Contrary to popular belief – fat is not all bad.  

You need fat in your diet.  For one thing, your brain is almost entirely made of fat, as are the sheaths around your nerve cells.  Fat protects your internal organs, it’s a great energy source, and it’s necessary to get your fat soluble vitamins (A, E, D, and K).  It’s necessary for healthy cell membranes, so that good stuff (nutrients, oxygen, cell signals) can get in and bad stuff (waste) can get out.

Without enough fat in their diets, patients usually feel fatigued, depressed, and more prone to illness (many fats are highly antimicrobial).

Unfortunately, the “fat free” craze has led to near elimination of good fats primarily, replacing it with sugar and “bad fats.”  Here’s how to tell the difference.

Unhealthy Fats

1) Trans fats, aka Partially Hydrogenated Oils.  Both of these are terms from chemistry, describing both the number and the orientation of hydrogens on the carbon backbone of the fats.  Trans fats start out as unsaturated vegetable oils (see #2), but then they’re thrown in a metal vat, with nickel, pressure, and hydrogen ions (H+).  The unsaturated oil ends up “partially saturated” with hydrogen atoms, and by the time the process is over, there are no nutrients or antioxidants left.

  • Found in: margarine, shortening, processed and fried foods of all kinds.
  • Reason they’re bad: Highly associated with most Western diseases (including cancer and heart disease), they increase the “bad” cholesterol (LDL), lower “good” cholesterol (HDL), interfere with healthy cell membrane function (decreasing cell detoxification and increases insulin resistance), and lower immune system functioning.

2) Polyunsaturated vegetable oils.  These are commonly used in processed and fast foods (at which point they become trans fats.)

  • Found in: canola oil, corn oil, cottonseed oil, safflower and sunflower oil.
  • Reason they’re bad: they are loaded with omega 6 fatty acids, which are necessary in your diet in moderation, but too many O6′s leads to chronic inflammation and high cholesterol.

Healthy Fats

1) Saturated Fats (believe it or not!).  These get a bad rap because too much saturated fat necessarily means too few essential fatty acids (see #3), which leads to inflammation.  But if you eat them in moderation, you reap the benefits (below), and your body can convert the excess to EFAs if it needs them.

  • Found in: coconut oil, avocados, nuts, butter, ghee, palm oil, animal fats (grass fed and/or free range!) and eggs (free range!).
  • Reason they’re good: These make up 50% of your cell membranes (and healthy cell membranes means good stuff can in, and bad stuff can get out).  They are the preferred food for your heart, antimicrobial, support immune function, are necessary for your blood to clot and for your lungs to work properly, are easily absorbed for quick energy, and are necessary for infant brain development.

2) Monounsaturated Fats: make sure it’s “organic” and “extra virgin” – this means it’s unprocessed, and therefore still high in antioxidants.

  • Found in: famously, olive oil.
  • Reason they’re good: lowers inflammatory omega 6, lowers cholesterol and blood pressure, and maintains healthy nerve function.

3) Polyunsaturated Essential Fatty Acids (EFAs): These do everything!  And it’s VERY likely you’re not getting enough of them, if you’re eating a Standard American Diet.

  • Found in: veggie oils (such as flax seed and hemp seed), nut oils (macadamia, peanut), plant oils (pumpkin seed, grape seed, sesame, rice bran, borage, black currant, evening primrose), grass fed meat and dairy, and fish or marine oils.
  • Reason they’re good: these are anti-inflammatory, support the mucus lining in your stomach, lower blood pressure and cholesterol, improve insulin sensitivity, decrease allergic responses, keep cell walls healthy, and are also necessary for brain development.

One last thing…

Oils For Cooking: 

Some fats go rancid with heat (forming free radicals), and some are relatively stable.  These are the ones you should have on hand, depending on the purpose:

  • For high heat cooking, use animal fats, butter or ghee, coconut oil, or palm oil.
  • For light cooking, use olive oil, avocado oil, macadamia nut, peanut, sesame, or rice bran oil.
  • For dressings: use flax, grape seed, hemp, or pumpkin oils.

The take-home message: EAT FATS!  

(But eat those found in whole foods, NOT in fast or processed foods.)