In my last article, I dispelled the myth that eating fat leads to getting fat, or that we should opt for a low-fat diet for better health. If you have not yet read it, I highly recommend going back and reading it. You can find the article at www.ascendfitnesscoaching.com/fatmyth
So now you know that fat is important in our diet: but how do we add more fats into our diet to support our health? Which fats are actually good for us? Which fats should you cook with? How should you store your fats and oils? Obviously, adding fats into your diet for good heath does not mean more doughnuts or French fries. In this article, I will answer those questions. And if you have any lingering questions, please feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Types of Fats
There are three main classifications of fat: saturated fats, monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats. The level of saturation has to do with the number of double bonds between the carbon atoms in the molecule. Saturated fats have no double bonds, monounsaturated fatty acids have one double bond and polyunsaturated fatty acids have two or more double bonds.
While we cannot see the actual chemical structure of fats, we can identify them by their properties. Saturated fats are very stable fats, which means their chemical make-up stays intact when exposed to light or heat. They remain solid at room temperature, and are found in animal fats and tropical oils. Examples are butter, coconut oil and lard.
Monounsaturated fats are relatively stable and are liquid at room temperature. Examples are olive oil, pecans, almonds and avocado.
Polyunsaturated fats are very unstable; they are always liquid and go rancid very easily. They’re found in flax, nuts, seeds and fish oil. Included here are omega 3 and 6 fatty acids.
It’s also important to note that sources of fat are usually made up of a combination of different fatty acids (for example olive oil is 14% saturated fat, 11% polyunsaturated fat and 73% monounsaturated fats)
Which are the ‘good fats’?
We like to oversimplify a complex science by labelling nutrients and foods (such as fats and carbs) as “good” or “bad”, but there’s more to it. Saturated fats are not ‘bad’, and monounsaturated are not necessarily ‘good’; it comes down to how you use them and store them, and quality.
A side note on saturated fats: Like you, I grew up believing that saturated fats were the ‘bad’ fats and should be avoided at all costs. Billions of dollars have been spent over the past 60 years trying to prove that saturated fats and dietary cholesterol cause diseases such as heart disease and cancer.
At best, the scientific proof here is weak. The politics of dietary recommendations could take up an entire book (if you’re interested in learning more, read “The Big Fat Surprise” by Nina Teicholz). Intuitively, it makes no sense to blame new health problems (i.e. heart disease) on foods that have been used for thousands of years. Today, more liberal guidelines are slowly emerging, recommending that we start to incorporate saturated fats into our diet.
How to use each type of fat
Saturated fats are stable and are resistant to damage from heat, making them ideal for cooking at high heats. Monounsaturated fats such as olive oil are stable enough for cooking at lower heats. Polyunsaturated fats should not be heated.
How to store fats and oils
Saturated fats, again because of their stable nature, can be kept in the cupboard. They are not sensitive to heat or light. Monounsaturated fats are best kept in a cool, dark area away (away from the stove). They will keep longer in the fridge: you can opt to keep most of your oils in the fridge, and keep a small amount in the cupboard. Alternately, purchase smaller bottles to make sure your oils don’t go rancid.
At the store, purchase mono and polyunsaturated oils in dark bottles or tins to avoid light damage from store lights. Polyunsaturated fats should always be kept in the fridge. Nuts, seeds will last much longer in the fridge or freezer in an airtight container. Nut butters are best kept in the fridge, unless consumed within a few weeks.
There’s no doubt, the quality of your fats matter. If possible, look for organic oils, cold-pressed or expeller-pressed oils, unrefined oils, extra virgin oils and oils that have not been genetically modified. When eating fish, choose wild caught fish. Choose the highest quality animal products you can. For example, butter from grass fed beef has a higher percentage of omega 3s and vitamin K2.
Which fats to avoid
There are certain fats that you should avoid. They include heavily processed oils, genetically modified plant oils, rancid or improperly stored fats and oils, fried foods, all hydrogenated fats (check the label on your peanut butter!) and trans fats.
While this may be a lot of new information, and can seem overwhelming (I can relate!), switching up your oils or simply storing them in a way that preserves the integrity of the oil are quick wins to improve your health.
Personally, I’m very happy that the guidelines are changing to encourage fats back into our diet. Eat a variety of fats and follow the above guidelines for usage and storage for better health!
Tanja Shaw is a health and fitness coach, Rotarian, passionate entrepreneur, mom, runner, and owner of Ascend Fitness Inc. and host of the Fit &Vibrant You Podcast. Tanja and her team of expert fitness coaches work with their clients to help them become stronger, more confident and energetic versions of themselves. Visit Tanja at www.ascendfitnesscoaching.com and www.tanjashaw.com.