The human body was designed to consume fat. If you think back to our earliest ancestors, their very survival depended on their ability to find and consume fat. Our genetics haven’t changed. Our bodies need, and crave, fat. Unprocessed, saturated fats are vital to our immune systems, energy levels, hormone production, endocrine system, and bone health.
At some point in our history, it was determined that all fat was the enemy. This started when the Lipid Hypothesis surfaced in the 1950’s declaring a cause and effect relationship between a diet full of saturated fat and cholesterol and coronary heart disease. So we set out to obliterate fat from our diets, even though the scientific proof of this idea was not solid. And the campaign was so successful and widely accepted, that most people who grew up during this time, literally grew up thinking that all fat was bad, and are unable to articulate why – even though many still adhere to this idea. It has just been ingrained in how we think of food. That is why this may be entirely new (and shocking) information to you, but the low-fat campaign in this country has actually made us fat. And unhealthy. And has hugely increased the occurrence of heart disease in the U.S. When naturally occurring fat is removed from whole foods, what remains hardly resembles the initial food. In order to make these reduced-fat or fat-free foods more appealing, carbohydrates (which are converted to sugar almost immediately upon entering the bloodstream) are added to the food. Carbohydrates and sugar, not fat, has resulted in America being the fattest country on the earth.
So, what fats should we consume? Definitely not the cheap, low-grade fats we have been told are good for us… these fats, such as soy bean oil, corn oil, and even canola oil are man-made, polyunsaturated, and genetically modified. In high quantities, polyunsaturated fats lead to cancer, weight gain, heart disease, and digestive disorders. When choosing fats, stick with naturally occurring, high quality fats. The right fats will not make you fat. You were designed to eat them, they will satiate you, and they will improve your health.
COCONUT OIL: Coconut oil has been used in the tropics as a dietary staple for thousands of years, and studies show that people who consume coconut oil for the majority of their caloric energy source are lean, free of heart disease, and are in excellent cardiovascular fitness. In America, coconut oil has gotten a bad reputation because it is a saturated fat, and we have incorrectly assumed all saturated fats are bad. The truth is that man-made hydrogenated saturated fats (also called trans-fats) are terrible for you and should be avoided at all costs. This includes, but is not limited to vegetable oil, canola oil, corn oil, and soybean oil. The good news is that coconut oil is nothing like those hydrogenated oils. It is a naturally occurring saturated fat and actually will improve your heart health, boost your thyroid, increase metabolism, protects the liver from toxins, support your immune system, and even promote weight loss. Coconut oil is one of the earth’s richest sources of medium-chain fatty acids (MCFA). MCFA’s are easy for your body to digest, and immediately burned by the liver for energy. They help your body actually use fat for energy, as it was designed to do, rather than storing it – thus making you leaner.
When looking for coconut oils, make sure to buy one that is unrefined and organic. It is extremely stable, which makes it suitable for cooking with at high temperatures. It can also be used in place of other oils at a 1:1 ratio. Coconut oil is solid until 76 degrees, so if using in a baking recipe, melt it first over low heat on the stove, then measure as you would another oil.
BUTTER: During the beginning of the low-fat campaign in America, something called margarine entered the market. It is a processed food, created chemically from refined polyunsaturated oils, though a process of hydrogenation. Hydrogenation does nothing for your health. All it does is thicken oils and increase shelf life, and thus corporate profits. There is nothing natural about margarine. It is made by manipulating poor quality vegetable oils (which are bad enough on their own), by heating them at high temperatures, which causes the oils to become rancid, which then become free-radicals. Free-radicals cause, among other things, cell damage and premature aging. The moral of the story is that we have been lied to! It may be fat-free, but that absolutely does not make it good. Margarine is terrible for our health.
