We have all become rather fat phobic in recent years which is a shame, especially from a nutritional perspective as fat is hugely important in the diet. Our brains need fat in order to function, and many conditions we see these days can be driven by a deficiency in good fats.
There are, however, different types of fat, saturated, unsaturated fats, polyunsaturated (omega 3 and omega 6 essential fatty acids) and monounsaturated (omega 9 essential fatty acid) and hydrogenated fats. Essential fatty acids can only be obtained through diet, and are hugely important for many processes in the body.
Mostly found in animal products such as meat, butter, cheese as well as coconut butter. A limited amount of good quality, preferably organic and grass-fed (as the ratio of omega 6 to omega 3 is lower) saturated fat is acceptable in a healthy diet and provides valuable nutrients such as the fat soluble vitamins, A, D, E and K. Saturated fat is useful in cooking as it is the most stable at high temperatures. Using butter, coconut oil or lard is preferably than heating vegetable oils to high temperatures.
These fats are found in olive oil, avocado, most nuts (brazils, hazelnuts, almonds, cashews, pecans, sesame sedds and organic free-range poultry.
Polyunsaturated fats are perceived to be the healthy fats, of which the essential fatty acids we need in our diet are made up. It is important not to cook with these as they are not stable at high temperatures, and ideally keep refrigerated.
Omega 3 – EPA & DHA (from alpha-linolenic acid) found in oily fish such as fresh salmon, mackerel, sardines, canned and smoked salmon, fresh tuna, herring and fresh trout. Aim for 2-4 portions a week of oily fish (reduced to 1-2 in pregnant women due to the risk of mercury & PCB contamination in larger fish).
Omega 6 (linoleic acid) – found in raw nuts and seeds (sunflower, pumpkin, chia, sesame and hemp seeds) and their cold pressed oils. Nut butters are a great source of these good fats, and are easily available if you are unable to make your own.
It is also important to eat plenty of the nutrients required to help the conversion of essential fatty acids in the body. These include magnesium (lightly cooked green vegetables, squash, pumpkin seeds, nuts and seeds), zinc and B vitamins (lean cuts of beef, pork, venison, poultry, brown rice and other wholegrains), biotic (eggs) and vitamin C (salad vegetables, broccoli, peppers, berries and citrus fruits).
These are to be avoided at all costs. Hydrogenation occurs when liquid oil is processed to become a solid or semi-solid structure, e.g. margarine. This takes place under extremely high temperatures and under immense pressure which causes damage and destroys the nutritional value of the item. Hydrogenated fats are also frequently used in processed foods such as cakes, cookies, biscuits, crisps and pastries.
Oils & Fats to Use in Your Kitchen
Butter is pretty stable at high temperatures so a small amount can be used in cooking. Butter contains many valuable nutrients so try to source pure and organic butter where possible.
Coconut oil/coconut butter is more expensive than other oils, but it carries huge nutritional and health benefits. It contains lauric acid which is known for its antibacterial and antiviral properties and remains stable at high temperatures.
Olive Oil is at its best when it is cold pressed and extra virgin. Do not heat as it does not remain stable at high temperatures. Use in dressings and marinades, and drizzled over cooked vegetables. Or use at the end of cooking, i.e add to cooked stews and casseroles to boost the EFA content, but try to avoid heating to high temperatures. It should always be kept in a dark green bottle to prevent oxidation, and ideally in a cool dark place.
Rapeseed Oil contains both mono and polyunsaturated fats, and is a recently popular and sustainable oil to use. However it is not stable at high temperatures due to its omega 3 content so as choose to use it in dressings and marinades instead.
Symptoms of a Potential EFA Deficiency
- Dry skin
- Pimples on upper arms
- Poor wound healing
- Brittle Nails
- Behavourial disorders
- Learning problems
- Low immunity