Fats & Oils

Most people are aware of the importance of healthy fats and oils in the diet. The ‘fat wars’ have been waged relentlessly in print and social media and books – but what makes a fat good or bad?

In the past, there has been much confusion over fats and oils, with people even selecting vegetable and seed oils over animal fats – an example of a bad choice based on misinformation. Be informed and invest in the most important ones, covered here, for optimal well-being.

OLIVE OIL

Olive oil (made from the flesh and the pip) has been around since Biblical times, and is a safe, stable oil, and can be used extensively for good health. The kind of olive oil you purchase is all important though! Extra virgin olive oil in a glass bottle is vital, but don’t be duped into buying ‘exotic’ imported oil as it’s often mixed with inferior oils (like soy and sunflower) – we have wonderful award-winning oils here in our own country, and organic is always first prize.

Health benefits

The health benefits of olive oil are extensive: it accelerates wound healing, is heart protective and reduces wrinkles.

AVOCADO OIL

Apart from the obvious delicious taste there is hard evidence that this is a very healthy oil to include in your diet. The avocado is a fruit, packed with antioxidants and rich in omega-9 oleic acid, the same dominant component of olive oil, and, like olive oil, avocado oil is also made from its very nutritious pip as well as the fruit.

Health benefits

Health benefits include lowered LDL cholesterol, raised HDL cholesterol and reduced blood pressure. Avocado oil is rich in the carotenoid lutein – a powerful antioxidant which greatly benefits eye health. Like carrots, avos reduce the risk of cataracts and macular degeneration.

The body needs fat to absorb fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K, plus the carotenoid antioxidants. A low-fat diet spells utter disaster if you wish to be optimally nourished. Fruits and vegetables are very low in fat, and therefore healthy fats and oils need to be added to the diet. Add oil to carrots, lettuce and spinach to dramatically increase the uptake and absorption of their carotenoids by more than 17-fold! Because it is stable at relatively high heat you can safely use avo oil in cooking and baking.

All healthy fats and oils are excellent at ‘lubricating’ your joints, quelling inflammation, reducing or completely eliminating stiffness and arthritis. They are instrumental in preventing periodontal disease, bleeding gums, bad breath and the destruction of tissue around the teeth. Avocado oil especially has the ability to block a pro-inflammatory protein called ILIB which drives both inflammation and the destruction of bone and tissue damage.

MACADAMIA NUT OIL

This oil has a fatty acid profile very close to that of olive oil; it’s stable and quite delicious too. Making a mayo or salad dressing from macadamia oil gives a delightful nutty flavour. Macadamia oil has a long natural shelf life of up to a year, even though there is little vitamin E present, but there are enormous amounts of phytosterols present which are anti-inflammatory and protect the oil.

Health benefits

The catechins and squalene present are free-radical scavengers with antibacterial properties. As with all healthy fats and oils, the visible signs of ageing such as wrinkles are visibly reduced with regular consumption of this oil.

COCONUT OIL

Coconut oil is an incredible substance, not only good in cooking, but fabulous for the body, hair and even pets. Please be aware that healthy fats will not make you fat, it is sugar that makes you fat.

Health benefits

Coconut oil boasts medium-chain triglycerides that actually aid weight loss and provide extra energy. Use coconut oil in absolutely anything.

ANIMAL FATS

Let’s be clear about one thing – animal fat is not harmful, nor does it contribute to heart disease, and the evidence shows saturated fat to be harmless. We shouldn’t blindly accept what we are told without further investigation. While animal fat is regarded as ‘saturated’ fat, contrary to popular opinion it is not 100% saturated, it is made up of – as all fats are – all three components: saturated, polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fat. Depending on the predominant type of fat present, the fat will be classified into one of those categories.

Saturated fat is perfectly healthy fat, but the highly refi ned, deodorised, bleached and nutritionally worthless ‘vegetable’ oils made from seeds increase rather than decrease heart disease. The more polyunsaturated fat present in an oil the less stable it is, and the more processed it is the more damaged and dangerous it becomes. Choose healthy fats containing higher amounts of saturated and monounsaturated fats.

