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Get Real: Know Your Fats (the Good and the Bad)

*This post is part of the Get Real series. Please remember that this is meant as a learning community. We know that many of you are passionate about what you do and we want you to express that, just please do so in a way that will be an encouragement and aid to others making a transition. We want this to be a “safe space” for participants to learn. For that reason, we reserve the right to delete any comments that are not handled in this manner.

Allow me to introduce myself– I’m Stephanie Langford, a lover of real foods, teacher to my kids, growing of organic vegetables, mess-maker in the kitchen, writer of books, and non-follower of recipes. My heart and home are full to overflowing with my wonderful husband Ryan, and my four sweet children (4 mths to 7 years old). For nearly 5 years, I’ve been encouraging and educating homemakers on healthier, more natural living on my blog Keeper of the Home. I would be honored if you would come and visit me.

And now… let’s get on with our July topics for Get Real 2012– first off is Fats and then later in the month, Grocery Shopping!

Fats are one of the most misunderstood components of nutrition.

Sure, there’s plenty of information and ideas out there…

Eat low-fat. Make sure you get your good fats. Fish is fine but avoid those animal fats. Stick with vegetable oils. Fat helps you lose weight. Don’t eat any fat at all. You’ll gain weight if you eat too much fat. Fat should comprise only the very smallest part of your “pyramid” of foods. It’s better to eat Paleo or Primal, focusing mostly on animal meats, fats, and vegetables.

Is your head spinning yet???

It’s no wonder we’re confused about fat! We are continually bombarded by conflicting information on this very important subject.

It doesn’t have to be that complicated. I’d like to make a brief case on 3 basic points:

  1. Our body requires certain kinds of fats in order to thrive.
  2. Fat is not the enemy.
  3. It’s all a matter of choosing “real food” fats, and avoiding the modernized, industrial and processed fats.

Contrary to popular thought, fat isn’t the enemy.

Modern nutrition has villainized fat in many ways, with increasingly disastrous results. Our bodies NEED fat. Developing babies, children and teens, as well as child-bearing women, desperately need good fats in particular.

Healthful fats and oils are absolutely critical to the body for an amazing number of processes:

  • Saturated fats are crucial for cell membrane structure and integrity.
  • They are a valuable source of fat soluble vitamins, such as A, D, and K, which are deficient in most North American diets, and these vitamins are necessary for hormone regulation, reproduction, immunity, bone health and much more.
  • Saturated fat makes cells more resistant to oxidative damage.
  • As well, saturated fats are far more stable at high temperatures than other fats, so they are unlikely to become oxidized and turn into cell-damaging free radicals (as polyunsaturated vegetables oils frequently do).
  • Fats like butter and coconut oil contain lauric acid, which important in treating fungal infections and candida (yeast overgrowth)
  • Many fats contain anti-oxidants that protect against free radical damage and weakening arteries.
  • Fats provide a concentrated source of energy in the diet
  • They are the building blocks for cell membranes and a variety of hormones.
  • Fats slow down nutrient absorption so that we can go longer without feeling hungry, and also help us to lose weight or maintain a healthy weight.

*Sources can be found in this post.

Not only do fats actually help keep your body healthy, but did you know that eating fat doesn’t make you fat?

Eating a carbohydrate-heavy diet (especially refined carbs) and sugar (yes, even too many natural sweeteners and fruit juices)- now that is a recipe for gaining weight. Out of control portions makes it worse. Add to that our apathetic, couch-potato tendencies and that’s what is causing obesity in North America. Not saturated fats.

As a culture obsessed with weight and image and full of bad information, we’ve begun to run away from fats, rather than carefully evaluate the different fats to know which ones we really should avoid and which ones we should embrace in a real food diet. I love this quote:

“When I eventually understood the nutritional myths that had me snookered and miserable, the biggest headline was that REAL FATS ARE GOOD- even the maligned saturated fats and its corollary, INDUSTRIAL FATS ARE BAD. It’s not complicated. Eat real fats and avoid industrial ones.”  Nina Planck, Real Food for Mother and Baby.

That might sound simplistic, but it actually can be as simple as that. Eat real, old fashioned, traditional fats. Ones that our grandparents and great-grandparents would have recognized and used. Avoid new, refined, processed, industrial fats. So which ones are which?

Image by USDAgov

Which fats are “real food“?

Which fats should we avoid?