The good news? Butter, especially organic butter from grass-fed cows, is an amazing source of good fat for your body. It is a short-chain fatty acid, which basically means that it is absorbed extremely quickly into the body and used for energy. It also vitally supports the immune system. The saturated fat in butter has strong anti-cancer and anti-tumor properties. It contains antioxidants that protect against free-radical damage. It is high in vitamins K and E. Butter (especially from grass-fed cows) contains Conjugated Linoleic Acid, which is a potent anti-cancer agent, muscle builder, and immunity booster. Additionally the cholesterol found in butter is essential to the development of children’s brains and nervous systems, which is also why pregnant and nursing mom’s should consume real, organic, grass-fed butter as well.
GHEE: Ghee is basically just clarified butter. Clarified means that all the moisture, milk solids, and impurities have been removed. This makes it extremely shelf stable, as well as heat stable. It has a flash point of 485 degrees Fahrenheit, which means it is an excellent choice for high-heat cooking. Similar to choosing butter, for maximum health benefits choose organic ghee from grass-fed cows. We use ghee for all kinds of stove top cooking: chicken, veggies, eggs, etc. I’ve even seared steak at a really high temperature over the stove with ghee before putting in the oven to continue cooking. It is a great option for high heat cooking.
OLIVE OIL: The health benefits of olive oil are extensive. Olive oil is primarily a monounsaturated fat, which increases the good cholesterol (HDL) and protects against the bad cholesterol (LDL). It contains all the vitamins and nutrients that the olive does, and is full of antioxidants. It promotes healthy digestion, protects against heart disease, and balances the fatty acids in your body.
There are many different types of olive oil available on the market today. Pure, virgin, extra virgin, and cold pressed. Pure olive oil is the most processed and refined. It has been chemically refined and filtered to remove strong olive taste as well as acid. It is the cheapest to purchase, and the lowest quality. Virgin olive oil contains no refined oils because it has been produced without chemical additives. Extra virgin is even less refined than virgin olive oil, and will taste more like olives as well. Cold pressed oil is the least processed oil available today. It isn’t heated to high temperatures, but rather cold pressed, and slowly warmed to room temperature to avoid losing taste and flavor. Cold pressed oil is sadly not regulated in the U.S., so anybody can claim their olive oil is cold pressed. In order to find out how the oil is truly made, visit company websites or give them a call. As a general rule organic, cold pressed olive oil will come in a dark green bottle, be cloudy because it isn’t filtered, and have a rich golden color. Additionally, olive oil is heat stable only over low-medium heats. When it gets too hot and starts to smoke, it oxidizes which breaks down the nutrients. So, as a general rule we don’t cook with it, but rather use it for dressings, marinades, toss our popcorn in it, and sometimes in baked goods cooked at low temperatures, like tortillas.
BACON FAT: This may be the most shocking thing of all, but cooking with bacon fat is actually really good for you – as long as your bacon is organic and pastured. Pastured bacon contains high levels of Omega 3s. We consume far too many Omega 6s, and not nearly enough Omega 3s, so consuming pastured bacon will help. Additionally, pork’s lard is made up of 40% saturated fat, 45% monounsaturated fat, and only 12% polyunsaturated fat. The right saturated and monounsaturated fats are good, and should be consumed liberally. Like coconut oil and ghee, pork lard is heat stable at high temperatures, making it desirable for cooking. Furthermore, since the body needs and craves fat, using bacon fat while cooking will increase energy as your body uses it for fuel, and will help to satiate you and keep you feeling full longer. And lastly, when bacon grease is used for cooking, it adds flavor and often times takes away the need for salt, which is another benefit. We fry and scramble eggs in bacon fat, cook veggies in it (my kids will eat any vegetable on the earth if I cook it this way), flavor homemade refried beans with it, grease the waffle iron with it, and use it in a variety of recipes and dressings. Every time I cook bacon, I pour off the fat into a mason jar I keep in the refrigerator for later use.
Phew. That was a lot of probably new information. We genuinely hope it was helpful in summarizing which fats are good to use, and which ones we would strongly encourage you to avoid. We also hope it explains why we use what we use in our recipes, as well as why we might choose to modify the fats and oils used in other people’s recipes. Please leave us a comment and let us know what fats you cook with, and if you will make any changes after having read this article.