The world of food and nutrition can be so confusing. Eat this and not that. No, hold on, don’t eat that, but rather eat this. Argh! Fat is the great example. Pre-1950s we ate full fat foods, enjoyed butter and lard, and didn’t worry about the crunchy skin on our roasted chicken. But then everything changed.
The US declared a public health emergency as the number of heart attacks skyrocketed and nobody knew why. In an interview between Dr. Mark Hyman, Director of Functional Medicine for the Cleveland Clinic, and Nina Teicholz, a leading nutrition science journalist and author of the book “The Big Fat Surprise” I was fascinated learning how fat went from a staple food to being demonized. Their conversation also added the clarity I knew you’d appreciate.
Did you know that the Dietary Guidelines for Americans and the American Heart Association no longer recommend a low-fat diet? In fact, the recommended limits have been removed. Did you get the memo? I didn’t see it on headline news the way I’d expect it considering we’ve been told that 1) fat makes you fat and 2) most fats cause disease. Scratch that!
We need healthy fats in our diet for lots of reasons. Compared to carbohydrates and protein, fat will keep us full the longest. It’s vital for cell growth, helps absorb fat-soluble vitamins (like the important vitamin D), produces important hormones, plus it boosts your energy and brain power!
Let’s start with what NOT to eat:
Originally Crisco was used to oil machinery before Procter & Gamble decided to bleach it to make soaps and yes, food. The hydrogenation process, which makes this product ‘stable’, creates trans fats, which is now known to cause heart disease.
Now this will make you mad…the food label of Crisco’s ‘all vegetable shortening’ (and other companies' oil products) reads that it has “0 Trans Fat per serving”, which means it has less than 0.5 grams per serving. But on the ingredients list you find “fully hydrogenated oil” which means trans fat. Make the serving small enough (like 1 tablespoon) and you can hide the fact that you are eating heart disease causing junk.
Other vegetable oils / margarine:
Doesn’t the fact that it is made of vegetables make you believe you’re eating something healthy? Not so much. These cooking oils sitting in your pantry are a silent killer. We are talking about canola, soy bean, corn, safflower, and sunflower oil.
These oils, once heated become highly oxidative causing inflammation in your body. And inflammation is at the core of all chronic disease, including cancer. Remember you and I are eating antioxidant foods such as blueberries to fight toxins in the body?
Nina Teicholz, who has been at a vegetable oil factory, shared that it takes 17 steps to make a gray smelly substance become the golden shiny liquid we see in the bottle, including the use of hexane to extract it from the seed to deodorizing, bleaching, winterizing…disgusting!
Non fat & low fat:
When all saturated fat was labeled ‘bad’ back in the 50s, companies were eager to adjust their products as many foods without fat taste appalling. The solution was to add sugar. Sugar! Today we know that sugar is the source of so many chronic diseases as it creates relentless inflammation in your body. Go ahead and compare your favorite yogurts. The low-fat version will have more sugar. And keep in mind that 4 grams of sugar is the equivalent of one sugar cube.
Fats that support our health:
Extra virgin olive oil (EVO):
This is liquid gold. EVO contains lots of antioxidants, has powerful anti-inflammatory properties, and helps protect against heart disease. It’s great for low-temperature cooking, and for dressing food. Be aware that there is a lot of fraud on the olive oil market, and many oils that have "extra virgin" on the label have been diluted with other refined oils.
Coconut oil, avocado oil, and ghee:
Yes, coconut oil is high in saturated fat but contrary to the double cheeseburger with bacon, this is the healthy kind. To date, there are over 1,500 studies proving coconut oil to be one of the healthiest foods on the planet with health benefits ranging from treating Alzheimer’s, preventing heart disease and cancer, to reducing inflammation and therefore arthritis, and boosting your memory and overall energy.
Avocado oil has another long list of proven health benefit, supporting everything from your heart to your eyes. Ghee is similar to clarified butter with the main difference that ghee can be heated to a higher temperature. The health benefits of ghee are stunning. It’s full of vitamins but free of lactose and casein which many of us are allergic or at least sensitive to. Ghee has also shown to reduce body fat, prevent cancer formation, alleviate inflammation, improve digestion, and lower blood pressure. Wow.
These three fats are best for cooking over medium heat.
And yes, there are other awesome fats I enjoy in my diet ever week including wild caught salmon (big difference to farm raised!), nuts and seeds (sunflower and pumpkin seeds), eggs (also they have been removed from the bad list), and dark chocolate (85%+ cacao).
I’d love to hear from you. Are you about to throw out all your vegetable oils? Are you mad about not hearing about these changes in our food guidelines sooner? Which healthy fat do you enjoy cooking with? Leave your comments below! Thank you!
The Doctor’s Farmacy with Mark Hyman M.D.