  • Margarine or other non-butter spreads or sprays (yuck!)
  • Processed vegetable oils (pretty much any of them in the supermarket aisle- canola, soy, sunflower, safflower, corn, as well as non-virgin olive oil)
  • Edible oil products (Cool Whip, International Foods coffee flavorings, etc.)
  • Trans fats or hydrogenated fats or partially-hydrogenated fats (primarily found in highly processed, packaged foods and fast food)

What to use them for:

  • Butter: Best for baking, also good for frying, sautéing, as well as eating cold on breads, etc.
  • Extra Virgin Olive Oil: Frying, sautéing, roasting, grilling, cold use (salad dressings, dipping bread, etc.), baking. I was previously unsure of frying with EVOO, but this post and video changed my mind.
  • Coconut Oil: Frying, roasting, baking, use cold (in raw desserts, in smoothies, etc.). Almost anywhere that you enjoy it.
  • Animal fats like Beef Tallow or Pork Lard: Deep frying, roasting, anything high temperature (like homemade french fries or my summer favorite, deep fried zucchini sticks). Lard is also good for baking flaky pastries and crusts. Save your bacon grease and fry up the. best. eggs. ever.
  • Unrefined flax, sunflower, walnut, grape seed oils: Stick to cold use. Salad dressings, homemade mayonnaise.
  • Palm Oil/Shortening: Great for baking, especially for those who need a dairy-free substitute for butter. Can also be used for all types of frying, roasting, etc.
  • Cod Liver Oil: One of the few supplements that I recommend to everyone. Please (please!) don’t cook with the stuff, but do force yourself and your family to take it by the spoonful.

Don’t just take my word for it

When you’ve heard something over and over again, and from people that should know better, it’s hard to be convinced and get over the fear of fat that our society has developed. Read up on the subject, ask good questions and dig in for yourself.

I’ve written a far more extensive post on this topic on my own blog– Good Fats, Bad Fats, and Why I Eat Plenty of Butter. It includes a huge number of resources, including articles, videos, other blog posts, and books for you to learn more about this topic.

For those who want to just do a little bit more research, here are my top recommendations aside from that post:

  • The book Eat Fat, Lose Fat by Dr. Mary Enig and Sally Fallon.
  • Good Fat, Bad Fat: A Video Tutorial @ Food Renegade (this is an excellent video- about 18 minutes, but very helpful for those just beginning to learn about traditional fats)
  • Fat Full Fall @ Kitchen Stewardship (There are a ton of different posts exploring the merits of the different types of traditional and conventional fats, how to use them properly and more)

July Week One Action Item:

Each week we will try to give you some simple action steps to put this journey into practice. It is important that you start this journey by understanding yourself, your goals and perhaps your obstacles.
  1. Do you struggle with begin fearful of fat? Or simply not knowing which ones really are good and bad?
  2. Which fats do you use in your home and for what purposes?
  3. This week start to eliminate all of the non-fat, low-fat, 1% items in your home and replace them with full fat staples. Let us know what you think of the tastes!

July Get Real:

Please take a moment to thank our guest authors by clicking over to their sites and/or liking them on Facebook and/or Twitter.

Sponsor:  Once A Month Mom

Guest Author: Stephanie Langford of Keeper of the Home


Top image by ChristineLeiser

19 Responses to “Get Real: Know Your Fats (the Good and the Bad)”

  1. I have to say thanks for the advice, but no thanks. I do use good oils, olive oil quite a bit, but my body can not digest fats properly so I will not get rid of my low fat items. I noticed you didn’t say anything about low fat/skim milk. I will never understand why someone would dish skim milk. yes, we all need some fats, but most get way too much in america. Be careful you aren’t encouraging people to eat more fats.

    • Kelly says:

      I agree that Americans do already eat a lot of fat. The problem, though, isn’t that we’re eating a lot of fat. The problem is which kinds of fat we are eating. Most of the fat that is currently being consumed is refined vegetables oils, hydrogenated fats, and saturated fat from animals in confinement. These do entirely different things in the body than the types of traditional fats that I am talking about. Rather than focus on eating low-fat, the switch that we need to make is in the particular fats that we consume.

      From Stephanie – I know that it’s really hard to wrap our brains around, when we are constantly bombarded with low-fat, no-fat propaganda, but our bodies really do need fat. Not necessarily more fat, just different fats, and it’s not a healthy path for anyone to try to eat a low-fat diet. You mentioned that your body doesn’t digest fats well, but that is something that really warrants looking into more. Do you struggle with your digestion in general (perhaps your intestinal flora, ie. good and bad bacteria balance, is off)? What types of fats are you eating? What are you eating them with? Have you struggled with digesting fats since a certain point in time (perhaps after an illness, or a change in diet, etc.)? There are a lot of reasons that your body could be handling fats (or at least, certain fats) poorly but that’s something that you would need to dig a bit deeper to figure out. What I’m saying is, fats aren’t necessarily the culprit, but your inability to digest them well could be a symptom of something else.

