The Skinny on Fat: A Guide to Heart Healthy Oils

fats blog pic

“In medicine, we are often confronted with poorly observed and indefinite facts which form actual obstacles to science, in that men always bring them up, saying: it is a fact, it must be accepted.”

                        Claude Bernard, An Introduction to the Study of Experimental Medicine, 1865

There are a lot of myths out there regarding nutrition.  One of the biggest misconceptions is that fat makes you fat.  However, the tide seems to be turning. The new fad that seems to be gaining traction is to eat fat to lose fat (Thank you, Dr. Mark Hyman). While I don’t believe in any one diet being the answer for everyone, it is very important to include healthy fats into your meals on a daily basis.  Low-fat food ‘products’ are fairly nutrient poor and the fat has just been replaced with more sugar.  In addition to keeping you satiated, there are so many amazing health benefits to be gained from incorporating foods that provide your body with essential fatty acids (EFA) (like Omega-3, 6, and 9).  While there are many foods out there that can provide these EFA’s, I am going to focus on fat from heart healthy oils.  The interesting thing about oils is that each one provides a host of different health benefits, but you will definitely see a pattern. You want to be mindful about how you are consuming them because when you heat certain oils beyond their smoke point, you can create toxic fumes and free radicals that can harm your body.  I know I have been guilty of this in the past.

 The following oils are the best oils to safely use for cooking because they have high smoke points. They can be used for baking, oven cooking, and stir frying.

Coconut Oil– This oil is a medium chain triglyceride (MCT), which means it has the ability to bypass the normal digestion process and go straight to the liver for quick and sustained energy.  Coconut oil has been shown to improve:

            Appetite regulation

            Metabolism

            Blood sugar regulation

Palm Kernel Oil/Palm Oil– These oils have a high percentage of medium-chain triglycerides, and you know what that means…more energy for you! Due to the phytonutrients, carotenoids, and Vitamin E in these oils you can potentially reduce your risk of developing:

Alzheimer’s

Cancer

Hypertension (high blood pressure)

*Be sure to only consume those labeled CSPO (certified sustainable palm oil) as the production process for those that are not has had a serious impact on rainforests and orangutans. See article here: http://www.thesun.co.uk/sol/homepage/news/4876264/Orangutans-cling-on-to-last-remaining-tree.html

Ghee- This is probably my favorite oil to use in cooking. In case you aren’t familiar with ghee, it is clarified butter and can be made at home or bought in a grocery store. As with any cow product, you want to make sure the cows that produce it are grass fed. Ghee has a light buttery taste and a high smoke point (~450 degrees F), making a safe and delicious oil for stir frying, baking, etc.  Due to its high quantity of Vitamin A, E, K2, and CLA, ghee is a strong antioxidant with antiviral properties.  The butyric acid in this oil is highly anti-inflammatory, especially within the gut.  If you consume ghee on a regular basis you could see:

            Reduced oxidative stress and, therefore, a lower risk for cancer

            A boost in your immune system due to increased T cell production (the white blood cells that fight infections and kill cancerous cells)

            A lowering of bad cholesterol levels

Butter (grass-fed brands only like KerryGold) – Grass fed butter is rich in omega 3’s, Vitamin K2, and CLA (5 times more than grain-fed cows).  It also has a high smoke point (350 degrees F) and, therefore, is safe to use when baking and oven cooking.  I know what you are thinking, but wait, isn’t butter bad for my heart? The short answer is no. As with any fat you want to be mindful of portion sizes but there were two massive review studies done in 2010 and 2014 that found no association between saturated fat and heart disease.  However, I would advise that you stick to grass-fed butter only.  If you want to read more on this topic you can pick up a copy of Gary Taube’s book Good Calories, Bad Calories.  Similar to ghee, butter can:

            Raise HDL levels (the good cholesterol)

            Convert LDL from a dense form to large LDL, decreasing likelihood of clots

            Decalcify arteries through the action of K2

            Reduce risk of osteoporosis and heart disease

Grapeseed Oil– The healthfulness of this oil has come under some scrutiny due to its high concentration of Omega 6.  This in itself is not a bad thing, as we need Omega 6 for constructing certain hormones responsible for increasing the immune response, blood clotting, and cell proliferation. In general, the hormones made from Omega 6 are inflammatory while those from Omega 3 are anti-inflammatory. You need to have a balance of both in order to function optimally.  Problems arise because the Standard American Diet (SAD) is generally already pretty high in Omega 6 from unhealthy sources, like fast food and processed foods.  If you are eating a healthy diet and making sure you include sources of Omega-3 fatty acids (cold water fish like salmon or a high-quality fish oil), grapeseed oil can be a good addition.  Some of the recorded benefits are:

            A reduction in LDL and increase in HDL

            Protection against cellular and tissue damage caused by free radicals due to the flavonoid oligomeric procyanidin, which is an incredibly strong antioxidant (about 50 times stronger than antioxidants like, vitamin C and E)

            Relief of pain and swelling caused by arthritis

 

These oils with low to moderate smoke points should be used under specific circumstances:

Extra-Virgin Olive Oil

Smoke point: Low (320 degrees F)

Use chilled or at room temperature. If it is refined it can be used for sautéing

The health benefits of extra- virgin olive oil (EVOO) are probably the most widely known and researched (In my opinion).  It is extremely high in antioxidants, which as you know are helpful in combatting free radicals and, therefore, diseases that come about as a result of cellular damage, like cancer.  However, it is essential to buy from a reputable seller as there is a lot of fraud going on in the olive oil market. If you want to know more, this article is a good place to start: http://www.oliveoiltimes.com/olive-oil-basics/mafia-olive-oil-on-60-minutes/50203.   Probably the most beneficial aspect of EVOO is its ability to fight inflammation due to the presence of oleic acid and oleocanthal.  Oleic acid is a fatty acid that has been shown to reduce inflammatory markers and Oleocanthal is a powerful antioxidant that fights inflammation in the same way as ibuprofen.  Many disease and chronic conditions are a result of chronic inflammation in the body.  Therefore, including EVOO in your diet could protect you from:

            Alzheimer’s

            Cancer

            Heart Disease

            Cardiovascular Disease

Flaxseed Oil

Smoke Point: Low (225 degrees F)

Use in dressings, marinades and dips. Do not heat!

Under no circumstance should you cook with flaxseed oil as it oxidizes very quickly.  You also want to make sure you store this oil in your fridge because it is quite unstable and thus highly susceptible to rancidity.  That being said, the high concentration of ALA (alpha-linoleic acid, an Omega-3) and lignans (a fiber-related polyphenol) in this oil is thought to provide many of the same benefits I have already mentioned (I did say you would see a pattern).  This includes but is not limited to:

            A reduced risk of cancer

            Lowered cholesterol

            Antioxidant benefits for anti-aging, hormone balance and cellular health due to the presence of Lignans

            Reduced number and severity of colds due to the anti-viral and antimicrobial properties of Lignans

            Reduced gut inflammation due to the high concentration of ALA

 

This list of oils is not all-inclusive and there are a few other oils that would be beneficial to include, such as avocado oil.  If you have any questions please feel free to reach out!

 

 

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