Should you be following a low-fat diet? Or should you be following a no-fat diet? Does consuming saturated fat really clog the arteries and lead to heart disease? Or is it the unstable, high in omega-6 safflower or corn oil used to cook your stir fry in that could be setting the stage for a breakdown of your arterial lining? What is the real deal on butter and margarine? How about the added oil in ‘Jiff’s’ peanut butter- should choosy mom’s really be choosing ‘Jif’? There are many, many confusing claims and advertisements everywhere we look, making it extremely difficult for us as the consumer, to navigate our way through out the long aisles of conflicting interests.
So how and where do we even start to decipher through all of this misinformation? When in doubt, rely on your common sense- the fact that the body needs fat to run efficiently. Fatty acids are a part of our cell membranes- therefore a part of us on the most basic molecular level. Even looking at the brain- the organ that determines every one of your thoughts and actions- is made up of 60% fat, or more. Fatty acids also play a vital role in what gives our cells their necessary integrity and stiffness, contributing to arterial health- resulting in good heart health. Fats are needed for the health of our bones, just as much as they are needed for the immune system. Fats make up the protective barrier surrounding and cushioning our vital organs as well as what is needed for serotonin receptors in the brain to function properly for good mood. Fatty acids are the precursors to our hormones and are needed for hormonal balance. The ‘fat soluble’ vitamins: A, D, E and K, use fat to get to where they need to be in the body. With every bodily process that fats are a constituent of, how could they be anything less than needed.
Now the question is: what kinds of fats are healthy, and what kinds are slowly killing us from the inside? The answer to this question is not ‘clear-cut’ but just as we can use common sense to derive that dietary fats are needed in the human body, so can we do for determining which oils will work for your body and which ones will just start to deteriorate your health all together. If the oil is described as being ‘stable’-meaning on a molecular level all carbon bonds are occupied by a hydrogen atom, then it is going to be a good oil to cook with. Stable oils won’t turn toxic or rancid when heated, the way less stable oils will. Stable oils are defined as having a decent amount of saturated fat in them. What!? Saturated fat!? Contrary to popular belief, saturated fats are good for our health. The low/no fat health claims are long gone and false marketing advertisement is all that lingers on to continue that downward health spiral.
As mentioned above, the physical body needs fat to survive and operate, and yes this does include saturated fat. In fact, cultures whose diets consist of higher amounts of saturated fats thrive more than cultures whose diets consists of the unstable vegetable oils such as sunflower, safflower, corn, cottonseed, and soybean oils. There are entire cultures that flourish off of consuming animal fats and saturated plant fats- we just simply got momentarily confused as to what really is to blame when it comes to heart disease and all other related health concerns. Stable saturated fats such as grass-fed animal fats, duck/goose fat, lard, butter, ghee, palm oil, and coconut oil are a lot less likely to become unstable in processing and cooking, making them great oils to cook with. Oils such as olive oil, that are a little less stable are better used for seasoning- and then there are those oils that you’d just want to avoid altogether such as the previously listed vegetable oils.
How much of this fat do we really need on a daily basis, you ask? The question would rather be: how much carbohydrate do we need on a daily basis? If we are to truly eat in a way that both satisfies our body and keeps our weight in the correct range- eating fat should just come as natural and regular as purchasing that Starbuck’s latte and adding half of a cup of sugar to it. The difference, of course, would be that the sugar added to the Starbucks latte has a much higher likelihood of creating heart disease if consumed on a regular basis as compared to something like cooking with lard. How is this so, you wonder? It is all of the excess sugar and every processed food that eventually breaks down into sugar, circulating throughout our bloodstream at the end of the day that counts as a contributing factor for heart disease- not healthy fat. The excess sugar in the bloodstream creates massive inflammation throughout our entire system, affecting our veins and arteries as well. Cholesterol then comes in and coats the arterial lining in an effort to help repair the red and inflamed tissue. Cholesterol is merely a marker of the amount and extent of inflammation inside of the body. The left-over excess sugar also gets turned into triglycerides by the liver, which is something you definitely don’t want to have too much of if you are trying to prevent heart disease.
This prior paragraph, for most, was probably ‘mind-blowing’, so take some time to adjust to your new-found information. We’ve all simply learned things the wrong way and now we must work to unlearn them. Focusing on non-starchy veggies, quality fats and proteins; along with consuming the correct, healthy, and whole forms of grains is the direction needed to take for overall health. We also need to beware of any label that contains ‘trans’ fat,’ hydrogenated oil’, ‘partially hydrogenated oil’, or ‘fully hydrogenated oil’. Hydrogenated fats are man-altered, inflammatory oils and the human body doesn’t know what to do with a substance that acts as a plastic and accumulates inside of the veins and arteries. ‘Trans’ fat is usually found in processed ‘junk’ foods and is also what will naturally happen to an unstable vegetable oil when it is heated to a high enough temperature- such as the vegetable oil that French Fries are cooked in. The common French fries that fast food chains serve are completely saturated with this form of toxic fat.
Other common food products that contain hydrogenated oils are margarine and ‘Jif’ peanut butter. If, however, you were to strictly just look at the label on ‘Jif’ peanut butter, it would say ‘0’ grams ‘trans’ fat, which is definitely misleading labeling. Food manufacturers are able to put up to a certain amount of an ingredient they know aware consumers won’t appreciate and still label it as being ‘0’ grams for the sake of selling the product. In reality, there may be at least 2 grams per serving ‘trans’ fat in ‘Jif’ peanut butter but they are allowed to get away with just putting ‘fully hydrogenated’ oil on the ingredients list and list the product as having ‘0’ grams ‘trans’ fat per serving, also decreasing the serving size to accommodate for this. As consumers, we do need to educate ourselves and pay attention to every little ingredient in the substance we call ‘food’. In the end, food is just a fuel for the body- it’s what helps bodily functions to run and perform all the complex metabolic processes they must perform every second of every day. The fuel we eat on a regular basis is what ends up being the outcome of our energy and mood, as well as the difference between health and disease.
Hopefully the need for fat in the diet is now more understood. Although we were told time and time again to stay away from the cholesterol in butter and eggs, we may need to reassess what it is our body really needs. The body does need more anti-inflammatory and essential omega-3 fats such as fish oil, flaxseed, and walnuts and grass-fed animal products. It does need more healthy types of saturated fats and does not need simple carbohydrates, processed junk food and unhealthy vegetable oils or ‘trans’ fats. Fats are in part what keeps us full and satiated to meet the demands of a busy day without making us feel like we have to run to the vending machine every half hour. Our thoughts on fats must change if we are to have any success in managing weight, heart health, diabetes, good cognitive function, etc. Fats can be of extreme benefit to the health or extreme detriment- the end result lies in which fats you choose.
If you have questions on how to go about a realistic plan including sufficient amounts of healthy fats, speak with our staff about scheduling an appointment with the Registered Dietitian. Having someone to help sort out all of the misinformation out there and get you onto a healthy plan, specific to you, can help to get you started in accomplishing good health.