Those of you who are Simply Nourished fans know we loooove to preach the benefits of good fats in the diet. Besides being your body’s preferred fuel source, fat helps you feel full longer, is needed for the absorption of vitamins, and is a building block for cell membranes and hormones. What IS clear is that fats deserve a prominent place on your plate. What’s NOT so clear is what type of fat deserves that place.
Every day I see news clips, magazine articles and blogs with flashy headlines either demonizing or celebrating fat. Truly, I don’t think there is any other nutrition element that is as hotly debated as fat. And with so many mixed messages out there it’s no wonder my inbox is flooded with emails from confused clients asking what they should eat. Questions like: “Should I have full-fat dairy or fat-free dairy?” “What about saturated fat?” And “what’s the deal with coconut oil?” Speaking of coconut oil, did any of you see the recent nutrition scandal where a Harvard professor called coconut oil “pure poison”? Yep, during a lecture she referred to it as poison due to its saturated fat content and the risk of heart disease. Truth be told, there is some controversy around saturated fat and how much we should have in the diet, but calling coconut oil pure poison is an unfair accusation. Not only that, what continues to amaze and downright anger me is that public health officials and institutions like the American Heart Association continue to point a finger at saturated fat, but never mention what I believe truly is pure poison – industrial oils such as soy, corn and vegetable.
Now I know some of you are shaking your heads and feel super confused because you’ve heard over and over again that these unsaturated fats are GOOD for you and should replace saturated fats. Well hold on tight while I explain that this is some of the WORST nutrition advice I’ve ever seen. In my book it’s right up there with the low fat, eat as many carbs as you want message. Let me explain.
But before I do, I want to take a little detour into inflammation.
chronic inflammation – at the root of disease
Inflammation is part of your body’s immune response. When working correctly it is a short-term response to fight pathogens and help your body heal. The problem arises when our body’s inflammatory response goes into overdrive and does not turn off. This chronic low-grade inflammation is at the root of so many of the disease that plague us, from heart disease, to diabetes or cancer. Diet and lifestyle play a huge role in how our body responds to inflammation and the type of fat you eat plays a pivotal role in either promoting or quelling your body’s inflammatory response. Once you understand this basic principal you’ll see why I think industrial oils are one of the top things you should be avoiding in your diet.
Now back to fats…..
unsaturated fats, the good and the ugly
Unsaturated fats are the type we tend to hear as the “healthier fats.” They are often liquid at room temperature, like your cooking oils. When it comes to unsaturated fats there are two types – monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats (PUFA’s). Monounsaturated fats are found in olive oil and avocado. I won’t be going into detail on them in this blog post, but rest assured- they are a healthy part of your diet. So go ahead and fuel up on your avocado toast and toss your salad with an olive oil-based vinaigrette. Instead we’ll turn our attention to the polyunsaturated fats.
There are two types of PUFA’s that I want to draw your attention to, Omega-6 and Omega-3. Both of these types of fat are essential, meaning we must eat them since our body cannot make them. Many of you may be familiar with the omega-3’s. They are the type of fat that we get from fish or from supplements. They get good press and rightly so. Since they play a significant role in your body’s anti-inflammatory response and we want to focus on getting this type of fat. The best sources are from marine animals. Think fatty fish like salmon, anchovies and sardines. The problem is that most of us don’t eat enough of these fish and with the risk of mercury contamination, we really need to be careful about where they are sourced from and how much we consume.
Omega-6 fatty acids sit on the other side of the see-saw from omega-3’s. They help our body when our immune system needs to turn on inflammation. Omega-6’s are needed in the diet, but it should be in balance with omega-3’s. American’s however eat way too many omega-6’s, tipping the see-saw in favor of inflammation. Since most of us are living with chronic inflammation, eating these fats in the quantity we do is like putting kerosene on a flame we are trying to control. It just doesn’t make sense.
Experts believe that we should eat a 1 to 4 ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids for optimal health, but we tend to average a ratio in the range of closer to 10:1 to 20:1!
avoid industrial oils
The reason for this is simple. Many of the fats we see in restaurant meals and processed foods come from industrial fats. Industrial fats and oils is the term used for the food grade oils that are highly processed and refined. Basically, they have to come out of some sort of industrial processing plant. These include soybean, corn, sunflower, and canola. They are incredibly cheap to make so we see them in just about every processed food. Look at the any food packaged food, sauce, margarine or dressing in your pantry and I guarantee the large majority of them will have one of these types of oils.
Combine the cheap and widely available industrial oils with the message to eat more unsaturated fats, and the low amount of omega-3’s in our diet and you’ve got the perfect inflammatory storm. That’s why I see these highly processed, super inflammatory, ubiquitous fats as “pure poison”.
balance your fats
The best way to balance your fats? Follow these simple steps
1. Avoid processed foods whenever you can and read the ingredient list on the label
2. Cook with olive oil, avocado oil, ghee and coconut oil.
3. Eat wild caught sustainable seafood
4. Consider an omega-3 fatty acid supplement
5. Enjoy avocado, nuts, olives, and seeds
Buckley, C. D., Gilroy, D. W., & Serhan, C. N. (2014). Proresolving Lipid Mediators and Mechanisms in the Resolution of Acute Inflammation. Immunity, 40(3), 315–327. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.immuni.2014.02.009
Drayer and Michael Nedelman. (2018). Coconut oil: The facts behind “pure poison” claim. Retrieved October 11, 2018, from https://www.cnn.com/2018/08/22/health/coconut-oil-pure-poison/index.html
Franz, M. (2014). Nutrition, Inflammation, and Disease. Today’s Dietitian, 16(2), 44.
Gropper, S., & Smith, J. (2013). Advanced Nutrition and Human Metabolism (6th ed.). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Publishing/Cengage Learning.
Rakel, D. (2018). Integrative Medicine (4th ed.). Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier.
Tabas, I., & Glass, C. K. (2013). Anti-Inflammatory Therapy in Chronic Disease: Challenges and Opportunities. Science, 339(6116), 166–172. https://doi.org/10.1126/science.1230720