For decades we were led to believe that fat would “make us fat”, cause high cholesterol and give us heart disease. But, in modern times, the information about the effects of fats and oils on our health has undergone somewhat of a revelation.
Overnight it seems we went from being recommended low fat diets to being told that carbohydrates are out and butter, lard and coconut oil are in!
So, what is the truth about fat?
Fats are an essential part of our diet and play many important roles in keeping our bodies healthy. Fat provides energy, helps to absorb and transport essential fat-soluble vitamins (A,D,E & K), regulates immunity and inflammation, supports healthy brain, heart and nerve function and helps to keep you full and feeling satisfied.
Including healthy fats in your diet does not make you “fat” or raise your cholesterol levels. Consuming excessive calories and eating a diet high in sugar, refined carbohydrates and processed foods is what causes the weight gain that increases the risk of heart disease and diabetes.
Which fats are Healthy Fats?
Healthy fats are naturally occurring fats and oils that are easily extracted from whole foods and have not been highly processed or blended.
Monounsaturated fats which are found in foods such as avocados, olive oil and nuts. Used in moderation with a balanced diet, they can assist in weight loss and may reduce the risk of heart disease.
Omega-3 fatty acids are anti-inflammatory and cardioprotective and are found in oily fish (herring, salmon, anchovies, sardines, mackerel), grass-fed meat and dairy, flax/linseeds, chia seeds, hempseeds walnuts .
Omega-6 fatty acids are found in most foods including seeds, nuts and meat. A diet high in omega-6 fatty acids can contribute to chronic inflammation which in turn, leads to chronic illnesses such as heart disease, diabetes, arthritis and cancer.
Therefore, a balance of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids is important for good health. Avoiding processed foods and including a daily serve of omega-3 rich foods can help to improve the ratio of polyunsaturated fatty acids.
Saturated fats are solid at room temperature and include butter, cream, ghee, coconut oil and lard. These fats contain fat-soluble vitamins as well as cholesterol which is essential for hormone production. Saturated fats are best consumed in moderation unless following a low carbohydrate diet.
Which Fats Should We Avoid?
Trans fats, Partially hydrogenated oils which are found in many commercially produced foods including margarine, biscuits, pastries, cakes, pies as well as deep fried and many fast foods.
Refined oils, predominantly made from seeds, have been treated with chemicals to be purified, neutralised, filtered and deodorised. Refined oils are often labelled as “light”, which has nothing to do with the fat content of the oil but describes a product that has been chemically deodorised to reduce the smell and flavour.
“Vegetable” Oils are extracted, refined and purified from plants and seeds through chemical processing . Vegetable oils are invisible and tasteless and may be found in processed foods such as margarine, mayonnaise, salad dressings, cookies etc
They are highly processed oils that are high in Omega-6 fatty acids.
Which Oils are Best For Cooking?
When it comes to choosing an oil to cook with, it is the relative Smoke Point that you need to look out for. The Smoke Point is the temperature at which an oil begins to smoke, or burn. Heating an oil past it’s smoke point will not only destroy the beneficial nutrients but will also cause the release of harmful compounds called free radicals.
Choose cold-pressed, unrefined oils, as these are pure oils that have not been heat or chemically treated.
The oil that you choose to cook with will depend on what you are cooking and what role the oil has to play in your meal.
Olive oil: Cold-pressed, Extra Virgin Olive Oil is unrefined making it a high quality monounsaturated oil. It has a relatively low smoke point so it is best for use in salads and dressings, roasting, baking and low-medium heat cooking.
Coconut oil: Virgin, or unrefined, coconut oil is a saturated fat that is often used as an alternative to butter. It has a high smoke point making it useful for cooking at higher temperatures. It does have a distinctive taste and smell.
Avocado oil: Unrefined, cold pressed avocado oil has an emerald green colour from the chlorophyll in flesh of the fruit and an earthy avocado flavour. It is a good source of monounsaturated fats with a high smoke point making it a good oil for frying.
Hemp seed oil: is rich in omega 3 fatty acids. While not one for heating or frying due to it’s low flash point (it can ignite at a relatively low temperature), cold-pressed hempseed oil has a nutty, seedy taste and is great for salad dressings and cold dishes.
Ghee: Butter that has been clarified, is known as ghee. Ghee has a high smoke point and is good for roasting or frying at high temperatures. It is lactose and casein free, which makes it ok for those with dairy intolerance, as well as a rich source of omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin A.
Walnut oil: Cold pressed walnut oil has a light colour and a delicate, nutty taste. It is rich in polyunsaturated, omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants. Heating can destroy beneficial nutrients and alter the taste, so walnut oil is best used in salads and for other cold dishes.
Sesame oil: Unrefined and toasted sesame oil has a distinct flavour and provides a good blend of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. It is best used for cooking at low-medium temperatures or as a part of dressings and marinades, particularly in Asian, Indian and Middle Eastern inspired dishes.
Macadamia oil: Native to Australia, cold-pressed, unrefined macadamia nut oil is a high quality source of monounsaturated fatty acids and antioxidants. It has a rich, buttery flavour and a relatively high smoke point making it a good oil to use in stir-fries, oven roasting and marinades.
Lard: Made from pig fat, lard is lower in saturated fat and higher in unsaturated fats and cholesterol than butter. It is rich in vitamin D and omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids and low in pro inflammatory omega-6 fatty acids. Lard is great for baking and is heat stable with a high smoke point, making it an excellent choice for frying. Choose high-quality, free range “leaf-lard” which has a fine texture and a light taste.
Welcome fats and oils back into your pantry, your diet and your life.