For the last......40? 50? years mainstream nutrition and the US government have been demonizing fat. Fat makes you fat, is how the adage goes. We've swapped out animal fats for plant-based fats, trimmed our beef, drank skim milk, counted calories, and slathered margarine on our fat-free bread. I know this sounds familiar to you, especially if you were alive in the 80s and 90s. I mean, you guys are at least that old, aren't you?
Anyway, the roots of this low-fat movement happened in the 50's. People were dropping dead of heart attacks in the prime of life, and everyone was desperate for answers. This is the same time 911 service started to try to keep people alive longer after heart attacks. So some bad "research" was done, sold to the government, and ever since we've been told to eat whole grains and limit fats. Unfortunately, this is nearly opposite of how humans ate for thousands of years, particularly before the agricultural revolution. Back then, humans ate as much meat and fat as we could get our hands on, and we'd eat some wild plants to fill in the gaps. Nevertheless, heart attacks weren't even recorded until after 1900.
I believe that fat is not only ok for us to eat, it's critically important and may even be the MOST important nutrient for us to eat. So why do I think that fat is so important? There are so many reasons, but here is a brief list: dietary fat helps balance blood sugar, fats are the precursors to our hormones, fat is the preferred fuel for our hearts, healthy fats help manage inflammation, fats produce a concentrated source of energy, fats help with digestion through healthy bile production, dietary fats help bust carb and sugar cravings, and every single cell in our bodies has a fatty cell wall. Fat contributes to the very building blocks of our bodies. Did you know all that? See? Fats are incredible!
A low-fat, high-carb diet has lead us to higher rates of obesity, crippling rates of type-2 diabetes, and steady rates of heart attacks. That's right- all of this low-fat business was to prevent heart disease, yet we have similar rates as we did before. One success we do have is keeping heart attack victims alive longer, thank you to 911 and emergency medicine advancements, however we aren't actually preventing those heart attacks through diet.
So we know that dietary fats are important, what kinds should we be eating? The answer is, all of them. Variety is important, but it's also very important to eat high quality fats. I'll get into quality in a moment. But, saturated fats are healthiest to cook with because they're the most heat stable. These include pastured lard, ghee or butter from grass-fed cows, coconut oil, coconut, tallow, and sustainable palm oil. Next are the monounsaturated fats. They're less stable then saturated fats, and are ok for lower-heat cooking, blending into dressings, or drizzling over food unheated. These fats include olive oil, avocado oil, avocados, and olives, peanut oil, and almond oil. Polyunsaturated fats are the least heat stable, easily rancidity, and should never be heated or cooked at all. They are only suitable to drizzle or blend or drink raw. These include fish oils and nut and seed oils like flax oil. All of these fats are healthy and necessary for health.
Ok, so a word on quality. For animal fats, it is always important to buy the highest quality that you can. The fats should come from pastured, grass-fed animals that eat their proper diet and get sunshine and are not kept in pens. Toxins are stored in fat (it's the same with humans), so if your fat is coming from an animal living in toxic confinement, then those toxins are concentrated in the fat you're eating. For monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, they are sensitive to heat and light. Giant, clear bottles of oil at the grocery store are likely already rancid. The oils you buy should be stored in dark or colored containers, or even refrigerated.
Now when it comes to fat that you shouldn't eat, there are a few. I am always hesitant to label foods as "good" and "bad." But, some oils that we are accustomed to eating don't really even qualify as food. Oils to avoid include canola/rapeseed oil, cottonseed, or soy oils. A good general rule is to avoid oils that come from things that you don't eat. For example, we don't eat cotton, or cotton seeds, so we should avoid cottonseed oil. Other than those select oils, eat an abundance of high-quality, properly heated (or unheated) fats! They're good for your heart, and quite frankly, they make food taste delicious.
One of my favorite resources for you to learn more about fat and the history of low-fat diets is the book The Big Fat Surprise by Nina Teicholz. It's such a fascinating read and it'll make you happily dig into the grass-fed butter.
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