As you may have noticed in most of my recipes, I never shy away from a hearty does of healthy fat in my cooking. Until just recently, the health and nutrition world has given fat a pretty bad name. How many times have we been preached to about fat consumption and weight gain? Or fat consumption and heart disease? There is a lot of misinformation on this topic, and my goal is to shed a little light. For those who haven’t heard the word on the street, let me tell you…
Fat is GOOD for us!
This subject can be controversial for some, and as such, requires some significant explanation. In the next few weeks, I will be sharing some posts from the archives. In this series of posts, I will try my best to deconstruct the basics of fat, problems with fat, and why natural fat is good for us and can actually make us slimmer! Sounds too good to be true, I know, but please read on if you are interested…
The Basics of Fat
Fatty acids are various sized chains of hydrocarbon molecules bonded together.
There are so many variations of fatty acid chains and how they are bonded together, that they are split into three general groups for better understanding: Saturated, Monounsaturated, Polyunsaturated. All fats contain a combination of these three groups. For example, animal fats contain about 40-60% saturated fat, but the rest is made up of mono and polyunsaturated fats.
*If you wish to understand the molecular structure of these fats and how they are formed, please visit my resources linked at the bottom of this post.
Saturated fats have strong hydrocarbon bonds, which mean they are very stable. They can handle high heats during cooking, without developing free radicals which can become a hazard to our health. Some natural sources that contain large amounts of these fats include: butter, coconut oil, tallow, etc.
Monounsaturated fats have moderately strong hydrocarbon bonds, which mean they are somewhat stable. With one double bond present in a monounsaturated fat, two hydrogen atoms are lost. This makes monounsaturated fat marginally susceptible to developing free radicals when cooked at high heat. Free radicals are a hazard to our health, which I will explain later. My general rule of thumb is to use these fats at room temperature or chilled. Some natural sources of monounsaturated fats include olive oil and oils derived from many nuts.
Polyunsaturated fats have weak hydrocarbon bonds, which mean they are somewhat unstable. With multiple double bonds present in polyunsaturated fats, several hydrogen atoms are lost. This makes polyunsaturated fats highly susceptible to developing free radicals under high heat, light and oxygen exposure. As I mentioned earlier, free radicals are a serious hazard to our health and will be discussed in more detail in a later post. For the time being, I want to stress that it is important to use these fats in a cold condition. If possible, consume these oils intact in their food source. Healthy and natural sources of this fat can be found in oily fish (such as salmon) and nuts.
Even though polyunsaturated fats have a high risk of developing free radicals, it is very important that we still consume these fats! Our prized Omega-3 and Omega-6 essential fatty acids are found in this group.
What are essential fatty acids? Most of us have all heard this term before. But what does it really mean and how does it affect our health? In a nutshell, there are two fatty acids that humans cannot produce in the body, yet they are vital for proper functioning and good health. Therefore, these fats are considered “essential,” and it is necessary to consume these fats in our diet and the foods we eat.
- ALA (Alpha-linolenic acid), from the Omega-3 family. Food sources for this fatty acid include walnuts, flax, hemp, etc.
- LA (Linoleic Acid), from the Omega-6 family. Food sources for this fatty acid include sunflower seeds, nuts, seed oils, etc.
The above mentioned fatty acids are the only official ‘essential’ fatty acids. However, there are two more fats from the Omega-3 family, that many believe are even MORE important to consume:
- EPA (Eicosapentanaenoic acid), from the Omega-3 family. Food sources for this fatty acid include seafood, grass fed egg yolk and meat, etc.
- DHA (Docosahexaenoic acid), from the Omega-3 family. Food sources for this fatty acid include seafood, grass fed egg yolk and meat, etc.
I will discuss the health benefits of all these fats in the last of my fat series, Why Natural Fat is Good for Us. For now, let’s put together the information we have learned thus far:
- Saturated fats have strong hydrocarbon bonds, and are generally safe to cook at high heats. Common food sources for these fats include animal fats, coconut oil, butter, etc.
- Monounsaturated fats have moderately strong hydrocarbon bonds, with a single double bond at the expense of several hydrogen atoms. They are better used at room temperature or cold. Common food sources for these fats include olive oil and nut oils.
- Polyunsaturated fats have a weak hydrocarbon bond, with multiple double bonds at the expense of several hydrogen atoms. They are better used cold or intact. Common food sources for these fats include fish and nuts.
- ALA is an essential fatty acid from the Omega-3 family. It is necessary for humans to consume this fat in their diet. Important foods that contain the most beneficial Omega-3s are fish, seafood, grass fed yolks and meats, and nuts
- LA is an essential fatty acid from the Omega-6 family. It is necessary for humans to consume this fat in their diet. Important foods that contain the most beneficial Omega-6s are sunflower seeds, nuts, seed oils, etc.
- EPA and DHA are two more important fats found in seafood, sea vegetables and grass-fed animal products including meat, eggs, and dairy. Many believe these foods are vital for optimal health.
Those are the basics of our dietary fat, in a nutshell. In my next post, I will talk about problems we can run into with fat. Specifically, there are two major concerns we need to be aware of with the fats we are consuming: Free Radicals and Omega-6 overload.
- Molecular Structure of Fat, Howard Hughes Medical Institute
- The Skinny on Fats, Weston A. Price Foundation
- Nourishing Traditions, Sally Fallon
- Deep Nutrition, Catherine Shanahan
- The Coconut Oil Miracle, Bruce Fife
- 9 Steps to Perfect Health, Chris Kresser