By Dr. Carla Cashin, ND | Naturopath Victoria BC
A Naturopath's Approach to Dietary Fat Consumption
Knowing which fats to eat can be confusing. For decades, it was taught that fat should be avoided at all costs. From this claim, the popularity of low-fat diets arose. However, more up-to-date research has demonstrated that avoiding fat can in fact be harmful for your health.
Low fat diets are usually high in carbohydrates, causing spikes in blood sugar and insulin levels after meals. Poor blood sugar regulation from low-fat, high-carbohydrate diets can lead to high cholesterol, weight gain, and increased risk of diabetes and heart disease. Fats are also important to include in your diet, as fat soluble vitamins (A,D, E, and K) are not as readily absorbed if not consumed with fat. Hormones are derived from fats, so a diet low in fat can contribute to hormonal imbalance. Furthermore, our brains require fat as a source of energy and low-fat diets are associated with greater risk of dementia. It is important that we shift our focus from avoidance of fat altogether to consuming a proper balance of fats.
Fats can be divided into the following categories:
Saturated fats are dense, stable fats which are commonly sourced from animal products or coconut oil. Saturated fats have been mislabeled as 'bad fats.' However, saturated fats are only a problem if not consumed with other good quality fats. Furthermore, animal fats should be sourced from wild or pastured animals which are grass fed and have a much healthier fat profile compared with fats from grain-fed animals.
Monounsaturated fats are less dense but stable fats and include olive oil, avocados and many nuts. Olive oil is well known for its cardiovascular health benefits. Polyunsaturated fats are fluid but unstable and susceptible to going rancid or being damaged by heat.
Polyunsatruated fats include omega 6 and omega 3 fats. Omega 6 fats tend to be most prominent in Western diets, as commercial vegetable oils including corn, soybean, sunflower and safflower oil are laden in most processed foods. A diet composed of too many omega 6 fats contributes to inflammation. The other type of polyunsatruated fats, omega 3 fats, are on the contrary anti-inflammatory and associated with many health benefits.
Which fats should I eat?
Saturated fat - eat in moderation but don't exclude from your diet completely; consume only meat and dairy products from pastured animals; good quality sources include meat, dairy, eggs, coconut oil, nuts including macadamia nuts, cashews and pecans, and rendered animal fats such as tallow, lard and duck fat
Monounsaturated fat - good quality sources include olive oil, avocados, and nuts; minimize commercial vegetable oils such as canola oil
Polyunsaturated fat - increase omega 3 fats in diet including fish (anchovies, sardines, salmon), walnuts, ground flax seeds, hemp seeds, chia seeds; avoid commercial vegetable oils such as corn, soybean, safflower, and sunflower oil
Best fats for cooking:
Medium to High Heat: Coconut oil or animal fats such as butter, lard, tallow, duck fat
Low Heat: Olive oil