I once attended a presentation geared toward local business owners and after the speaker’s lecture, they offered coffee, tea and cake for refreshments.
As I walked by with my cup of tea, the woman cutting the cake asked if I’d like a piece and I said, “No thank you.”
She responded, “Oh, go ahead and have a piece. It’s healthy.”
I’m not often speechless, but this time I was.
She must have seen my bewilderment and said, “It’s angel food cake so it’s fat-free! Plus it’s topped with low-fat Cool Whip.”
That brief interaction was a glaring reminder to me that many people are STILL completely in the dark when it comes to fats.
What makes this worse is that food companies take advantage of people’s confusion to market products (like low-fat Cool Whip) that they say are “healthier” but are really anything but!
Let’s clear up the confusion by looking at the different types of fats and some common misconceptions that can cost you your health or life:
Saturated vs. Unsaturated fats
Examples of good saturated fats from Nature include fats from animal sources (meat, butter, lard, full-fat dairy, tallow, suet, eggs and cheese).
Saturated fats are usually solid at room temperature. They're stable and hold up to heat well without becoming damaged (called oxidation).
They're dense, sticky and can be tricky for your body to eliminate. But your body needs them because they help stabilize your cell membranes.
In addition, trans-fats (hydrogenated and partially hydrogenated oils found in many processed foods) are also structurally considered a saturated fat, although they provide no health benefits whatsoever (more on that below).
Unsaturated fats—monounsaturated and polyunsaturated
Sources of monounsaturated fats are olive oil, avocados and nuts (peanuts, almonds, Brazil nuts, cashews, macadamia nuts and pecans).
Polyunsaturated fats include Omega-3 oils (fish oil, flaxseed, pumpkin seed, hemp seed and walnut oils) and Omega-6 oils (safflower, sunflower, sesame, grapeseed, borage, evening primrose and black current oils).
Both monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats are liquid at room temperature, but monounsaturated fats become solid if refrigerated.
Unsaturated fats move through your body much more fluidly than saturated fats and are easier to eliminate. They're critical because they help provide flexibility to your cell membranes and enhance cell communication.
The Omega-3 and Omega-6 polyunsaturated fats are called "essential fatty acids" because your body can't produce them--you must get them from your diet. And the balance between the two is very important--they work best together in your body to control inflammation when they're in about a 3:1 ratio of Omega-6 to Omega-3.
Unsaturated fats are very sensitive to heat and can get oxidized, so they are best not used in cooking.
3 Common Fat Misconceptions
Here are three of the most common and harmful misconceptions about fats:
Misconception #1: Fats are bad for you
No, they are not.
Your body MUST have fats, especially your brain and nervous system!
You also need fats to transport nutrients, to protect your internal organs, to keep your cell walls healthy, to make hormones and to create energy.
Misconception #2: Fats make you fat
Although there are many contributing factors to our obesity epidemic, the predominant one from a food perspective is not fat—it’s sugar—especially high fructose corn syrup (which is in practically every processed food and soda on the planet).
Also guilty are refined carbs like bread, pasta and crackers as they turn to sugar upon digestion!
On the other hand, although fats are calorie-dense, they can be used as a source of energy (especially with a keto-type diet), they add flavor to your foods, and they help fill you up and keep you satisfied longer, so you’re less likely to overeat or snack.
That sounds like a recipe for weight LOSS to me.
Misconception #3: Saturated fats cause heart disease
That depends on what kind of saturated fat you’re talking about.
If you’re talking about trans-fats, you’re absolutely right. Make your appointment with a cardiologist now and have your affairs in order if you eat a lot of these.
But saturated fats from Nature (including red meat and real butter) are health supporting.
They have been wrongly demonized and implicated as being a primary cause of heart disease over the last several decades, but that’s simply not true.
The true culprits behind heart disease (in addition to trans-fats) are sugar, refined carbohydrates and grains, processed vegetable oils (which are high in inflammatory Omega-6 fats), and margarine—all of which have been heavily pushed over the last several decades as being “healthy choices.”
Healthy my foot—these foods are abrasive, they stir up inflammation in your blood vessels and invite cardiovascular disease to come knocking.
Helpful fat DON’Ts and DO’s
Now that you know the truth about fats, here are some fat DON’T’s and DO’s that can help guide you in making wise choices:
# 1: Cook with the right fats
DON’T use margarine, spreads, or any type of unsaturated oil for cooking, as they are extremely sensitive to heat and form toxic lipid peroxides, carcinogens and mutagens when heated.
DO use butter, lard, tallow, chicken fat, bacon fat, coconut oil and peanut oil in cooking. Unsaturated oils may be used in non-heated environments such as making a salad dressing, as a bread dip or drizzling over already-cooked vegetables or meats.
# 2: Read labels
DON’T buy products that contain hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils. Also avoid ALL margarine (even those marketed as “trans-fat free”) since polyunsaturated oils are heated when margarine is produced, and this creates harmful compounds similar to trans-fats.
DO read food labels carefully. Choose organic varieties of packaged foods to help minimize harmful ingredients.
# 3: Get healthy sources of saturated fats
DON’T swear off saturated fats like meat, eggs, cheese and butter.
DO enjoy a variety of meats including beef, chicken, turkey, pork and bacon (look for organic, nitrate-free varieties), as well as eggs, cheese, butter and full-fat dairy.
# 4: Get the right sources of Omega-3 essential fatty acids
DON’T rely on fish like swordfish, shark, mackerel, tuna or farmed-raised salmon as sources of Omega-3 essential fatty acids, as they have been shown to have high levels of contaminants including mercury and PCBs.
DO get sources of Omega-3 EFAs including wild salmon, walnuts, flaxseed and flaxseed oil. Supplement with an outstanding fish oil formula like VitalMega-3 to ensure your body has sufficient levels of these crucial fats to effectively control inflammation and help decrease your risk of heart disease.
# 5: Use caution when dining out
DON’T assume that restaurants make healthy fat choices. Fast food restaurants are notorious for using polyunsaturated oils for frying their French fries, chicken strips, fish fillets and other deep-fried items, and even higher end restaurants commonly use polyunsaturated oils in cooking.
DO ask questions of your server as to how the meals are prepared and request that your entrée be baked, broiled or sautéed in butter. Any restaurant worthy of your business will accommodate your request.
# 6: Be aware of rancid, oxidized oils
DON’T buy unsaturated oils that are packaged in clear glass or plastic containers, as they may be rancid. Oxygen, heat and light can all cause unsaturated oils to become rancid.
DO buy unsaturated oils in dark (green or brown) containers. Store them in a dark cabinet or in the refrigerator and recap them quickly and tightly after using.
Now you are an expert in fats and are armed with the information you need to make yummy, healthy choices!
To your health,