Making Friends with Saturated Fats
Misinformation about fats continues to circulate, perpetuating our general confusion about what is healthy. How many of us still believe that fats that are solid at room temperature are “bad” and that oils that are liquid at room temperature are “good?”
Unfortunately, things aren’t quite that simple. Some solid fats are actually very healthy and there are some liquid oils that can cause harm. To further complicate matters, the way an oil has been refined, whether or not its source was genetically modified, and how we cook with it, can dramatically alter how it impacts our health.
We need saturated fat! Our cell membranes are made from fats. They need a solid structure, which comes from saturated fats, as well as permeability, which comes from essential fatty acids. Without enough saturated fat in the diet, our cell membranes can become “leaky,” which leads to excessive cellular respiration and creates an abundance of free radicals.
Many of us have learned to avoid saturated fat due to the cholesterol content. We have become terrified of cholesterol, believing that it leads to heart disease. Again, things aren’t that black and white. Cholesterol is the building block for every hormone in our body. If we do not eat enough dietary cholesterol, our own liver will make up for it. Why would our own bodies create something if there wasn’t an important reason for it? We can make about 6-8 eggs worth of cholesterol in a day. Getting some cholesterol from dietary sources can actually give our livers a chance to focus more on the 4000 plus other things it needs to do, such as help us to digest our food, and detoxify our bodies.
This past February 2010, the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition concluded that dietary intake of saturated fat was not associated with an increase in coronary heart disease or cardiovascular disease. Much of the research done in the past on saturated fats is misleading because what was actually being used in the studies was man made trans-fat. We now know that there is no comparison between the two. We’ve been lumping saturated fat and trans fat into the same “danger” category unnecessarily.
Well what about cholesterol? Blaming cholesterol for heart disease is like blaming firefighters for a fire. When there is inflammation in the body, we produce more cholesterol to go and put out those fires. What causes inflammation? Sugar, alcohol, stress, eating foods that you are allergic or sensitive to (gluten is a top offender), medications, and too many omega 6 fats in the diet which come from……VEGETABLE OIL!
Vegetable oils to minimized include: sunflower, safflower, canola, corn, & soybean oils. As a general rule of thumb, choose the following fats and oils for optimum health:
All should be unrefined and organic if possible.
Flax seed oil (never heat!)
Olive oil (never let it smoke while cooking, best to use raw)
Macadamia nut oil
Grapeseed oil (good for low-flavor, high heat cooking)
Butter (use raw butter from grass fed cows)
Ghee (clarified butter; better for higher heat cooking
Coconut oil (a saturated fat that helps you to lose weight!)
Palm oil (a saturated fat that is rich in Vitamin A–so good for your eyes and skin)
Lard! Yes…that’s right. As long as the animal was healthy (fed organic and treated humanely), it’s healthier to fry things at high heat with lard which is more stable at higher temperatures than most vegetable oils.
To keep things simple, do a little research and find out what kinds of oils your grandparents and great-grandparents were cooking with. Then try to re-create their diet as much as possible. The major difference will be that today, we need to differentiate between organic and conventional foods (a non issue a hundred years ago, when pesticides and round up ready soy were unheard of). For further information, I highly recommend Fats that Heal, Fats that Kill by Udo Erasmus, and Know Your Fats, by Mary Enig.
Email me (firstname.lastname@example.org) with any of your questions!
Yours in Health,
Sylvie Nalezny, MA, CNE