For years American culture has been fat-phobic. We’ve been taught that fat makes us fat, and that avoiding it is the best path to good health.
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Why Your Family Needs to Eat Healthy Fat
But the truth is that fat is a necessary nutrient that our bodies need to survive and thrive. All food is made up of three macronutrients: carbohydrates, protein, and fat, and all three play key roles in helping our bodies to function properly.
Fat is very important for the health of our bodies. Remember the old saying, “you are what you eat?” If you eat poor-quality fat, you are building a poor-quality body. As parents, it is vital that we think about the quality of the food our kids eat.
Our brain is made of 60% fat. It’s especially important to make sure that growing kids get the healthy fats that they need in their diet for proper brain growth. You want your children to have the building blocks necessary to create their brains the way they are intended to be. Eating fat can be a path to improving mental health issues such as anxiety and depression.
But quality fat isn’t just for kids. Quality fat helps all of us have healthy brains. It’s extremely important to make sure you are feeding your brain the nutrients it needs as you grow older. There is evidence that the Alzheimer’s epidemic has been growing because the older generation has been told for years to eat low-fat diets and consume poor-quality fats.
Fat is important not just for brain health, but for the health of other body systems, too. We have all heard how important it is for heart health that we avoid fat – but this advice was wrong. Americans have been taught that certain fats are especially bad for us. We’ve been told to avoid saturated fat because it will give us heart disease and cancer, and to eat canola oil and other vegetable oils because they are a healthy choice.
Now I know you are busy, and you may not have time right now to read all of this. I love to do research, and I have packed this article with facts that I want you to know so you can be informed as you feed yourself and your family and have the best health possible. So if you don’t have time to read it all, I’m going to summarize what I have to say right here.
Cut these unhealthy fats out of your family’s diet:
- Corn oil
- Canola oil
- Soybean oil
- Cottonseed oil
- Hydrogenated and partially hydrogenated oils
Increase these sources of healthy fats:
- Olive oil
- Avocados and avocado oil
- Coconut oil and MCT oil
- Butter and full-fat dairy (I know…this might be shocking to you. Read on!)
- Eggs, especially organic and pasture-raised
- Meat and fish (Surprising? Read on!)
Please pin it for later and read when you have time! If you have time now…yay! Read on!
USDA Guidelines are based on faulty science
Most health-conscious Americans use the USDA guidelines to help us decide what is healthy to eat. We use the food pyramid or the newer “My plate” suggestions. But these are wrong and misleading. Much of what we’ve been told has been based on marketing ploys. Unfortunately, our USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) Dietary Guidelines have been dictated by politics and influenced by the needs of agriculture and big business. The science the guidelines are based on is questionable.
Where did the idea that saturated fat is bad come from?
For example, the idea that the saturated fat in meat is what leads to heart disease did not come from scientific research. Instead, it basically started with a guess.
Say co-authors Dr. Richard Jacoby and Raquel Baldelomar in their book Sugar Crush: How to Reduce Inflammation, Reverse Nerve Damage, and Reclaim Good Health, “It all started back in the 1950s, when there was an epidemic of middle-aged men dropping dead of heart attacks. The cause, according to the experts, was too much saturated fat in the diet. How did they arrive at this assumption? First, because they knew that a heart attack is caused by a blockage in an artery nourishing the heart. They also knew that atherosclerotic plaques, made up mostly of cholesterol, caused the blockage. And because foods that are high in saturated fat, such as meat, also contain cholesterol, they came to the conclusion, with very little evidence, that a high-fat diet caused heart disease.” *This quote from the book came from this nutrition article if you’d like to read more.
One of my favorite sources of nutrition information, as I’ve told you in past articles, is Nutritional Weight and Wellness. An article on their website entitled Myth: Saturated Fat Increases Your Cholesterol was written by Tamara Brown, MPH, RD, LD. In it she states, “Based on a “poor science” study from the 1950s, Ancel Keys hypothesized that dietary fat and cholesterol levels were linked to levels of fat and cholesterol in the blood. This diet-heart hypothesis appeared to be true because he used data from only seven countries where higher saturated fat intake and higher levels of heart disease occurred (data for all countries did not support a correlation between higher saturated fat intake and higher levels of heart disease).”
