Not All Fats Are Created Equal
Let's talk about fats.
I began incorporating a lot more healthy fats into my diet when years of stress caught up to me- my hormones were out of whack and I was constantly feeling fatigued. I began researching how healthy fats decrease inflammation, something I was really interested in doing as my hormone imbalances caused my skin to break out worse than it has in my whole life. Also, when you have an autoimmune disease (for me it's Hashimotos or hypothyroid), your body is at risk for inflammation that can show up in a variety of ways.. I had learned in previous course work how fats are the body's most efficient source of energy, and decided this could also really help with my chronic fatigue.
I never count my calories or macros, including the grams of fat I am eating. This used to be a bad habit of mine, which contributed to a rather toxic relationship with food. However, I now feel good about the foods I am consuming so that I don't feel the need to do this anymore.
For so long, "low fat" was all the rage. Everything from skim milk, to gummy bears, to margarine were considered fair game because they are "low fat". However, we know now that there are plenty of good fats out there just waiting for us to take advantage of for their multitude of health benefits. We also know that the other ingredients and processing in these "low fat" foods are often doing more harm than good.
Some of the benefits of healthy fats include but are not limited to: satiety properties that keep us fuller longer, they help to slow the absorption of sugars we consume and stabilize our blood sugars, support healthy joints and skin, and have been shown to be protective against heart disease. We also need fats to absorb fat-soluble nutrients, such as vitamin A, D, E, and K.
I want to talk about a few fats that I eat regularly, when and why I eat or cook with them, and all the good things they can do for our health.
Avocados have been in the spot light for a few years now, and for good reason! I often eat at least half an avocado a day, sometimes more! The majority of the fat content of avocados is made up of monounsaturated fatty acids. These fatty acids have been found to reduce risks for heart disease, reduce cholesterol, protect against some cancers, and reduce overall inflammation in the body. Avocados are also loaded with a ton of other nutrients, such as vitamin K, folate, vitamin C, potassium, and fiber. They are a great addition to any meal or smoothie to help stabilize blood sugars and keep you feeling fuller longer.
2. Avocado Oil
Same health benefits as above, but this oil is my go-to for any high heat cooking. While extra virgin olive oil is a wonderful healthy fat which I'll discuss next, when cooked above it's smoke point at 320°F, some of the fats in olive oil are denatured and turn into trans fats (a type of fat that is now banned from being added to foods due to its link to heart disease). Fortunately, avocado oil has a smoke point of 520°F, making it a much healthier and safer oil to cook with at higher temperatures in the oven or on the stove.
3. Olive Oil
While I stray away from cooking at high temperatures with olive oil, I am in full support of adding this oil in it's raw form to any salads, veggies, or dips! Olive Oil has been shown to be protective against heart disease and some cancers, and it adds an amazing flavor when added to foods in its raw form.
4. Coconut Oil
For many years, coconut oil had a bad reputation for it's saturated fat content. However, the research shows that saturated fats from plant sources do not effect our body as negatively as saturated fats from animal sources. Some studies have also shown that the fats from coconut support brain health, reduce the risk of heart disease, improve immune system function, and reduce symptoms of arthritis. While the smoke point of coconut oil is 350°F the fats are mainly saturated and therefore stable and protected from oxidation at high temps!
5. Grass Fed Ghee Butter
Ghee butter is something my pantry is never without. This creamy, golden goodness is clarified butter, meaning that the lactose has been removed, making it a great choice for those with a lactose or casein sensitivity. When we consume ghee from grass fed cows, we are getting a ton of vitamins from the green grass they consume, including Vitamin A, D, E, and an essential short-chain fatty acid called Butyrate, which supports healthy digestion. Ghee also has a high smoke point of 485°F, making this my cooking fat of choice often when cooking vegetables or frying eggs on my cast iron skillet.
6. MCT oil or Brain Octane
You may or may not have heard of the Bulletproof diet, which has gotten a lot of attention the past couple of years. One of the staple items in this diet is MCT oil, which stands for Medium Chain Triglycerides. This oil is derived from coconuts, and has been shown to increase energy and focus while burning fat for fuel instead of storing it. Some people are really hesitant to add this extra fat to their coffee, teas, or smoothies, but medium chain triglycerides are actually absorbed immediately for use for energy, rather than being stored as fat in the body. I notice a big difference in my energy levels when I add brain octane to my smoothies or matcha.
The above healthy fats are some wonderful additions to your diet if you are trying to make healthy lifestyle changes, whatever your motivation may be. Have you read the ingredients on your margarine lately? We are so much better off consuming foods in their real, natural state without unnecessary and potentially harmful additives. I want to shift our worry away from how much we are eating to what we are eating. When we feel good about the foods we are consuming, we allow for a more positive and healthy relationship with food, and the health benefits will follow.