    • Alyssa says:

      “To make dairy products low fat, it’s not enough to remove the fat. You then have to go to great lengths to preserve the body or creamy texture by working in all kinds of food additives. In the case of low-fat or skim milk, that usually means adding powdered milk. But powdered milk contains oxidized cholesterol, which scientists believe is much worse for your arteries than ordinary cholesterol, so food makers sometimes compensate by adding antioxidants, further complicating what had been a simple one-ingredient whole food. Also, removing the fat makes it that much harder for your body to absorb the fat-soluble vitamins that are one of the reasons to drink milk in the first place.” – Michael Pollan

  2. Frith says:

    Facinating reading thanks Stephanie and once a month Mums.

    I’ve recently been introduced to this idea. I’m confused though, why is it that Dieticians aren’t taking all of this on? Or are they? Do they deem it more beneficial for special populations (cancer patients and the like). Or are there two different schools of thoughts at conflict here?

    I’ve grown up and been educated to believe saturated fats are bad for your health/waistline. If I were to change my diet to including more natural fats is there still an RDI? Won’t excess of any fat still increase the waistline/butline – what ever your bodies favourite despoiting spot is.

    I’m looking forward to reading more from you.


    • Kelly says:

      From Stephanie – You’re right that dieticians aren’t saying these things, and yes, it’s a matter of two different schools of thought. A lot of the dietary advice in America is coming from sources that are influenced by badly misconstrued scientific studies, by corporate agriculture and by lobbyist’s dollars in Washington. Special interest groups that have the money are able to particularly affect the diet and nutrition information that we are taught. For example, why are we told to consume large amounts of grains in the food pyramid? Because that’s where a LOT of money is– subsidizing the growth of grains like corn, unfortunately.

      You mentioned an RDI for fat intake, and the thing is, in the “real food” world, there isn’t one. We’re going back to a time when people ate according to cultural and traditional wisdom of which foods were good to eat in the area where they lived (ie. foods local to them), and simply eating them to the point of satisfaction and enjoyment (with self-discipline and moderation, of course). The point isn’t meeting certain nutrient requirements or consuming a particular amount of this vitamin or that fat. Instead, we focus solely on eating only whole, real, old, traditional foods. When we eat like this, and try to include a balance of a variety of foods in our diet, we can naturally get the nutrients that our body needs without needing to focus on the specific numbers or amounts. Hopefully that helps to answer your excellent questions, Frith!

  3. kristi says:

    What about peanut oil? Is that in the processed vegetable oils realm?

  4. Stacey says:

    I have just a quick question about shortening. My youngest daughter is allergic to dairy (among other things) so I have always had to use butter substitutes (Fleishmann Unsalted, Smart Balance, & a soy based margarine from health food store) when cooking & baking so she can eat the same foods as the rest of us. The trans fat in shortening has always made me shy away from using it. Is there a particular kind of shortening that you use?

  5. Chelsea says:

    I would also like to know about peanut oil. I think it tastes the best for frying, besides duck fat that is!

    Also wondering about milk. Does your family drink whole milk? I would love to have a reason to get away with that!

    • Kelly says:

      For me personally I do not use peanut oil for frying. I still use coconut oil because of the high heat properties. And my family does drink whole milk. You can refer to this post:

  6. Lisa S says:

    Thanks for the great post.

    What is your opinion on nuts and seeds? Any opinion on the whole “PUFA” (polyunsaturated fats) debate, and if you think PUFAs are bad, is that just in processed oils or in the source themselves?


    • Kelly says:

      From Stephanie – Nuts and seeds are fantastic, and they are absolutely good fats. I tend to use them whole (and soaked first, whenever possible), rather than using their oils, and of course, you would want to stick with only the unrefined (cold-pressed) versions if you want to use them. The only issue is when you get into the omega-6: omega-3 ratio issue, which I talk a bit about in this post. Some of them are higher in omega-3s, like walnut oil, but most are higher in omega-6. Most of us need to decrease our consumption of omega-6 and up our omega-3s, so just keep that in mind.

  7. Kim says:

    Great article! I have a few questions though. First, does the coconut oil have a strong coconut taste? Do you have an alternative for flavored coffee creamer? I have cut back on the amount of cream that I put in my coffee, but I still have a slight “addiction” to them.

  8. Rita says:

    I’m wondering what your preferred oil for bread making might be? I have been using cold pressed safflower oil. But, i am interested in finding a more healthful alternative.

    • Kelly says:

      Depends on what kind of bread, but I have used coconut oil in most of my sweet bread making lately and it works great!

  9. […] ♦Get Real: Know Your Fats (the Good and the Bad) – Great article to definitely read!  You’ll learn a lot! […]

  10. Chelsey says:

    Great post on fats! I particularly appreciate the link you posted about heat cooking with EVOO!

  11. Alyssa says:

    I use coconut oil for my sandwich bread with success, and you can’t taste the coconut.

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