All About Fat

Brace yourselves, we're about to learn something.
I know, I know, it's either been a while since you've been in a classroom so your brain isn't wired to absorb new information, or you spend enough time in a classroom as it is, and you're vehemently against cramming more in there than you already have to.
For the sake of fat, let's do this. OK? OK.
Let me start with introducing a bit about myself. I've been a Cardiac ICU nurse for five years. I've taken care of a lotta unhealthy peeps. Most of my patient population are people who have had heart attacks, strokes, major heart surgery, artery surgery, etc. sometimes because they have chosen to lead unhealthy lifestyles. Other times these unfortunate hospitalizations and diseases are not a fault of their own, and genetics or other factors play a role. But most of the time, people either don't have the health knowledge that may save their life or they just don't care. I can't tell you how many times I've had a patient's family member bring in McDonald's breakfast or Carl's Jr. burger and fries for the post-op patient in the hospital. Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die, right?
Well, right.
I'm all for indulging occasionally. I certainly do (remember that part in my bio where I love me a good burger?), and I expect others to as well. But those occasions should be saved for the rare treats it is to eat out. So let's focus on making our home cooking as healthy as we can! Woohoo!
All the different kinds of fats can be confusing, especially when there are so many different options for us to cook with. There are about 900 million different kinds of cooking oil. Then there is butter, margarine, lard, and shortening. Aren't there omega-something-or-others than we need to eat?
Oh my, you mean I have to know my cholesterol level too? There are how many different kinds of cholesterol?
Let's just dive right in.
There are bad fats and there are better fats. WE NEED FAT. We don't need the bad fats, we need a moderate amount of the better fats. Have you heard of fat-soluble and water-soluble vitamins? Vitamins A, E, D, and K are fat-soluble, meaning they have to bind to fat to be absorbed by your body. Fat also takes longer to digest, meaning it helps you feel full and satisfied longer (meaning you're full longer). It gives you energy, warmth, protection to your vital organs, and aids in the production of certain hormones. When a patient in the hospital isn't able to eat and we have to give them nutrition via an IV, you better believe we're giving them fat through that IV as well.
But let's face it, most of us eat more fat than we need, and probably not the better kinds of fat.
There are four different categories of fat. All fat has the came amount of calories, 9 calories per gram (compared with carbs and protein, which deliver 4 calories per gram). But all fats are not created equal.

Monounsaturated Fat
These are good guys. These fats have one double-bonded (unsaturated) carbon in the molecule. Typically, these are liquid at room temperature but can solidify when chilled. They are good guys because they can reduce the bad cholesterol in your blood, and possibly increase the good cholesterol in your blood. They're also high in Vitamin E. Significant sources include olive oil, olives, avocados, peanut butter, canola oil, sunflower oil, peanut oil, almonds, macadamias nuts, and cashews.

Polyunsaturated Fat
These are also good guys for some of the same reasons, they can lower your total and bad cholesterol. And you guessed it, these fats have more than one double-bonded carbon molecule.  One of the most important reasons polyunsaturated fats are better for us is because they provide us with essential fatty acids that our bodies cannot produce. 
These are good for heart health, neurological health, proper fetal development, decrease inflammation. People take those fish oil pills for this, or try to squeeze in two fish meals per week.
Also help with brain function, normal growth and development, increase inflammation (can be beneficial in the immune response) and hormone regulation. The main key is to have the proper ratio of  omega-3 intake to your omega-6 intake, trying to keep your omega-3s as close to your omega-6s as possible.

Significant sources include soybean oil (vegetable oil), corn oils (high in omega-6, use with caution), walnuts, flaxseed, sunflower seeds, fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel, and trout.

Saturated Fat
These are the bad guys. Saturated fat is mostly solid, and most likely came from an animal. Butter, lard, cream cheese, cheese, ice cream, fatty beef, poultry, and lamb. Other sources that are not from an animal and do not include cholesterol are cocoa butter, coconut oil, palm oil, and cottonseed oil. Saturated fats obviously are detrimental to your cholesterol, which puts you at a greater risk for heart disease and about a million other health risks. Stay away from these and stick with one of the unsaturated fats. You'll be much better off.

