Fat, which is a macronutrient (in addition to carbohydrates and protein) is incredibly important for our well-being as it help absorb nutrients, supports our nervous system, brain function, and immune system. Not only do fats provide us with energy but also they are very tasty! There are different types of fats and those that have been altered from their natural state are hazardous to our health. However, naturally occurring fats are extremely important, and can even help with weight loss.
Solid at room temperature, examples of these fats include butter, lard, coconut oil and palm oil. These fats are more stable with heat and light, and therefore these fats are preferred for cooking since they don’t go rancid when heated. Why do we want to avoid rancid fats? Because they cause damage to our blood vessels and our body requires antioxidants to deal with them. Although these fats are typically thought of to be unhealthy, research (www.westonaprice.org) demonstrates that these are actually quite healthy for us. Coconut oil is given more and more attention for its antibacterial, antifungal and antiviral properties. It has even been shown to stimulate metabolism and aid in weight loss! With coconut oil please choose extra virgin, expeller pressed.
Liquid at room temperature, these fats can further be divided into monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats.
Monounsaturated fats include olive oil, canola oil and almond oil. These fats are somewhat stable when heated, so use olive oil to cook with at low temperatures. Try avoiding canola oil since it is highly refined. With olive oil, please choose extra virgin.
Polyunsaturated fats include omega-3 and omega-6 fats. Omega-3 fats include flax, walnut and pumpkin oils; omega-3 is typically lacking in our diets so it’s good to include them in your diet! On the other hand, omega-6 fats, which include sunflower, safflower, corn, soy, and sesame oils are very unstable so you should never cook with them or heat them as they will turn rancid very easily. A tip with flax: while it is true our bodies have a hard time breaking down the hard shell of whole flax seeds, it is best to purchase whole flax seeds and grind them before use since ground flax in stores may be rancid since they have been ground for some time and could have been exposed to light and heat.
- Triglycerides represent the form of fat our bodies store.
- Phospholipids, which are important for cell membranes, such as brain and nervous tissue.
- Sterols/Cholesterol are important for manufacturing hormones, and is a component of nervous tissue.
Fats to Avoid:
It is extremely important to avoid altered fats since these only cause harm to our body. Altered fats are changed chemically, resulting in a different structure of the fat, which affects how our body metabolizes these fats. This includes hydrogenated and partially-hydrogenated oils – trans fats – (*be sure to read food labels!), which are found in many packaged snacks foods such as chips, chocolate, crackers, cereals, most margarines (*always choose butter over margarine), commercially baked foods (e.g. muffins and donuts), and deep fried foods. These fats are harmful to our brain, heart, arteries, and can lead to weight gain.