Are you scared of eating fat? Most of us are, as the medical establishment used to tell us that all fat was bad, and recommended a “low-fat” diet for optimal health and weight loss. Only recently are we discovering that not all fats are equal. In fact, certain healthy fats are actually vital to our health. Without these fats, our bodies simply cannot function optimally.
The low-fat diet was a bad idea for another reason. Without the fat, food didn’t taste good- so manufacturers replaced the fat with sugar. Lots of sugar! In 1900, the average American ate about 18 kg (40 pounds) of sugar per year. Now that number has skyrocketed to about 45 kg (100 pounds) of sugar per year!
What was the result of this low-fat, high-sugar diet? Did we become healthier, like they promised us? No! Obesity, heart problems, and diabetes became widespread.
Why You NEED Healthy Fat in your Diet
- A Healthy Brain: The brain is made up of fats and cholesterol, mainly saturated fat. A diet low in fat deprives the brain of the tools it needs for function and repair.
- Healthy Bones: Fat is necessary for calcium absorption, and therefore for strong and healthy bones.
- Liver Function: The liver is important for your metabolism, nutrient absorption and detoxification, and fat is important for its proper functioning.
- Messengers: Healthy fats function directly as signaling messengers that influence the metabolism, including such important jobs as the release of insulin.
- Immune System Function: Not enough fat in your diet means your white blood cells can’t recognize and destroy viruses and bacteria.
What are Healthy Fats?
Some great sources of healthy fats include:
- Olives and olive oil: promotes heart health, protects your cells from damage, helps improve memory and brain function, and works as an anti-inflammatory. Be sure to buy a good-quality extra virgin olive oil. And don’t cook at high temperatures with olive oil, as heating it to over 350F (180C) can damage the beneficial phenols in olive oil (light sautéing is ok inshAllah).
- Natural butter (preferably raw, grass-fed, organic…NOT margarine or fake butter): butter is an excellent source of vitamins, minerals, and healthy fatty acids. Studies are now showing that eating more saturated fats (found in meats, cheese, and butter) is not associated with heart disease, as previously thought. (see here, and here, and here)
- Avocado: an amazing fruit with so many benefits. Avocados raise your good cholesterol while lowering the bad, boost immunity and keep skin looking young, and are full of protein and folate (great for pregnant women).
- Coconut oil: also has a long list of benefits, including improving brain and memory function, promoting heart health, and acting as an anti-inflammatory (which can ease arthritis and other inflammatory conditions). Coconut oil is also great for the skin and hair.
- Nuts (not cooked in vegetable oils!)
- Meats and Fish
- Omega-3 Fatty Acids: These beneficial compounds can reducing the risk of heart disease, reduce inflammation, help those with depression, reduce the risk of some types of cancer, and improve brain function. Natural sources include seafood, nuts (walnuts), seeds (chia and flax), green leafy vegetables (spinach, kale, Brussel sprouts).
Vegetable oils (canola, corn, soybean) and margarine, on the other hand, were rare in our diets before the 1950’s. Before then, people ate natural sources of fat, such as meat, animal fat, butter, and cream. The impetus for the creation of vegetable oils came out of the manufacturers’ desire for an oil which was cheap and had a long shelf-life (financial reasons, not health reasons).
Why are vegetable oils bad for us?
The fact is that vegetable oils do not belong in our bodies. Vegetable oils:
- are highly unstable and oxidize easily, which causes inflammation in our bodies and mutation in our cells
- contain a very high concentration of Omega-6 fatty acids, which cause an imbalance of these oils in the body. Unbalanced levels of Omega-3 vs. Omega-6 fats promotes many types of cancers
- are highly processed and usually made from genetically modified crops that have been heavily treated with pesticides
- contain harmful chemicals (BHA and BHT) which are artificial antioxidants that help prevent food from spoiling. These chemicals have been shown to cause cancer, and have also been linked to liver/kidney damage, immune problems, infertility or sterility, high cholesterol, and behavioral problems in children.
A picture speaks a thousand words. Compare the complex process of making vegetable oils, to the simple process of how we acquire a natural fat like butter.
The other fats you want to avoid are the trans-fats. Scientists create trans-fats by adding hydrogen to vegetable oil, to make the oil less likely to spoil. This process, called hydrogenation, results in an unnatural and poisonous substance.
In June of 2015, the FDA (U.S. Food and Drug Administration) determined, based on extensive research, that these oils are “not Generally Recognized as Safe.”
The FDA announced, “On June 16, 2015, the FDA took action that will significantly reduce the use of Partially Hydrogenated Oils (PHOs), the major source of artificial trans fats in the food supply. This action is expected to reduce coronary heart disease and prevent thousands of fatal heart attacks each year in the United States. The FDA has set a compliance date of three years.”
This means that within 3 years of the FDA announcement, the United States will ban trans-fats from the food supply.
Harvard School of Public Health notes that trans-fats promote immune system over-activity and inflammation and promote heart disease, stroke and diabetes, among other chronic diseases.
It is interesting that before the 1950’s, the incidence of heart disease was very low. But since then, when we started eating more vegetable oils (because they told us they are healthy for our heart), the incidence of heart disease and cancer sky-rocketed!
Almost every processed, packaged food in our supermarkets contains one of these harmful oils, and we should avoid them. This includes:
- salad dressings
- potato chips
- snack foods
- packaged cakes, biscuits, cookies, and crackers
- artificial cheeses
So in summary, consume a diet rich in all-natural, healthy forms of fat. Avoid vegetable oils (canola, corn, soybean) and trans-fats, as they promote inflammation in the body and are very harmful to our health.