Healthy fats are an essential part of the diet. They play a vital role in maintaining and transforming our health. Some of the roles of fat in the diet include: the ability to act as a carrier for fat soluble Vitamins A, D, E and K; aid in mineral absorption; help to lower cholesterol; increase satiety (tells your body you are satisfied); are building blocks for cell membranes, hormones and hormone-like substances; provide a clean source of fuel for the brain, which cannot function properly without fat; and play a role in cancer prevention.
While good fats are more expensive, they are worth the extra money as an investment in your health. In fact, this is one of the top changes we incorporate in helping our clients regain their health at Genesis Health Solutions. Whether our clients are enrolled in our Functional Nutrition or Weight Loss Programs, plenty of healthy fat is key to helping them reach their goals. Yes, you heard right! Our clients actually lose weight eating fat. Not only do they lose weight, but many are taken off of their heart and diabetes medications by their medical doctors - for eating the very food many are told to avoid for these conditions. However, we aren't talking about eating just any fat. Much of what is touted as healthy fat today is anything but healthy. For more information on fats that should be avoided and how fat overall has been given such a bad rap, check out our Low-Fat Myth nutritional information at genesishealthsolutions.net.
While the topic of oils/fats can be very confusing - some only being used cold without heat and others with varying degrees of heat for cooking - here are some examples of good fats to help you make better choices:
I know, right? You have actually been given permission to eat butter – just like our ancestors did for thousands of years! But not just any old butter… First of all, it needs to be real butter, not fake butter made from vegetable oils. Your best choice is always raw or grass-fed. Kerry Gold or Anchor butters are good choices available in many grocery stores. Organic choices are also good, but organic does not mean the cows were grass-fed – just given organic feed. However, we like to implement the good/better/best rule. Grass-fed is best, but if you can't get it, organic is a better choice than the vast majority of butters available. If you want to read about the superior quality of grass-fed products, check out our article on the Benefits of Grass-Fed Beef. Butter does have a medium smoke point (350°), so it’s not the best for cooking with high heat. If you are lactose or casein intolerant, ghee (clarified butter) is made by separating out the milk solids and leaving the fat. It is perfect for cooking with high heat temperatures. Ghee is easily enough made at home, too.
2. Coconut Oil
In case you haven’t heard, coconut oil has made an incredible comeback. In the past it has been wrongly vilified, due to its high saturated fat content. Coconut oil contains about 90% saturated fat and is one of the richest sources available. Many studies have proven wrong the fallacy that saturated fat is linked to heart disease. The nutritional component in coconut oil that makes it so healthy is the medium-chain triglycerides or fatty-acids (MCTs). MCTs are very easy to digest and aid in the absorption of nutrients, especially for those with a variety of bowel conditions. MCTs leave the digestive system, where they are processed in the liver and used as a quick energy source. The ketones created are well known for their appetite-reducing effect and helping disorders such as epilepsy and Alzheimer’s. Coconut oil is also antimicrobial, antiviral and antifungal. Overall, the benefits of coconut oil are far reaching, making it one of the top fats to have in your pantry.
When purchasing coconut oil, organic, virgin, centrifuge-extracted (available at Genesis Health Solutions) is best. However, an organic, unrefined and cold-pressed oil is a good choice, as well. This oil has a medium smoke point oil (350°), which tolerates quick frying or a sauté. Refined coconut oil, which has been processed to remove the coconut flavor, aroma and impurities, tolerates 400° and above, but you lose many of the crucial nutrients in the process. Beware of lesser quality coconut oils. There are myriads of companies selling refined coconut oils using the same chemical process as vegetable oils. If you do use a refined coconut oil, be sure to look for expeller-pressed products, preferably cold-pressed.
3. Avocado Oil
Avocado is a fruit, long known for its high nutrient value. Unlike other oils, avocado’s oil is derived from the flesh of the fruit surrounding the pit and not from a seed. It is unique as a fruit, as most fruits mostly consist of carbohydrates, whereas avocados are mostly healthy fats. With 77% of its calories derived from fat, it is one of the fattiest plants in existence.
Avocado oil is high in monounsaturated fat, like that of olive oil, which is why it has long been touted as a heart healthy food. Many studies reveal that avocados significantly reduce total cholesterol levels, lower LDL cholesterol, increase HDL cholesterol and reduce triglycerides. In addition, because many nutrients from other foods require fat in order to be absorbed, avocado oil increases the value of those foods.
The unique characteristic of avocado oil is its safe use for both cold and hot applications. While avocado oil is amazing for use in salads or dips, it also has a very high smoke point (400-520, depending on the brand), which makes it the perfect choice for any high heat application, such as frying, sautéing or stir frying. As we’ve learned, this high smoke point is essential to keep the oil from breaking down during cooking and creating dangerous compounds. Once again, make sure your oil is unrefined.
4. Extra Virgin Olive Oil
As if the topic of oils alone weren’t confusing enough, now we have to contend with the olive oil controversy. Just when you thought you were safe… Numerous sources reveal just how adulterated much of our olive oil sources are. Larry Olmsted, investigative journalist, food critic and author of Real Food/Fake Food, says it is estimated that 60-90% of olive oil sold in America contains oxidized, omega-6 industrial seed oils like sunflower, peanut, and non-human grade olive oils. In addition, Tom Mueller, an investigative author of the olive oil scandals, states, “…70 percent of the extra virgin olive oil sold worldwide is watered down with other oils and enhancers making them far from virgin.” Furthermore, in 2011 at the UC Davis Olive Center in California, after testing 124 samples of brands of extra virgin olive oil sold in California, it was found that two-thirds were not virgin and contained GMO soybean and canola oils!
