I have a confession: I love butter. In fact, I would say it's on my favorite foods list, right up there with nuts and chocolate. But I also love extra virgin olive oil and avocados, and this amazing toasted walnut oil. Fat is satisfying, it makes food taste better and keeps us fuller longer, stabilizing blood sugar. It is soothing and nourishing, and when consumed in moderation, is a necessary component of our daily diet.
To begin, let's have a quick lesson in "Fats 101":
Fat is a macronutrient, just like protein and carbohydrate and something our bodies need. Fats are precursors to hormones, they cushion our internal organs, they regulate our temperature, and they carry fat-soluble nutrients through our bodies. As part of a balanced diet, we need a variety of natural fats.
So, how much is too much? That depends on the person. The standard advice is to limit fats to no more than 30% of calories in one's daily diet.
In my experience, what feels right varies from person to person. For example, some people feel better with 20 to 25% fat, while others need a bit more, perhaps 35 to 40% - more along the lines of a Mediterranean-style diet. If you crave a lot of sugar and feel hungry within just a couple of hours after eating, your body may need a little bit more fat. Try adding a few slices of avocado to a meal, or rather than something sweet for dessert, have a small handful of nuts or a spoonful of a natural nut butter. My very favorite: roasted almond butter!
Here are the different types of fats:
- these are solid at room temperature. They include animal fats (not fish!) such as butter, cream and cheese, and just a few plant-based fats: Coconut, cocoa, palm and palm kernel oils. While some authorities claim that saturated fat should be avoided, others say that these stable fats have been used around the world for thousands of years in their natural state. I personally believe that all natural fats, including saturated fat, can have a place in the diet. They are ideal for cooking in many instances because they are not easily damaged by heat.
are liquid at room temperature and some (peanut and olive, for example) may harden when refrigerated. They are found in olive, canola, peanut and avocado, as well as high oleic sunflower and high oleic safflower oils (these are often called "high heat sunflower and high heat safflower" oil). Monounsaturated fats are recognized as highly beneficial: They help keep HDL cholesterol high and they are stable fats for cooking. When using olive oil, be sure to cook on low or medium low heat…olive oil has a low flash point so it burns quickly. You can also combine it with other oils such as canola or high heat sunflower oil for a milder flavor.
- these are liquid at room temperature and liquid when refrigerated. You will find them in nuts, seeds, egg yolk, corn, soy and fish. (Polyunsaturateds contain those Essential Fatty Acids you hear about - I'll do another post soon about all of that!) I never advise cooking with oils that are high in polyunsaturated fat. This is because they are easily damaged by light and heat and are best eaten in their original form such as edamame or corn, or used raw such as flaxseed oil or sunflower oil.
- these are created when liquid oils such as soybean or cottonseed have been chemically treated in order to make them solid at room temperature. You may see the words "partially hydrogenated" on a food label - means the same as trans fats. These partially hydrogenated oils, commonly used by food manufacturers, are very unhealthy and should be avoided whenever possible. At Whole Foods Market, you don't have to worry or read labels because we don't allow man-made hydrogenated fats in the foods we sell. Common sources of trans fats include most commercial baked goods, processed foods, pie crusts, cookies, crackers and margarine. (FYI: we sell all-natural, good-tasting margarines that are created from natural oils such as palm and canola.)
Some of my favorite ways to add a variety of good fats to meals and snacks are:
- Add a couple tablespoons of chopped walnuts to breakfast cereal or yogurt
- Sprinkle a tablespoonful of pine nuts, sunflower seeds or pumpkin seeds on your salad
- Add ½ cup of chopped almonds, pecans or walnuts to a cookie or cake recipe, or sprinkle over the top
- When making stir-fry for dinner, add a handful of roasted cashews just before serving
- Top grilled fish or chicken with sliced avocado
- Drizzle extra virgin olive oil over sliced veggies such as cucumber, tomato or steamed veggies. (adds great flavor and extra virgin olive oil is filled with antioxidants and other plant compounds)
- Add chopped olives to tuna or chicken salad
- Put a pat of organic butter on your hot steamed veggies
- Sprinkle finely chopped macadamia nuts or hazelnuts over a bowl of berries
- Eat fish such as salmon, sardines, char or mahi-mahi 2 or 3 times a week
- Make your own buttery spread by mixing ½ cup olive oil and 1 stick softened butter in the blender. Puree until smooth then store in a container with a lid in the fridge - it becomes semi-solid like tub margarine, and is easily spreadable, and contains NO trans fats. Use raw or for cooking.
Want to know more? Here are some great facts on fats
and an excellent guide to oils
Do you have a favorite way to get good fats into your diet? I'd love to hear.