Good Fats and Bad Fats

Are you still avoiding fats? Time to wake up and smell the bacon frying!

Back in the 1980s, we all thought fat was the enemy. Products like fat-free mayonnaise, fat-free cream cheese, and fat-free cookies lined the grocery shelves. (Do these things still exist?) If you were crazy enough to try these fake replicas of real food, you know this stuff tasted as horrible as it sounds. Packed with extra sugars, usually in the form of corn syrup, we ended up gorging on excess carbs. The obesity rate in the US skyrocketed during this decade of fat-free eating. Heart disease, too.

Today, fat has come back into fashion. Millenials are chowing down on avocado toast. We all have a megaton tub of coconut oil in our pantries. Bacon is the new chocolate chip--it's added to everything from burgers to salads to brownies. A contestant on The Bachelorette this season bragged about being on a ketogenic (mostly fat) diet. So you know fat is IN.

But fats are a minefield when it comes to recommendations of which ones and how much of them one should consume. Do we all need fats in our diet? Yes. There is no doubt about this fact. Without fats, our bodies have trouble producing any of the hormones which control all our bodily functions. So which types of fats are "good" and which should we avoid?

Once upon a time, saturated fat was blamed for heart disease. Red meat became the enemy. Some people still believe that beef is a killer, even though many cultures (like the French) eat loads of saturated fat and have very low rates of heart disease. More recent studies have concluded that other fats--specifically trans fats in hydrogenated vegetable oil--are directly linked to cardiovascular disease. If you read your labels in the grocery store, you will note that many manufacturers have removed and replaced trans fats, even in iconic products like Oreo cookies.

Animal fats--lard, tallow, butter, cream, cheeses, eggs, bacon fat--are examples of saturated fats. To find the highest quality animal fats, look for grassfed--animals raised on pasture instead of factory-like feed lots where they are fed grains. Kerrygold makes a gorgeous, golden, grassfed butter which is available in most grocery stores. US Wellness Meats carries lard, tallow, duck fat, and bacon from 100% grassfed animals. You will pay more for these products, but grassfed animal fats are higher in Omega-3 fatty acids, similar to fish oil, as well as Vitamin K2. Speaking of fish oil, recent studies show that eating whole fish, rather than taking supplements, is the best way to get more Omega-3s into our diets. Look for wild caught salmon as well as mackerel and sardines for sources of healthy fish oil without the toxins!

What about "vegetable" oils? Aren't these more healthy? You'd think so. But so-called vegetable oils actually come from corn, soybeans, canola, and cottonseeds. These oils are high in Omega-6s and have been shown to cause inflammation in the body which can lead to all types of disease, from cancer to heart disease to Alzheimer's. And I'm not even getting into the problem of pesticides, herbicides, and GMOs connected with these products.

There are many healthy oils which come from various types of fruits and nuts. Avocado oil makes a marvelous mayonnaise. Extra virgin olive oil is fantastic on a salad or in pesto. Coconut oil is solid(ish) at room temperature and works well in frying, baking, and as a massage or suntan oil! Also great for dogs! Nut oils like walnut or macadamia nut are delicious on salads or in desserts. Flax seed oil, borage seed oil, and black currant seed oil are useful during perimenopause as a nutritional supplement for helping to balance out hormonal issues.

Bottom line? Certain fats are healthy, but they do contain more calories per gram than either protein or carbs. This is not a bad thing; it just means we need LESS. Unless you opt for a ketogenic diet (where carbs must be severely limited) you will need only a small amount of fat per meal. A few nuts, a pat of butter, an ounce of guacamole, these are all great choices for adding enough fat to help you feel full for a long time. But keep in mind: combinations of high fat and high sugar (like ice cream, doughnuts, muffins, pie crust, fudge, frosting) offer the worst possible choice for dieters trying to lose weight.

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