Not all fats are created equal. Follow these expert tips for making the healthiest choices.
Eat anti-inflammatory fats. Whole foods like wild salmon, walnuts, and chia seeds are all excellent sources of inflammation-busting omega-3s, essential fatty acids (EFAs) that are required for cell health. Your body can’t make its own omega-3s — this is why they’re essential — so you have to get them through your diet. (For more on this, see ELmag.com/efas.)
Avoid refined oils. Vegetable oils such as corn, soybean, sunflower, and safflower — and yes, even canola — are all heavily processed industrial oils that are overly high in inflammatory omega-6 fatty acids and prone to oxidation in the body. “Omega-6 fats not only fuel your body’s inflammatory pathways, but also reduce availability of anti-inflammatory omega-3 fats in your tissues, resulting in more inflammation,” says Mark Hyman, MD, author of Eat Fat, Get Thin.
Embrace full-bodied flavor. “Any real oil should have flavor,” says Lisa Howard, author of The Big Book of Healthy Cooking Oils, noting that unrefined oils smell and taste like — and often have a color similar to — the original ingredient. An oil that’s been heavily refined has no flavor, little aroma, and a flat, golden color. We’re typically told to use canola oil because it’s “neutral,” says Howard. “That’s because it’s been rendered rancid during the processing, then heavily filtered, deodorized, and degummed into neutrality.”
Enjoy animal-derived fats. High-quality grassfed butter and ghee (butter that has been clarified to remove the milk solids, which contain lactose and casein), as well as naturally produced lard, are good sources of animal-based fat. Steer clear of highly processed lard, warns Howard: “Many people think of lard as the hydrogenated stuff you get from a can. But real lard should be unprocessed and come directly from the animal.”
Go for variety. “It’s always good to eat a variety, no matter what category of food, because they all offer different nutrients,” says Howard. Extra-virgin olive oil, for example, will give you a healthy dose of oleocanthal, an antioxidant with demonstrated anti-inflammatory properties. Adding sliced avocado to your salad will enhance your body’s absorption of beta-carotene and other carotenoids in that salad — and give you an extra dose of fiber and protein. And grassfed butter will deliver a good supply of vitamin K2, as well as conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), a fatty acid with demonstrated anti-cancer properties.
Choose quality, not quantity. Pesticides and other toxins often concentrate in fats and oils, which are themselves highly concentrated, so it’s important to opt for high-quality, organic products, says Deanna Minich, PhD, FACN, CNS, author of Whole Detox. Further, she advises against buying oil in bulk. “It’s much better to have a smaller bottle of oil and go through it quickly than to buy a big vat and be stuck with that for months, because it will degrade,” she explains. This degradation produces chemicals known to cause oxidative stress in human cells and to contribute to degenerative disease.
Beware of high-heat cooking. If you heat an oil past the point at which it starts to smoke (its smoke point), free radicals and other toxic compounds form. Many experts advise keeping high-heat cooking with oil to a minimum altogether. “Any kind of high-heat cooking, which is typically where you use fats, creates a lot of inflammatory compounds,” says Minich.
This originally appeared in the November 2016 issue of Experience Life. For the full piece see “The Facts About Fat.”