In other words, he ignored the countries that didn’t fit his hypothesis (such as France). She goes on to say, “Without any further studies or evidence, the American Heart Association began recommending a diet low in saturated fats and high in carbohydrates and vegetable oils for heart health. Word spread about the study and new diet recommendations and since the ’60s, Americans have been consuming this diet, void of good fats and high in sugary, processed foods. If Keys’ research were true, this change in diet should have had a positive effect on our cholesterol levels. Instead over twenty million Americans are on statin drugs to lower cholesterol! Something must be wrong with his theory.”
The article goes on to explain how sugar and triglycerides are the true cause of high cholesterol. If you have time to read the article, I’d highly recommend it. Myth: Saturated Fat Increases Your Cholesterol
As I mentioned at the beginning of this article, the brain is made up of 60% fat. Over the past few decades, new research has shown that not only are saturated fat and cholesterol not bad for your brain, but they are actually necessary building blocks!
There has also been research showing that saturated fat levels do not lead to heart disease – and even brought into question whether high cholesterol in the blood is related to heart disease. Not to mention that dietary cholesterol does not seem to increase cholesterol in the blood.
Some Saturated fats ARE unhealthy
Your Food’s Food Matters
In my opinion, part of the reason that the idea of animal fat being bad for us has persisted for so long is that much of the saturated fat in our diet is not all-natural. What do I mean by that? Well, agricultural practices over the last 100 years or so have changed significantly. For example, cows are meant to eat grass. When they eat grass, they turn the energy of the grass into omega-3 fats, which are very healthy for us to eat when we consume the cow.
But for years now, many cows have been fed corn or other grains, or worse. That is not what the cows are meant to eat, so their bodies become unhealthy. When humans eat those unhealthy cows…we become unhealthy. The same can be said for the other types of animals we eat as well. I learned about this when I read one of my favorite books, The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan. There is now a young reader’s version available, so if your tweens are interested in learning more about nutrition and our food industry, check it out!
If you would be interested in a source for healthy, grass-fed beef that is sustainably and humanely raised, check out Grassland Beef. They ship meats raised on family farms right to your door.
Processed and cheap
Another unhealthy type of saturated fat is overly processed meats. Foods like hot dogs, lunchmeat, and bacon are often processed using chemicals and additives that are terrible for us. They also often come from poorly-raised animals using the cheapest methods – that’s why these foods are so cheap to buy. You can find healthy versions of these foods, and they are more expensive. But your doctor bills will be lower in the long run.
Grassland Beef sells a nice variety of sugar-free additive-free humanely-raised bacon and sausage, including hot dogs. Click here to check out their selection of bacon and more.
And finally, there are the saturated fats that Dr. Mark Hyman has coined “sweet fats.” Sweet fats refers to fat that is incorporated into a high-carb, high-sugar diet – fats such as those found in donuts, cakes, chips, and fries. People who eat a diet in foods like these will be unhealthy. It’s not the saturated fat per se that causes that unhealthiness, but they often end up getting blamed in the research. This conversation between Dr. Hyman and neurologist Dr. Perlmutter, author of Grain Brain, explains it well:
How do you know which animal fats are the healthy ones?
Kids should be drinking full-fat (whole) milk. They need it for brain and body health. Skim milk is too high in sugar, and doesn’t have the fat to support brain development. This affects thinking, focus, mental health, and moods. If you can afford organic milk, that is the best choice. If you can find grass-fed, that is even better.
Butter, ghee, cheese, cream cheese, cream, and sour cream are also good sources of fat. But again, go for the organic when possible.
When choosing meat such as beef, pork, and lamb for your family, choose pasture-raised. It might be labeled pasture-raised, it might be labeled grass-fed. It might be labeled organic. All of these things mean slightly different things. Read the label and do your best to gain an understanding of where your meat comes from and what it ate.
When choosing poultry and eggs, look for organic and pasture-raised. Cage-free doesn’t mean much – I’ve seen awful pictures of animals crammed together in tight spaces that technically don’t have cages. Pasture-raised means they were outdoors with more space. Some responsible farms will be more specific with their labeling so you really know what you’re getting. Pasture-raised poultry and eggs have far more vitamins in the fat and yolks and that is what you want to feed your kids and yourself. Pastured eggs are a great source of DHA – a special kind of omega-3 oil that is very important for brains and is also found in breastmilk. Chickens raised on corn and oats do not have eggs with DHA.
