There are good fats and bad fats, but how do you know which ones are the best for you to eat?
In the 1950s and 1960s, the waistlines of people in the Western world were slowly expanding, and the incidence of heart disease and diabetes was also slowly on the increase, so health researchers around the world were trying to figure out why.
There were a lot of theories and studies, and the two main arguments to explain the increase in weight were too many sugars and refined carbohydrates, while the second argument was the increase in body fat was caused by an increase in fat consumption - especially saturated fats.
The second argument won the debate on flawed evidence!
There was also a reduction in physical activity with more people having office jobs, and that would have an impact on heart health benefits.
An influential researcher by the name of Ancel Keys was convinced that the health problems were caused by an increase in fat, and he released a study called “the 7 countries study” to prove his theory.
This study quite clearly showed that countries with the highest fat consumption had the highest incidence of heart disease, but what the study did not show was that Ancel Keys actually studied 22 countries, but he only included the ones that supported his theory, so he left out countries with high-fat consumption but low heart disease.
The theory sounds good; it seems logical that eating fat makes you fat.
In the 1970s, governments around the world adopted a low-fat dietary policy based on this flawed study (influenced by the agriculture industry), and the consumption of saturated fats decreased around the world.
At the same time, a “healthy” low-fat food industry boomed with lots of convenient low-fat food products to keep us healthy.
Healthy Fats and Bad Fats
While the consumption of fats went down, the incidence of heart disease, diabetes, obesity, and chronic health problems quickly went up (so too did the profits of drug companies and multinational food companies).
At the same time, more and more research has been published clearly showing that it is a high carbohydrate diet that is a bigger contributing factor to obesity and heart disease risk. When people switch to a high-fat / low-carbohydrate diet, most of these metabolic problems go away.
Good-quality fats are important for brain function, your nervous system and your hormones
The nervous system and hormonal systems of your body regulate how your body functions, and if they do not get the right “fuel,” things start to go wrong.
The traditional diets have been high in dietary fats and low in simple carbohydrates, and people have thrived for thousands of years like this with low levels of chronic disease, and suddenly over the past 40 years, we have switched to a high carbohydrate / low-fat diet.
Plus, traditionally, we were a lot more active in our daily living, so it is not just too much fat or too many sugars contributing to our overall health.
What fats should I eat and what fats should I avoid?
I will give you some specific fats that promote good health and what fats you should avoid, but a simple rule of thumb is to ask yourself these three questions to decide if fat is healthy or not.
1/ Is it a fat that your great great grandmother would have eaten? The answer to this question will exclude canola oil, vegetable oil, rice bran oil, soybean oil and all the other oils that the agriculture industry has decided are healthy for us.
These fats are known as partially hydrogenated vegetable oils and are ideally avoided.
2/ How much processing has occurred to produce this oil? Once again the same oils I mentioned in number 1 will be excluded and you should check out the video below to see why.
3/ How does it taste? Give me butter over margarine any day! I love the flavour of good olive oil, but I would never add canola oil or rice bran oil to a dish to enhance the flavour.
What about the different types of fat?
There are 3 different types of fat
1/ Monounsaturated fats like olive oil, avocado and the oils found in nuts these fats are excellent if they have not been damaged by too much processing
That's why cold-pressed olive oil is good and why you should not buy roasted nuts that may have been roasted months earlier; you are better off roasting your own and eating them fresh.
Other good sources of monounsaturated fats in your diet include avocado oil, walnut oil and other cold-pressed nut oils
2/ Polyunsaturated Fats can be divided again into omega 3 fatty acids like flax and fish oil and omega 6 fats that are found in seeds and seed oils.
These fats are highly unstable and can go rancid easily when heat-treated or exposed to light which will turn them from a healthy fat to unhealthy fat. This means that all polyunsaturated fat is not good for you.
It's important to have the right balance of omega 3 and omega 6 oils, the ideal balance is around 1:1-3, but with the number of processed foods and lower levels of omega 3 in the diet, many people have a ratio of 1:20-30 which creates inflammation.
Most processed foods contain seed oils that have been heat-treated to make them more stable (but this increases trans fats), and this creates an imbalance of the omega 3:6 ratio creating long-term inflammation. Inflammation is the driver behind chronic disease, and trans fats have been shown to be one of the worst fats to eat.
3/ Saturated fats are found in animal products and coconut oil. Saturated fat can be healthy to eat, provided they come from grass-fed animals and not grain-fed animals, which produce fat with a much higher omega-6 content.
If you can't get grass-fed meats, then I recommend only eating lean cuts of meat and topping up your saturated fats with coconut oil or butter.
Saturated and trans fats have been given a bad rap, but saturated fats are not in the same category as trans fats and can be part of a healthy diet.
One thing to watch out for with saturated fats is that they are very energy dense, so you get a lot of calories from fats, and this can affect weight if you are overeating.
My Favourite Fats!
My favourite fats for cooking are:
Good fats for salads are:
Make sure they are good-quality cold-pressed oils.
My favourite fats for eating come from grass-fed animals, free-range eggs, seafood, good quality nuts, avocados, and olives.
The polyunsaturated fats that you find in fatty fish like sardines, salmon and Mackerel are high in healthy omega 3 fatty acids and would ideally be part of a healthy diet.
Some people don't like eating fish; in this situation, I would recommend supplementing with fish oils, and marine algae, which is another (vegan) source of omega-3 fatty acids. These types of fats have been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease, and they are also known as essential fatty acids as your body cannot make them, and you only get them from your diet.
Fats and heart disease
With a high-fat ketogenic diet being one of the best ways to lose weight, more people realize that healthier fats don't cause weight gain. However, there is still that question about blood cholesterol levels and cardiovascular disease.
Some people may have increased LDL cholesterol on a high-fat diet, there is specific genetics that influences this, and this is especially high saturated fats in your diet that can cause this.
Assessing your levels of apolipoprotein B would be a better assessment of your coronary heart disease risk compared to just assessing cholesterol levels or LDL cholesterol.
These people may not need a low-fat diet but adopt more of a Mediterranean diet that replaces saturated fat with monounsaturated fats. The Mediterranean diet has been shown to be a heart healthy diet, especially if you add fatty fish to increase polyunsaturated fats it can help to reduce the risk of heart disease.
Concerned about cholesterol and heart disease risk? I would also recommend testing apolipoprotein B & A1, lipoprotein a, fibrinogen, homocysteine and HSCRP to help assess your heart disease risk.
The health benefits of healthy oils from monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats is well documented and these should be part of a healthy diet.
The things you want to avoid are the unhealthy fats which you will find in fried foods, partially hydrogenated oils and packaged snack foods that can last on the shelf for months.
If you want to find out more about how your genetics affect your ability to process different fats, I would do a genetic test with SelfDecode - if you have previously done a genetic test with another company such as 23andme or AncestryDNA, you can upload the raw data to SelfDecode for the health information.