Don’t Fake Your Fats

I know it’s still hard for some of you to believe, but fats are really, really good for you. They provide essential nutrients, are great for cellular health, are very important in hormone management and they make you feel full. The idea that ‘fats make you fat’ has been around for a long time but, unfortunately, nutrition just doesn’t work in such a linear fashion. If ‘fats make you fat’ then, by the same logic, celery should turn you green.

Now, what is NOT good for you is ‘fake fats’. And the number one offender in the ‘fake fat’ category is Trans Fats. Trans fats are processed fats that find their way into ingredients such as hydrogenated oils, shortening and margarine and they are just about the worst ‘food’ you can put into your body. Take the time to read the following paragraph about the process of hydrogenation, which is how these fats are produced. It is from the seminal paper “The Skinny on Fats” by Mary Enig, PhD and Sally Fallon.

“This (hydrogenation) is the process that turns polyunsaturates, normally liquid at room temperature, into fats that are solid at room temperature—margarine and shortening. To produce them, manufacturers begin with the cheapest oils—soy, corn, cottonseed or canola, already rancid from the extraction process—and mix them with tiny metal particles—usually nickel oxide. The oil with its nickel catalyst is then subjected to hydrogen gas in a high-pressure, high-temperature reactor. Next, soap-like emulsifiers and starch are squeezed into the mixture to give it a better consistency; the oil is yet again subjected to high temperatures when it is steam-cleaned. This removes its unpleasant odor. Margarine’s natural color, an unappetizing grey, is removed by bleach. Dyes and strong flavors must then be added to make it resemble butter. Finally, the mixture is compressed and packaged in blocks or tubs and sold as a health food.”

Yum! If that doesn’t make you want to put down the Crisco, I don’t know what will.

Also, I am not a big fan of Pam and other ‘spray fats’ that have become very popular of the past 10 years or so. There are two reasons to be wary of these products. First, they usually use canola or other vegetable-based oils. And while vegetables are great, vegetable oils are not. Most vegetable oils are highly processed and contain a very high ratio of Omega 6 fats. And while Omega 6s do have their place in a healthy diet, we tend to get too much of them already. The second reason, and this is opinion, not science, is that I don’t really want to eat anything that comes shooting out of an aerosol can. Yes, that goes for Cheez-Whiz as well.

So, here are the fats that I do recommend getting in your diet. For cooking, my favorites extra-virgin coconut oil (which has a ton of health benefits and has a high smoke-point so it does well at relatively high heat), walnut oil, macadamia nut oil and butter.

Now butter gets a bum rap and I am here to change your mind about it. Butter is a great cooking fat. It contains Arachidonic Acid, Short- and Medium-Chain Fatty Acids, Omega-6 and Omega-3 Essential Fatty Acids (small amounts but in a nearly perfect ratio of 1:1), Conjugated Linoleic Acid, Lecithin, Cholesterol, and Glycosphingolipids.  Charles Poliquin has actually prescribed high amounts of raw butter to some of his body building clients to get them past fat loss plateaus citing that high levels of biotin (a nutrient found in butter) can actually help very lean people get even leaner. Obviously this strategy is not for most, but I mention it because some experienced coaches are actually using butter to help peoplelose fat.

As with every other aspect of nutrition, it pays to get quality and butter is no exception. Many supermarket butters can be processed so be sure to check labels. I just picked up a small tub of Ronnybrook Farms butter at the farmers market. It has one ingredient – heavy cream (another ‘good fat’ in my opinion).

Extra Virgin Olive Oil is another great fat but I prefer not to use that for cooking as it tends to break down in heat rather quickly. Great on salads and any other non-cooked foods.

Nuts, natural nut butters and avocados are also great fat sources. And please, for the love of God, stop eating non-fat versions of foods that naturally have fat in them. The food companies often replace those fats with sugar to improve the taste. All of which is much worse for you then the fat the fat they took out of the product in the first place.

Finally, and this will be the topic of another blog post but I wanted to mention it here, if you get your fats from good sources and limit or fully eliminate processed carbohydrates, there is no need to worry about cholesterol or heart disease from a high dietary fat intake. In fact, it is my belief that one of the biggest myths about nutrition is high total cholesterol and how it relates to disease. But, again, that is a topic for a future post.

So don’t be afraid of good, healthful fats. They just might be the key to getting you lean.