Unfortunately, corruption has seriously infiltrated the multi-billion dollar olive oil industry at home and abroad. While various lawsuits and arrests have been made over the years, much of the olive oil on the market today is very far from pure. Check out the information on the bottles of olive oil the next time you go shopping. You will often find that Italian olive oil has been produced from oil purchased in other countries, including Syria, Tunisia, Greece, Morocco and Spain.
How to Pick a Pure Olive Oil
Due to the deceptive nature of so many of the olive oil producers, it has been very difficult to know the difference between pure extra virgin olive oil and fake or adulterated oil. The lines do tend to get blurry at times. However, many food critics and investigators tend to agree on certain criteria in making your decision. Some helpful hints are:
- Olive oil in dark-colored glass bottles or steel cans is more likely to be pure, but still requires an at-home test. The dark bottle protects from oxidation.
- If the label says it’s from Italy, without naming the orchard, it’s probably fake.
- Good olive oil should be green to greenish-yellow. If it is yellow, in a plastic bottle or clear glass, it is probably fake.
- If your oil is clear (not cloudy), it is probably fake. Cloudiness can be faked, so still do the at-home test.
- Most imported extra virgin olive oils are of questionable authenticity. Best to go with a California-based oil with the orchard on the label.
- Price can be an indicator. Inexpensive oils are more likely to be fake, but it is not an accurate indicator.
- Look for a seal from the IOC (International Olive Council).
- Check for a harvesting date or “best by” date on the label.
- Stay away from anything labeled pure, light or blended.
Buying locally from small farmers always seems to pass authenticity tests, as it cuts out the middleman. However, where we are located on the east coast, that is not going to be the case. We can, however, purchase California olive oil with the seal of approval from voluntary inspection agencies. Look for these seals for verification:
In addition, the UC Davis Olive Center put several brands to the test, and some are available locally at chain stores. They are:
• Corto Olive
• California Olive Ranch
• Kirkland Organic
• Lucero (Ascolano)
• McEvoy Ranch Organic
• Whole Foods CALIFORNIA 365
• Trader Joes 100% Greek Kalamata or
California Estate Olive Oil ***
*** While pure, quality extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) can be expensive (and worth every penny), there are some affordable, quality EVOOs, such as Trader Joes’s 100% Greek Kalamata and California Estate Olive Oils that are delicious as well as very affordable.
5. Flaxseed Oil
Unrefined flaxseed oil contains a perfect ratio of Omega-3 to Omega-6 at 1:4. It is the richest source of plant-based omega-3 available. With a very low smoke point of 225°, this oil is only to be used cold. Apply it as an application on salads, in smoothies or just by the spoonful as part of a healthy fat regimen.
6. Nutiva Red Palm Oil, Buttery Spread, Shortening
Nutiva products are very high-quality products. The Red Palm Oil (not to be confused with toxic palm kernel oil)!) is solid at room temperature with a smoke point of 300°, making it suitable for medium-heat cooking or sautéing or as a butter substitute for popcorn.
The Buttery Spread and Shortening are a combination of red palm oil and virgin coconut oil. The buttery spread has a milder flavor and can be used as a butter substitute on vegetables, etc., or as a 1:1 butter substitute in baking. This is great news for those who are dairy-free. The Shortening is also a great substitute for any recipe that calls for the old “shortening” (like Crisco), and can be used for baking or like butter for sautéing on medium heat.
All three of these products are sustainably-produced and responsibly-sourced. They are free of hexane, dairy, soy, canola, trans-fats all in a BPA-free container!
To better help you understand all the terminology and categories of fats and fatty acids, below is a visual to help bring it all together.
Most oils are a mixture of different fatty acid types, but predominantly fall under one category. Saturated and monounsaturated are more easily used by your body than polyunsaturated. The above chart tells the category a fat falls under, but the chart does not mean it is recommended for consumption. See below:
Saturated Fats: solid at room temperature; stable - enjoy them in the form of grass-fed animal meats, fat, lard and butter, as well as organic, unrefined, centrifuge- or expeller-expressed coconut oil.
Monounsaturated – liquid at room temperature and solidify when refrigerated; contains omega 9 fatty acids (F.A) It is a non-essential F.A., meaning your body can produce it. Enjoy in the form of olive oil, raw almonds, raw almond butter, macadamia nuts, and avocados or avocado oil.
Polyunsaturated – chemically unstable and easily denatured; liquid at room temperature; solid if hydrogenated, creating trans fat.
- Omega 3’s – Considered an essential F.A., as you must get it from your diet. The typical American diet is severely lacking this important, anti-inflammatory fat. Enjoy in the form of wild-caught salmon, sardines, mackerel, grass-fed beef and dairy, flaxseed, and chia seeds. Absolutely no soybean or rapeseed (canola) oil.
- Omega 6’s – Considered an essential F.A., as you must get it from your diet. The typical American diet is overloaded with this fat. It should be utilized in a ratio of approximately 4:1 of omega 6:omega 3. American diets are closer to anywhere from 20-50:1. While omega 6’s serve an important purpose in the body, their overuse is highly inflammatory. Unfortunately, omega 6’s are found in almost every product on grocery store shelves, and in grain-fed meats. (Grass-fed cows ratio is 2:1 to 4:1, whereas conventional grain-fed cows ratio is 20:1 or higher). It is best to avoid these foods. Enjoy in the form of raw walnuts and pecans, pumpkin, poppy and sesame seeds and limited organic, cold-pressed grapeseed oil. Avoid all other processed vegetable oils, margarine and shortening (like Crisco).