Healthy oils remain healthy after cooking, unhealthy ones easily oxidise and are often already rancid, forming free-radicals and harmful compounds. The more saturated, the more stable the fat is, and the more resistant to heat. Butter for example is fabulous to cook with and it contains the valued nutrient vitamin K2 so hard to find in nature, which protects your heart against arterial plaque. It has vitamins A and E, the fatty acid CLA (conjugated linoleic acid) and butyrate which fight inflammation, improve gut health and help to prevent obesity. Animal fats should be from pasture-fed animals for highest nutritive content.

DANGEROUS FATS

Vegetable and seed oils

Prominent American nutritionist Nora Gedgaudas calls seed oils ‘trash oils which nobody in their right mind should consume.’ These oils are mostly partially hydrogenated or interesterified as part of the deodorisation process. Interesterification is just another process much like hydrogenation – designed to change the structure of the molecule to prevent oxidation, rancidity, extend shelf life and modify melting point. Hexane and other such solvents are used to increase yield in seed oils – not a nice thought.

Vegetable oils/seed oils are extremely unstable, highly processed and very unsafe. They also often already contain or will lead to the production of trans fats when heated. Virtually all processed food contains trans fats or damaged fat because it’s cheap and prolongs shelf life. Seeds themselves are fine raw or activated, but their oils are notoriously unstable and far too high in omega- 6 fatty acids which dysregulate the body’s own fine fatty acid balance. The omega-3 fats found in seeds are the plant version of omega-3 called ALA (alpha linolenic acid) which is very poorly utilised by humans, if at all. ALA is not converted by the body to the healthful DHA and EPA fats (found in fish oil) which is how the body requires them.

IMPORTANT OILS TO AVOID INCLUDE:

  • Soybean
  • Corn
  • Cottonseed
  • Canola
  • Rapeseed
  • Sunflower
  • Sesame
  • Grapeseed
  • Safflower
  • Rice bran
  • Flaxseed
  • Peanut (legume)
  • Margarine and other
  • artificially hardened
  • vegetable fat

FAT/OIL SATURATED POLYUNSATURATED MONOUNSATURATED STABLE

  • AVOCADO 11.5% 18% 70.5% Yes
  • MACADAMIA 16% 4% 80% Yes
  • OLIVE 14% 9% 77% Yes
  • COCONUT 92% 2% 6% Yes, very
  • SUNFLOWER 11% 69% 20% No
  • CORN 13% 62% 25% No
  • LARD 41% 12% 47% Yes, very
  • BUTTER 68% 4% 28% Yes, very
  • DUCK FAT 33% 22% 45% Yes, very
  • CHICKEN FAT 37% 15% 48% Yes
  • BEEF TALLOW 50% 5% 45% Yes, very
  • FLAXSEED OIL 9% 73% 18% No
  • GRAPESEED 11% 25% 64% No

CONCLUSION

Bottom line: don’t consume any seed, grain or so-called vegetable oil no matter how well it’s marketed and no matter what the promises are – organic, cold pressed or sprinkled with pixie dust – it’s all bad news for your health. Interfering with nature carries a hefty price tag; eat fats and oils in their most natural state such as animal fats rendered down, and the safe oils such as olive, coconut, macadamia and avocado oils. Avoid man-made damaged, highly heated and processed fats and rather stick with the healthful, age-old fats we know to be safe. After all, our grandparents and ancestors used them with great success for centuries.

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Fats & Oils

Sally-Ann Creed
About The Author
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DIP CLIN NUTR, FUNCTIONAL MED, FUNCTIONAL NUTR, NUTR SUPPL.
She is a qualified clinical nutritionist and a functional medicine practitioner. She has helped thousands of people worldwide. She has written 10 books, including South Africa’s biggest bestseller in history (co-authored with Tim Noakes), The Real Meal Revolution. She won South Africa’s Most Influential Women in Business & Government award in 2009 and 2010. She is married with two Dobermanns.