarket shelves in plastic bottles (more heat and light). We then take them home and cook with them (more heat and light). No longer do we have natural, polyunsaturated fats that are in a balanced ratio with monounsaturated and saturated fats. We have isolated polyunsaturated fats that have now gone rancid and become pro-inflammatory trans fats (and unless you’ve been living under a rock you will have heard how detrimental man-made trans fats are). Margarine is even worse (if that’s possible). It’s those same processed oils, heated up to such a high temperature that the chemical structure of the oil changes, transforming liquid oil to solid fat. The oil usually turns black in the process, but no worries because the manufacturers add colours, flavours and preservatives to stop us from noticing. They then add synthetic vitamins A, D and E into the mix because as margarine is not butter (as much as it tries to masquerade as such) it doesn’t have these beautiful nutrients naturally intact. And don’t even get me started on the plastic containers and bottles that these oils are stored in … the endocrine-disrupting chemicals (meaning they mess with normal hormone levels, which can contribute to weight gain, infertility and I could go on but really how much time to we have???) in plastic are fat-soluble so they leach right into these toxic liquids.

“So what can we do to eliminate the processed fats, embrace the good fats and lessen our sugar load to prevent weight-gain in the process?”

First eliminate processed vegetable oils …

Swap “vegetable oil/Canola oil etc.” for pure coconut oil, organic ghee, olive oil, macadamia oil and don’t heat your foods too high (gentle cooking methods; roasting/baking at moderate temperatures, sautéing at a medium heat, or steaming and adding cold fats to the end product)

Just get rid of the margarine, a block of pure organic butter is all you need. Mainland Buttersoft is a 100% vegetable oil-free spreadable butter if you really must have a naturally spreadable option

READ YOUR LABELS … pretty much all packaged foods (apart from single ingredient things such as a bag of raw almonds, bottles of apple cider vinegar, sacks of rice etc.) contain vegetable oil (including canola, sunflower etc.). Also the salads you get at the deli are often coated in vegetable oil or a dressing made from it. Meat/fish marinades often contain it too. I guess this is just another reason to start eating more whole foods and making sauces, gravies etc. yourself (I know, I know, it’s more time consuming … but sometimes we have to either put the effort in to make something from scratch, go without, or pay that bit extra for an option made with better quality ingredients)

Second, embrace good fats … 

If it comes from a healthy animal (the yummy fat on chops, organic chicken skin, organic dairy) or whole fruit (olives, avocado), nuts, seeds or coconut … provided you find it agrees with you, it’s a beautiful option. I know it can be difficult to change your conditioned thought process of “fat will make me fat” or “fat will give me a heart attack”, so start slow. My next post will be a “how-to” for slowly integrating more good fats into your diet, in a balanced and healthy way (because their is such as thing as too much, too soon)

Thirdly, now that you’re including more fats you shouldn’t need to be filling up on carbohydrates anymore (you know, that extra slice of bread, extra helping of rice, snacking on cereal, rice cakes or muesli bars etc.) … 

I’m not saying you can’t have some wheat-free organic sourdough, wheat-free pasta, yummy rice, white potato, sweet spud, bananas, dates and all the other forms of whole food carbohydrates, but we don’t need those 6-11 servings of grains as touted by the Australian Dietary Guidelines (unless we have a really specific condition where our other food choices are so limited that this is the only way we can get enough energy in … in which case we really should be under the care of a common-sense dietitian, holistic nutritionist or no-nonsense naturopath and not taking generalised health advice from a blog). So maybe instead of having two slices of sourdough with your eggs in the morning, cut down to one slice but add 1/2 an avocado. Instead of rice cakes with a thin-smear of nut butter, ditch the rice cakes and indulge in a few celery logs stuffed with a generous amount of your fave nut butter. See this post for more suggestions.

Okay, so it’s been a pretty lengthy post (and I apologise) but this isn’t stuff that can be condensed or glossed over. Sure I could just say “eat natural fats – they’re good for you” and be done with it, but we need to get our “why’s” straight. Otherwise we are just blindly following advice for no reason other than “this is what I read today” or “gosh it seems trendy doesn’t it?”. I hope I’ve done a reasonable job at explaining this material – it’s a huge topic but boils down to unlearning dogmatic conditioning and getting back to a common sense approach that has stood the test of time; EAT REAL FOOD.

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