Trans Fat
Dun-dun-dun-duuuuun. These are the really bad guys. These are so bad, they don't even occur naturally (well, miniscule amounts do in some animal products). You know that word you see a lot on some of your food labels, 'partially hydrogenated something or other'? That is a factory-made fat that companies use because it lasts forever, is cheap, and tastes really good. Trans fat raises your bad cholesterol and actually lowers your good cholesterol. Check out the label of your next package of oreos (or anything packaged). If it's on there, just say no. Whip up a batch of your own cookies at home and your cholesterol, cardiologist, and arteries will thank you. In fact, I know just where to find a tasty and all-natural recipe or two....


So, how much fat should you have per day? It is recommended that 25-35% of your daily caloric intake be fats, saturated fats less than 7%, and trans fat less than 1%. If your daily calorie intake is 2000 (the average), this means that at most, you should consume 
56-78 grams of total fat (500-700 calories). Of that 56-78 grams,
16 grams of saturated fat (140 calories), 
and 2 grams trans fat (less than 20 calories).


Now lets talk about your choices in cooking products.

Vegetable Oil (Soybean)
This is probably the oil our mothers grew up using. Vegetable oil is actually an umbrella term that includes most oils, but the 'vegetable oil' that we see being sold in the grocery store is soybean oil. Vegetable oil (soybean oil) is 23% monounsaturated, 58% polyunsaturated, and 16% saturated fats. An oil's "smoke point" is the temperature at which the oil starts to smoke, and becomes unfavorable for cooking. It's when you've burned it and the food you're cooking and your house start to wreak. Sound familiar? Well this has one of the highest smoke points (460 degrees), so it's great for frying that chicken.

Canola Oil (Rapeseed)
Canola oil is what I use in my home in place of vegetable oil. Its cooking properties are very similar to that of vegetable (smoke point 400 degrees), but has less bad fats and more better fats. Remember, we want more monounsaturated and polyunsaturated and less saturated: Monounsaturated fats at 63%, polyunsaturated 28%, and saturated fats only 7%. The other advantage canola has over others is that it's a great source of omega-3. It doesn't serve a particular flavor, which is why it's very versatile for many different ethnicities of food, cooking and baking alike. 

Olive Oil
Also pretty dang healthy, being high in monounsaturated fats at 73%, 11% polyunsaturated, and 14% saturated fats. It's also high in antioxidants not found in other oils, Vitamin E, and has been shown to have positive effects on heart health, blood sugar, and blood pressure. Extra-virgin olive oil (EVOO) is the least refined, highest quality, and has a medium smoke point. Due to it's medium smoke point (220 degrees), it's best for sautéing and cooking, not frying or searing. It is generally reserved for vegetables, meats, and any dish lending itself to it's strong, savory flavor, especially Italian dishes. There has been some controversy in the integrity of 'pure' olive oil. How to steer clear of olive oil mixed with canola oil, or olive oil that has been chemically altered to look, taste, and smell like olive oil? Check the harvest date on your bottle, only buy within the last year. Also avoid clear, plastic bottles as that can make it go rancid sooner. Look for a PDO (protected designation of origin) and PGI (protected geographical indication) status, a sign of legit olive oil. And last, expect to pay well for a good EVOO. In this instance, you certainly get what you pay for.

Coconut Oil
Coconut oil is one of the trendy oils at the moment. The general trend is not necessarily food use but it does all sorts of amazing things to your skin and hair. In cooking, it's a great oil to provide an ever-so-slightly sweet taste. It has a medium smoke point (350 degrees), but it's probably one of the worst oils for your arteries. 6% monounsaturated, 3% polyunsaturated, and 91% saturated fats. That would explain it's almost-solid state. It's used to pop movie theater popcorn and can be used for cooking veggies, meats, and baking as well.

Peanut Oil
A mild-tasting vegetable oil that's used in a lot of Asian dishes, and most commonly for frying food because of it's high smoke point (440 degrees). Monounsaturated fats 46%, polyunsaturated 32%, and saturated fats 17%.

Sesame Oil
Another oil popular in Asian dishes with similar high smoke point (only light sesame oil, not dark) and fat content of peanut oil, monounsaturated 48%, polyunsaturated 34%, and saturated fats 14%. It is high in Vitamin E and rich in antioxidants, as claims have been made to its beneficial effects on blood pressure. Sesame oil penetrates the skin easily and as a result is used in India for massages. Oh la la.