When choosing fish, choose wild, not farmed. The diet of farmed fish is often disgusting and when you realize it, you won’t want it in your mouth. Be careful to not eat too much fish that is high on the food chain since those fish can be higher in toxins.
Which plant-based oils should you avoid?
Alright, we’ve covered the animal-based fats pretty well. So let’s turn to the plant-based fats.
Bad fats are highly processed and do not exist in nature. They include canola oil (which is made from rapeseed), corn oil, soybean oil, and cottonseed oil.
On the Nutritional Weight and Wellness website, there is an article entitled Heart-Healthy Fats by Carolyn Suerth Hudson, RDN, LD. In it, she explains how these unhealthy vegetable oils are made:
“These oils are made using intensive mechanical and chemical processes to get the oil from the seeds. First the seed is crushed and heated; then a hexane solvent is added to get more oil out. Then the oil needs to be degummed, neutralized, bleached and deodorized. Refined oils remove all the natural nutrients, and they oxidize easily. This causes your cells and blood vessels to get stiff and damaged.
Often these bad fats are also hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated like margarine or shortening. This means they contain trans-fats. Trans-fats increase your bad cholesterol (LDL) and lower your good cholesterol (HDL). As little as 2% consumption of trans-fats doubles your risk of heart disease (1). Trans-fat consumption causes inflammation in the blood vessels. Inflammation can be the root cause of coronary artery disease.”
These vegetable oils cause inflammation and the hardening and calcification of arterial walls. These unhealthy oils are most likely what has led to the heart disease epidemic in the US, which then spread around the world as more countries started to mimic the American diet. Let me say that again because it’s super important that you understand and GET THESE OILS AWAY FROM YOUR FAMILY:
The heart disease epidemic has most likely been caused by the increase of these vegetable oils in our diet: Corn oil, soybean oil, canola oil, and cottonseed oil.
If you are very interested in the research on this topic, there is a rather long article on the Diet Doctor website. Diet Doctor is another good source of nutrition information. They push for a low-carb diet full of unprocessed foods. Their website is research-based and run by doctors.
One crusader against these types of vegetable oils is Sally Fallon Morell. She has spent her life studying nutrition and food and has several books on the topic. Her book Nourishing Fats goes into detail explaining the history and science of these issues.
I first learned about Morell when I heard her on Nutritional Weight and Wellness’ podcast, Dishing Up Nutrition. If you have time to listen to her episode, you will learn a lot!
One of the topics she covers in this episode is the history of vegetable oils. She talks about how back in the early 1900s, Proctor & Gamble was losing money because since more people had electricity, they weren’t able to sell as many candles. So they started marketing refined and processed oils as food! They convinced American housewives that animal fats such as lard were dirty and low-class. They ran ads with people wearing labcoats explaining how their new oils represented modern scientific progress. You can read more about the history of vegetable oils here.
Morell also talks about the nutrients we get from animal fats that we can’t get from vegetable oils. For example, she tells how we need the cholesterol from animal fat: “We make so many hormones out of cholesterol. We make estrogen, testosterone, progesterone, DHEA – all that is made of cholesterol. Sleep hormones are made of cholesterol, but also the hormones that we use to regulate blood sugar (and) blood pressure, to detoxify, to deal with stress, to heal.”
On a side note, she also explains the danger of cholesterol-lowering statin drugs. If you or your loved ones are on a statin, PLEASE listen to the podcast or read the transcript here. Statins are terrible for your health and are based on outdated ideas.
Morell also has a cookbook called Nourishing Traditions that can help you implement these dietary changes and create optimum health for your family.
Which plant-based oils should you eat?
I know I have spent a lot of time here talking about animal fats – and that’s because I feel I need to argue against what you’ve been told all your life. Now I want to turn our attention to something you probably already know – there are some plant-based oils and fats that are great for you!
The best healthy oils for you to eat are the ones that exist in nature. The less processed, the better.
Olive oil is a wonderful choice for healthy fats. Choose extra-virgin and organic, if possible. Olive oil is best to serve at room temperature, such as in salad dressings or drizzled over your food. If you cook with it, don’t let the temperature get too high. Be careful that you are buying a quality olive oil. Some olive oils on the market are mixed with other oils to make them cheaper – you do NOT want that kind.
Don’t forget – eating olives supplies these natural healthy fats, too!
