Fat Friendly or Foe?

This is a debate that has been going on for years and these are questions I get asked all the time.  What is fat?  Does fat make you fat?  Which fats are good fats and which fats are bad fats?  Which fats should I cook with and how do I know how much fat I should consume?  We had an interesting discussion about the importance of fat at our HEB cooking class on Monday, so I wanted to make sure to write an article about it.  There is a lot of misleading and confusing information about fat.  I hope to be able to clear up some of the confusion so please be sure to read the whole article.

Fat is not something that you need to be afraid of… Fat doesn’t make you fat!  Fat provides us with valuable nutrition and keeps us satisfied until our next meal.  The amount of fat that you consume at each meal will depend on your body, activity level, and if you need to lose weight or not.

Your fat intake should be somewhere between 15% and 40% of your daily caloric intake.  Eating on the low end of the range is appropriate if you want to decrease body fat and lose weight, but skimping on fat will not yield better or more results.  Fat loss is not about counting calories or grams of fat, it is about balancing hormones.  You need to stabilize your blood sugar.  If you underfeed your body you can end up hungry all day, your energy levels will crash, and you will be tired and cranky.

Fat is broken down into two basic groups (saturated and unsaturated).  Saturated fats are typically solid at room temperature.  Some examples are animal fats, dairy, butter, ghee and coconut and palm oils.  Unsaturated fats are typically liquid at room temperature.  Some examples are seafood, nuts and vegetable oils.  Both saturated and unsaturated fats are important, but the key is to make sure you are getting the right amounts of Omega 3, 6, and 9’s in your diet.  Most of these come from monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, which are forms of unsaturated fats.  The only fat that you should avoid are trans-fats.  These fat molecules have been altered (hydrogenated or fractionated) and your body doesn’t know how to break them down, so they can build up inside your body.

Food manufacturers determine the fat percentage of a food based on its weight, not on calories.  The problem is that your body does not recognize how much a food weighs, but it does recognize how many calories of fat you consume.  Use the formula below to determine the fat percentage of foods instead of falling for misleading marketing gimmicks.  Just because it says that it is “fat free” or “lean” does not mean that it is necessarily “fat friendly.”

fat pic

It is estimated that the SAD (Standard American Diet) has 15 to 20 times as many Omega-6 to Omega-3; the ideal ratio should be close to 1:1.  High doses of the wrong kinds of fats and oils in our diet (Omegas 6 and 9 versus Omega 3) can cause inflammation.  This low-grade chronic inflammation leads to many major chronic diseases including heart disease, cancer, diabetes, dementia, and more.  In addition to increasing inflammation, the polyunsaturated Omega-6 linoleic acid found in refined seed oils and trans fats increases the permeability of the intestinal tract (leaky gut).  A “leaky gut” is a contributing factor of most diseases including autoimmune disorders.

Consuming oxidized refined oils can deplete your body’s antioxidants and increase inflammation inside the body.  Refined seed oils include canola oil, soybean oil, peanut oil, cottonseed oil, corn oil, sunflower oil, safflower oil, vegetable oil, flaxseed oil, and grapeseed oil. These oils are produced in massive quantities and are found in margarines, salad dressings, mayonnaises, sauces, chips, popcorn, frozen entrees, baked goods, and just about any other processed food. Due to the high-heat process used to extract oils from these seeds the delicate polyunsaturated fats and nutrients they contain are sometimes damaged.  These oils are usually rancid by the time they hit grocery store shelves, so you really need to consider the types of fats and oils you purchase.  You want to make sure to look for high quality refined oils that have not become oxidized or damaged.  If you’re going to spend money on anything at the grocery store, it should be on your cooking oils and fats!

When you’re cooking with fats and oils, you need to consider the smoking point of them.  The smoking point is important because fats and oils will start to break down (denature) when they become too hot.  These denatured molecules can become trans-fats or toxic.  The higher the smoking point the more ways you can cook with that particular oil or fat.  The lower the smoking point the fewer ways you can cook with it.  Canola oil is the most common oil used for cooking.  It also has one of the lowest smoking points.  Olive oil is a healthier substitute, but it also has a lower smoking point.  Olive oil is often times blended with canola and other low grade vegetable oils, so be careful.  These types of olive oils will not contain the appropriate ratios of Omega 3, 6 and 9 fats.  Both oils should not be used for cooking foods over 200 degrees Celsius, but they can be decent oils to use if heating food at low temperatures or not at all.   The best oils to cook with are high quality refined coconut, avocado, safflower, soybean, and grapeseed oils because they haven’t become oxidized or damaged and they contain the approriate ratios of Omega 3 , 6 and 9.  Ghee is also a great substitute to use when baking.

Remember, fat is an important part of your diet.  Fat truly is your friend and you should learn as much as you can about it.  It’s important to know what fat is, how to calculate how much fat your food contains, and which ones to purchase and cook with.  I hope this article guides you in the right direction.  If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to ask.

Be Fit,

Michael Romig BS, CPT, CFT, PES, CES, RES & FT

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