Fats, Eat Them: An Overview

Is it safe to say the fat limiting craze of the 90’s is over? Can we finally, with confidence, start eating more fat?

We have spent so many years hearing that fat is bad and there are so many questions that need to be answered.

Are all saturated fats bad? Are all unsaturated fats good? Is coconut oil actually bad for us (as recently suggested by the American Heart Association)?

The answer is no, times three.

Atherosclerosis is when fatty deposits (triglycerides and cholesterol)  thicken and clog arteries, which we all understand to lead to cardiovascular issues. When we confront our fears of cardiovascular disease, we think of limiting our cholesterol and saturated fat intake. However, we should be focusing on which types of cholesterol and saturated fat we are ingesting, as well as what we are ingesting them with. Oxidation occurs with exposure to heat and air (oxygen). Processed foods are at high risk for oxidation, as are foods cooked at high temperatures. Cholesterol intake has been shown in studies to have no causal effect for atherosclerosis, whereas oxidized cholesterol intake does. The same has been shown for saturated fat. Avoiding processed foods and avoiding cooking your foods at high temperatures will prevent the consumption of oxidized cholesterol and saturated fat. More later on oxidation of unsaturated oils.

Another factor in diets and the effect of saturated fats is what they are paired with.  When paired with refined carbohydrates and sugar the effects become adverse. Multiple studies have linked high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease to sugar intake, and it is suggested that the combination of carbohydrates and fat with sugar only accelerates the negative effects.

When consuming saturated fats, coconut oil is the number one recommendation, and for some people grass fed, organic meats and ghee. Please note, just because it isn’t bad for you, doesn’t mean you should eat it in large amounts for every meal. We always recommend a balanced diet.  Meat isn’t right for everyone, but if you chose to eat meat, we recommend grass-fed, organic. Grass-fed organic meats are also going to contain a better ratio of Omega 3 to Omega 6, therefore being much less inflammatory**. Likewise, if you choose to eat dairy,  please choose full-fat, grass fed and organic.

Grassfed ghee is a product made from butter of grass-fed cows. Ghee is naturally refined to remove lactose, decreasing its inflammatory effects, and increasing the short-medium chain fatty acids. Short-Medium chain fatty acids are proven to boost metabolism and be more easily utilized and absorbed by the body, studies also suggest that short-medium chain fatty acids do not contribute to cardiovascular disease*. Ghee is high in vitamins A, D, K2, and E, suitable for people with lactose and casein sensitivities, and with the added benefit of conjugated linoleic acid (CLA). CLA is present in grass-fed ghee, and has been proven to reduce tumors, lower cholesterol and blood pressure, reduce inflammation, and lower body fat.

The American Heart Association recently issued a blanket statement for saturated fats, stating that coconut oil is bad for us, that it never has been good for us. Integrative medicine professionals believe this to be wrong. Your heritage (what your ancestors ate) has been proven to have a large effect on what you can eat, and should be considered when understanding how much coconut oil will be a healthy level in your diet. Coconut oil is composed of saturated fat, inclusive of lauric acid and medium chain triglycerides. Lauric acid is anti-microbial, and medium chain triglycerides (fatty acids) are proven to speed metabolism and assist in fat loss*. Studies used against coconut oil did not limit its consumption with processed carbs and sugar. Consuming coconut oil in a high-sugar, high-refined carbohydrate diet will lead to inflammation and bad cholesterol levels, but that doesn’t mean that the coconut oil is bad for you. Caution should be taken to avoid overheating (which leads to oxidation).  See attached chart on smoke points of common fats. As I mentioned earlier, oxidation has been proven linked to atherosclerosis.

Olive oil, an unsaturated fat, also needs caution if you plan to use it in cooking. Without doubt olive oil is good for us, but heating it past its smoke point ruins it’s benefits. Over processing also decreases, or eliminates, the benefits. Avoid refined olive oils, as those have been subject to heat and added solvents. Unfiltered and filtered olive oil are both good options, unfiltered olive oil retains some olive particulate and moisture, lowering shelf life, but increasing nutrient content in some cases. Cold pressed is important though, which means the olive oil was pressed without excessive heat (below 80.6 degrees) to extract the oil; added heat during the extraction process leads to the increased likelihood of oxidation. Olive oil is sensitive to sunlight and exposure may cause oxidation as well, so please store in a dark container.

Vegetable oils, unfortunately, should be avoided. Vegetable oils are extracted from seeds, but, unlike olive oil, cannot just be pressed for extraction. Extensive processes must be applied, removing possible benefits; leaving us with an unnatural, oxidized and over-processed product. These unsaturated oils are also high in omega 6, making them inflammatory**.

There are hundreds of studies, proving hundreds of points for each side. Please consider these things when reviewing them: What was the quality of the fat being consumed? What was it being consumed with? Was the fat processed? Was the fat oxidized?

When cooking for yourself and your family: Don’t cook at high temperatures and always pay attention to an oil’s smoke point, choose full-fat, grass-fed, and organic when/if eating meat/dairy, and avoid sugars and processed carbs. Always eat a balanced and varied diet, full of all the colors of the rainbow, and as little processing as possible. Adding a good amount of healthy fat to your diet will give you new energy and fewer cravings***. Always feel free to reach out if you have any questions!

Smoke Points °F

Avocado oil 510°F

Butter  250-200°F

Coconut Oil (extra virgin)  350°

Flax Oil   Cold Use Only

Ghee (clarified Butter)  485°F

Lard  370°F

Macadamia Nut Oil  410°F

Olive Oil (extra virgin)  375°F

Olive Oil (virgin)  391°F

*Studies are still being conducted as to if short-medium chain fatty acids are really so much better for us then long chain fatty acids, with possibilities that all the fatty acids are acceptable to eat.

**Our society has an unhealthy ratio of omega 6 to omega 3, due to the over-processing of foods. In the past we ate omega 3 and omega 6 in the ratio of 1:1, but now omega 6 is much more readily available. Consuming more omega 6 leads to inflammation in the body, which has a whole host of issues. Overconsumption of Omega 6, and therefore an imbalance with omega 3, has been linked to asthma, coronary heart disease, cancer, autoimmunity, neurodegenerative diseases, and obesity. Supplementing with fish oils is the most common recommendation to get your Omega 3 levels back to normal.

***Please note that if you have an existing cardiovascular condition please consult your Integrative Doctor for the proper diet for your condition. The links between Cholesterol, Saturated Fat and Atherosclerosis are still being understood.

Kathryn Standing Chef

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