All natural, high in cholesterol (because it's an animal product) and saturated fats: monounsaturated fat 26%, polyunsaturated 4%, saturated fat 63%, no trans fat. Great source of Vitamin A and omega 3. Flavor can't be beat, and is always acceptable in baking. Butter and margarine tend to produce a flatter, crispier cookie than shortening. Whipped, or light butter is an option for less calories and saturated fat.

Generally made with vegetable fat (lower in saturated fat and no cholesterol) and a long list of foreign ingredients. Stick, or hard margarine has trans fat. Softer, or tub versions have less trans fat or none, but these softer versions generally can't be used in baking because of their higher water content. Margarine has no flavor unless it's chemically flavored. Remember to check your labels, a food can be labeled 'trans fat free' if it contains less than 0.5 g per serving. If it still lists 'partially hydrogenated oil' in the ingredients list, it still has trans fat. Blends are available where margarine is mixed with healthier fats like olive oil and canola oil for added nutritional benefits (but again, be weary of using these in baking). 

Lower in saturated fat than butter (but also lower in monounsaturated, which is healthier) with monounsaturated fat 11%, polyunsaturated 52%, and saturated fat 34%. Used to be partially hydrogenated soybean oil, but after a big stink in the '90s, is now fully hydrogenated so most varieties do not have any trans fats (some still do, so be sure to check your labels). No cholesterol, or flavor (again, unless chemically flavored). Known for yielding flaky pastries, so it's good in pie crusts and biscuits. Also great for frying because of its lower water content which means less splattering.


So what the heck does all of this mean?
This means that you have options! You are in control of what you put in your body! You can read labels and be a little more aware of all those different kinds of fats! I feel like people are much more health conscious than we used to be, but I feel like we need to be because of the industrialization of food over the last 50 years. Become educated. Make decisions that make you and your family feel good. I have such a strong belief in guarding what you put in your body, and that the fuel you consume is the best preventative medicine you can buy. 
But let's get real, sometimes ya just gotta have a cookie.

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  1. Parker is such a cutie .. my favorite line "You are in control of what you put in your body!" I need to remember that sometimes ;) Good info

  2. Great post Steph! And THANK you for clarifying the not-so-healthy, yet totally trendy coconut oil craze. I remember learning in a byu nutrition class that it was, by far, the worst oil for you! Ps. I love Parkers face! I wanna squish those cheeks! And his shoes are to die for.

  3. Wow!! I honestly thought coconut oil was a good one for cooking. I read an article about how great it is when added to your diet for preventing Alzheimer's or rather helps stop the progression of it. Have you heard this before? At least now I know NOT to try cooking with this now. What about adding it to other foods raw?

    1. Paola,
      Thanks for your comment, as I'm sure many might have this same question! Being so interested in health and nutrition, I have heard and read many, many articles saying that one particular thing cures this cancer, then the next day, this same food causes this other ailment. Honestly, I feel like there are so many biases and different studies out there, that it's hard to know which ones to believe, right?
      I looked into the benefits of coconut oil, and it seems like some believe it's beneficial in its source of polyphenols and ketone bodies. Polyphenols can act as antioxidants, which prevent the conversion of free radicals to harmful agents. A lot of these studies were done in-vitro, with doses much higher than we actually intake from dietary sources. I can think of a TON of fruits and vegetables (and healthier fats, like olive oil) that have just as many antioxidants and won't clog your arteries at the same time.
      As for the ketone bodies, your body produces these when your intake of carbs is somewhat low (sleeping, exercise, low-carb diets). If your carb intake is too low, it can be harmful to you. So I, personally, would think it wise to have a healthy level of carb intake. In the end, it's about everything in moderation and variety. Plenty of fruits and veggies, and a healthy level of carbs, protein, and fats. If you want to substitute the oil in a cake or brownies with coconut oil every once in a blue moon, go for it. But to stock up and try to incorporate something into your diet that is 91% saturated fats, I personally would rather bank on a healthy diet and exercise and let nature take its course :)
      (This is all my opinion, and I am by no means an expert, nor have I studied coconut oil in depth nor its effects on Alzheimer's!)


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