Healthy Fats: A Guide
Many of us have been told for decades that fat is bad for us. We have heard it from magazines, TV advertisements, and even the national government. The rationale was that the fat in food was directly linked to fat on our body – but it turns out that this is not true. These claims were based on faulty studies! New research shows that good fats from whole-food sources are a key part of maintaining a healthy weight and improving overall wellness.
What are Good Fats?
Good fats are found in whole foods like olives, coconut, nuts, seeds, avocados, select fruits (like acai and jackfruit), and properly-raised animal foods, like grassfed organic ghee, butter, tallow, certain cuts of meat, and pastured organic lard. Select oils made naturally from whole food ingredients are also very healthy, like olive oil, avocado oil, and coconut oil.
Good fats can be saturated (like grassfed organic butter or coconut oil) or unsaturated (like olive or avocado). Research shows that healthy fats can help our bodies in a myriad of ways:
Good fats are protective to many of our organs, especially the brain;
Healthy fats are critical for cell membrane stability and health (repair the membrane, restore the body!) and can help improve joint health;
Good fats are essential to hormone production (cholesterol is the precursor to all hormones);
Fats and oils help keep skin and hair healthy
Good amounts of fat can calm the nervous system
But what about cholesterol? Doesn’t high saturated fat lead to higher cholesterol? Turns out, no! Research shows that dietary sources of saturated fat do not have an impact on heart disease or high cholesterol; even the FDA has amended their guidelines to recommend eating foods rich in healthy fats.
What are the Bad Fats?
Most of the fats found in the Standard American Diet are processed vegetable oils made from soy, canola, safflower, cottonseed, and sunflower. These oils are most often chemically-extracted, refined, processed, and then left to sit on shelves to become rancid. Most olive oil on the shelf is not that great either: unless it’s extra virgin olive oil, it’s likely chemically-extracted olive oil or an unlabeled blend of vegetable oils with some olive oil mixed in. Fats like this, used in commercial salad dressing, packaged foods, most restaurant cooking, deep-fried foods, and fast food, should be avoided. This cannot be stated enough: you should remove these oils from your diet to the greatest extent possible.
Another reason to avoid standard ‘vegetable oils’ is because these polyunsaturated fats are quite high in Omega-6 fatty acids, which are inflammatory in the body. Omega-6 is important to have in our diet, but should be consumed in balance with other fatty acids like Omega-3, which most of us are deficient in. Our diets are so heavily laden with Omega-6 oils that our ratio of omega 6 to omega 3 is usually around 20:1; consumption should be closer to 3:1. This means limiting Omega-6 oils AND increasing the amount of Omega-3 so your ratio can rebalance. Foods that contain Omega-3 fatty acids include pastured organic egg yolks, wild caught salmon, sardines, chia seeds, walnuts, hemp seeds and flax seeds (must be freshly ground when consumed).
Other foods to avoid are conventional shortening (like Crisco) and margarine. These products are made from hydrogenated oils (usually a blend of vegetable oils and palm oil). The hydrogenation process involves adding hydrogen to liquid oils to make them semi-solid at room temperature. But the process of hydrogenation creates trans-fats, which should be avoided at all costs.
Finally, all of the above “bad fats” are highly oxidative and are connected to heart disease and cardiovascular damage. The convenience of these oils is not worth the health risk. Avoiding packaged and restaurant food – and of course, cooking more frequently at home – is a worthwhile investment of time and energy.
How to Add More Healthy Fats into your Diet
If you want to add in more healthy fats, here are some quick tips and links to some of my favorite recipes.
Roasted veggies: Toss fresh, chopped vegetables in ghee, avocado oil, or refined coconut oil and roast at 375ºF until golden brown. Garnish with high quality cold pressed olive oil, herbs, spices, and good quality salt.
Eat nuts and seeds: Nuts and seeds are full of fiber, fats, and proteins and are a perfect snack. Pair with a few bits of dried fruit to make a simple, whole foods trail mix. Ensure your dried fruit is unsulphured, unsweetened, and not coated in vegetable oils. Choose fresh nuts (raw not roasted), and store them in the refrigerator or freezer to keep them fresh.
Choose Fatty Cuts of Meat: This includes items like pork shoulder/Boston butt, chicken or turkey thighs, and beef chuck roast. Ideally these should be bone-in and the chicken should still have the skin. I love to cook big cuts of meat in the Instant Pot and make things like pulled pork with Hawaiian slaw, braised beef with garlic and rosemary, and Moroccan Chicken Stew. Again, meat quality is of the utmost importance. If you cannot source pastured, organic options at your local grocer or butcher shop, order online and stash in your freezer until you are ready to make your meal.
Avocado on everything! Chop avocado and add to salads, sandwiches, wraps, or eat as a snack, sprinkled with a little sea salt.
Pastured Eggs: Choose eggs from chickens or ducks that have been pastured, which means they spend their days outdoors on grass or pasture and eat a natural diet full of greens, seeds, and insects.
Drink Bone Broth: Homemade bone broth is a great source of healthy fats, amino acids, and minerals. When using bones that have some connective tissue, marrow and meat, your broth will be filled with lovely nourishing fats. Make sure your bones are from 100% grassfed (grassfed AND grass finished) organic cows. If you cannot procure these bones locally, look to websites such as Grassland Meats instead. Do not purchase grain-fed meat or bones for any reason. Find recipes for bone broth here.
Fat Bombs: There are many recipes online for quick and tasty “fat bombs-” snacks bites that usually consist of ghee, coconut butter, coconut oil, nut butter, tahini, and other delicious, fatty ingredients. Many of the recipes use just about five ingredients, so these are a quick and easy way to boost your healthy fat consumption.
Salad Dressings: Make your own homemade dressings with things like high-quality extra virgin olive oil, avocado, organic vinegars, fresh herbs, fresh garlic, and fresh squeezed citrus. Look for homemade green goddess, miso and tahini, and easy vinaigrette recipes. Getting a handful of dressing recipes down will encourage more salad and veggie dipping. An immersion blender and a wide mouth quart size Mason jar is very handy for making these dressings. Garnish salad with a sprinkle of seeds and crushed nuts and smoked sea salt.
Little Fishes: Things like anchovies, sardines and salmon make great fish salads – add one of these fishes to homemade or Primal Brand Mayo along with celery, dill pickles, capers, or mustard for a wonderfully nourishing meal. Unfortunately, tuna is high in mercury and should be avoided. Little fish like those mentioned above do not have the same mercury concerns.
Drinks: Sip Turmeric milk made with full-fat coconut milk, or add coconut milk to your coffee or tea. You can take your coffee to the next level with the infamous Bulletproof Coffee made with butter, coconut oil, and/or MCT oils. If you avoid dairy, you can make Vegan Bulletproof Coffee with coconut milk and coconut butter. Another option is a matcha latte with full fat coconut and MCT oil.