In this segment of ‘How To…’ with new canada food guide, we dig into the slippery topic of fats.
So… Fats. We hate them. We love them. What’s the deal?
Fats have a critically important role in our diet and our health. Just like with any macronutrient in our diet, proteins, carbohydrates, and fats, the quality of our foods, including fats is key.
FOOD FATS vs OILS
First, what exactly falls into the area of fats and oils? Often the terms fats and oils are used interchangeably, and I tend to do this as well. There are differences.
It’s helpful to know that fats are composed of higher amounts of saturated fatty acids, which results in a solid form at room temperature, and they mainly originate from animal sources. Note, coconut is a plant based source of fat which is more a saturated fat.
However, oils, which are primarily plant based, are composed of mainly unsaturated fatty acids, results in a liquid form at room temperature.
NOTE: Unsaturated means it has a high portion of one or more double bonds between carbons within the fatty acid chain. This double bond is weak and thus makes unsaturated fats less stable than saturated fats for heat. Saturated fats have a higher portion of NO double bonds within their fatty acid chain. This means their carbons are fully saturated with hydrogen and are thus more stable.
HEALTHY FAT and OIL SOURCES
Healthy animal sources of fats include natural (limited processing) meat, fish, eggs and full fat dairy. Again, quality is key and pasture raised eggs are an easy way to see the how the natural conditions and foods of animals produces a quality end product.
Healthy plant sources of oil include coconut, avocado, nuts, seeds, and the less refined extracted oils from those sources.
Like all food sources, there are good quality and not so good quality options, and fats is certainly one to keep in mind for that. Based on the quality of fats we consume, we can push inflammation in our bodies into either a pro-inflammatory or anti-inflammatory state. Note, inflammation can exist regardless of foods that you eat, as it is a reaction to injury, but, all foods can be a driving factor of our inflammation being increased or decreased. The more whole foods that are the least refined and processed will mostly help to move us to being more anti-inflammatory generally.
There are “bad” fats, such as trans and hydrogenated fats, which are just not good for us and we are wise to avoid or at least limit. Most packaged foods use poor quality and highly processed oils which are not the best options. However, even our good healthy fats/oils may be less than optimal if they become damaged or rancid as that can cause problematic free radicals and generate toxins within our bodies.
How do we damage even good oils? Heat, light and air can cause oils to degrade. I try to not cook with or heat unsaturated oils since they do not tolerate heat well. I use quality butter or coconut oil for high heat cooking. I leave oils for making dressings or using in foods or sauces after they have been cooked.
HOW ARE FATS USED IN THE BODY?
Fats and oils are critical, and when we look at the roles they have with our health, it can help us to keep in mind that the quality and source is important to keep in mind when planning out foods to consume. Main uses of fats and oils in our bodies include:
Energy for our cells
Cell membranes structure
Skin and hair health
Helps us to absorb vitamins A, D, E, and K Insulation and body temperature Brain function Growth and development Helps us to feel satiated when we eat These are just some of the uses…
HOW DO WE GET MORE OF THE BEST FATS and OILS AVAILABLE?
If you eat animal products, find sources where the animals were raised traditionally, with access to the outdoors, eating their proper diet, grazing in fields or swimming in natural water. Look for free range chicken and eggs as well as wild or free range meat, and dairy products, and wild fish. Looking at what the animals eat for their diets, and how they are treated, creates certain qualities in their meat and products that are more optimal than when those areas are not addressed. It would make sense that the health what we eat can affect our own health.
For our plant based oils, less refined and low or no heat (cold pressed) is helpful. First, eat the whole food sources of the oils - avocados, olives, nuts and seeds. Then, when selecting oils from those sources, keeping it to traditional sources like olive oil, as well as less refined nut and seed oils. Limiting corn and soy and canola which are GMO crops, and are often very refined, is a suggestion that seems to be common.
So, enjoy your fats and oils, using the best quality you can find!
Have a great week!