Coconut oil and MCT oil
Coconut oil is a very healthy fat! Buy the organic, unrefined type. Unrefined might also be labeled as “virgin.” Also in this category is MCT oil.
MCT stands for “medium-chain triglyceride.” This refers to the chemical make up of the fats in the oil. MCT oil has been fractionated, which means that the long-chain triglycerides have been removed. This makes the oil liquid at room temperature, and also reduces the “coconuty” flavor. Coconut oil is solid at room temperature, so it doesn’t work as well to add it to smoothies.
MCT oil is popular as a dietary supplement and is said to have many health benefits such as being helpful in weight loss. It’s VERY good for your brain, and is fantastic to add to smoothies to get healthy fats easily into your diet and your kids’ diets. You do want to be careful when selecting an MCT oil. Its recent popularity has resulted in some companies trying to come up with cheaper ways to make it. Some add palm oil to it rather than just coconut oil. Palm oil can be healthy too, but you should be aware as a consumer. Other companies use unhealthy processing such as using hexane as a chemical solvent to refine the oil.
Perfect Supplements also has a very high-quality unrefined, organic coconut oil available. I’m very happy to tell you that if my readers order from Perfect Supplements, you can use my code TWEENS10, to get 10% off your order! If you order 3 items, you get 25% off!
Avocados and avocado oil
You probably know that avocados are one of the best foods for your family to eat! They are chock full of healthy fat. You can eat them as-is, make into guacamole, spread on a sandwich or toast – they are delicious so many ways!
Did you know that you can get the same health benefits by using avocado oil? Avocado oil is a really good choice for cooking because it has a high smoke point. That means that it’s safe to use at high temperatures. It also is a handy way to get the goodness of avocados into people who don’t like the taste of avocado, like my son. And, it works in smoothies, too!
There are also new products on the market that use avocado oil as the base – replacing the unhealthy vegetable oils like soybean and canola often found in things like mayonnaise and salad dressing. I have been buying these for my family for a while now, and I am really happy with them. Sir Kensington’s and Primal Kitchen are both good brands. Personally, I like the Sir Kensington’s avocado mayo and ranch the best. Primal Kitchen has more variety in salad dressings, such as Greek and Italian.
Nuts and nut butters
Nuts are full of healthy fats, too! I love to use nuts as snacks, and nut butters are delicious used in various ways. Buy organic if you can to make sure the quality is good. Careful when buying nut butters – always check the ingredients and make sure there’s no added sugar.
Many people consider peanuts to be a less healthy choice since they can be GMO and toxic. If you do choose to eat peanut butter (and my kids do), please buy organic.
What about sunflower oil?
Well, sunflower oil is a tricky one. Researching anything about which fats are good and which are bad is already difficult because the topic is so mired in controversy. I’ve looked into it a lot, and here is my conclusion: sunflower oil is so-so. It is fine in moderation, but it shouldn’t be eaten in large amounts. If you are really interested, I found a very thorough article about sunflower oil.
Basically, it is not bad for you like the other vegetable oils, but it is very high in omega-6 fats. Your body needs both omega-3 and omega-6 fats, but they should be in a 1:1 proportion in your body. Since our processed foods are so full of omega-6 fats, most Americans have somewhere around a 10:1 or even 20:1 ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fats. This is highly inflammatory and can lead to disease. Increasing your intake of omega-3 fats is a great idea. Omega-3 fatty acids can be found in fatty fish, walnuts, and flax seeds. Supplementing with cod liver oil capsules is a very nutritious choice to increase omega-3 intake. This version of cod liver oil from Perfect Supplements is excellent and if you use the code TWEENS10 in your order you’ll receive 10% off!
So how do I feed my family healthy fats?
I’m so glad you asked! People need 10-14 g of fat (1 tablespoon) per meal for good brain health, according to Nutritional Weight and Wellness. if your kids are drinking whole milk, using butter and salad dressing with good fat…you are well on your way. A daily smoothie is a great way to make sure your kids are getting the healthy fat they need for brain growth! Here are some recipes that incorporate healthy fats:
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*All of the information on my website is my opinion about things that I have researched. While I am a know-it-all, I can make mistakes and I am not a medical or health professional. I am doing my best to entertain and inform you, but if you follow my advice, you are doing so at your own risk. Please consult a doctor or dietitian before making any dietary changes.