The conversation around good vs. bad fats and oils is an ongoing one. Particularly when we consider that the consumption of dietary fats and oils, even those extracted from vegetable and seed oils, have significantly increased in the past century. Eating behaviours have changed and fat intake from oils, including those hidden in processed foods, far outstrips healthy daily doses.
The importance of process
How oils and fats are extracted, processed, refined and preserved directly influence our health. While many oils and fats are considered healthy (and yes, in moderation, many of them are), experts are taking a closer look at the negative impact that these lipids can have on human health and why.
So which is which?
Below is my ‘YES, DEPENDS and NO guide’ on which fats and oils to use, use sparingly, or to avoid altogether.
My ‘YES’ list
Many of the oils on this list contain saturated fats which are often considered ‘bad’ fats. However, they also have many health benefits as long as they are consumed in moderation. I have also included good cooking oils that have a high smoke point, which is the temperature at which oil breaks down over heat and releases potentially harmful free radicals. Oils that reach cooking temperature more slowly are healthier as they retain their nutrients and generate less toxic smoke.
The fatty acids in coconut oil have numerous health benefits: they provide a quick energy boost to your body and brain, encourage your body to burn excess fat and they help to reduce belly fat. These fatty acids are also beneficial for HDL cholesterol, which is the good kind.
Recommended daily intake: 2 tbsp (30 ml) up to 2.5 tablespoons (39 grams) per day, depending on your general calorie intake.
Ghee is the dairy-free alternative (I’m a dairy-free fan) to butter. It is a form of highly clarified butter derived from grass-fed cows and contains stores of conjugated linoleic acid (CLA). CLA has been found to combat cancer, cardiovascular disease and assist with weight loss. It’s also a rich source of vitamins and antioxidants.
Recommended daily intake: Moderation is also important. So 2 – 3 tsp (10 – 15ml) to stay on the safe side.
Grass-fed butter contains saturated fats, but less than standard butter. Although organic dairy butter is less contaminated by pollutants and toxins, grass-fed is better for its nutrients. Nutrients such as vitamin A, vitamin E, antioxidant beta carotene, higher levels of CLA (see above) and better levels of omegas.
Recommended daily intake: As with ghee, limit to 2 – 3 tsp (10 – 15ml).
TALLOW (FROM SUET)
Tallow is beef suet. Suet is made from the fat around the kidneys and other organs of animals (mostly beef and mutton).
Tallow is rich in nutrients like vitamins A, D, E, K and B1. It also helps absorb more nutrients from food, contains CLA and helps reduce inflammation, supports a healthy metabolism, assists with weight loss and moisturises and protects the skin.
Recommended daily intake: Tallow is used like butter – so the quantities would be by preference, a teaspoon or two.
My ‘DEPENDS’ list (best consumed raw)
Olive oil is great! It’s full of many polyphenol antioxidants, omegas, vitamin C and is excellent for skin health. However, it’s best eaten raw. That’s because cooking with olive oil changes the molecular structure of its natural compounds, damaging the healthy polyphenols, the omegas get destroyed, and the smoke point from cooking can become toxic. It’s also more beneficial to receive the polyphenol benefits when eaten raw.
Rather drizzle it over your salads/meals and in dressings, and always buy good quality, organic cold pressed olive oil that is locally sourced so it’s fresher and delivers maximum nutrition to your plate.
Recommended daily intake: 1 – 2 tbsp (15 – 30 ml).
This is also a tasty drizzle or dressing oil – also best consumed raw. Even although it is great to cook with, its best to avoid this as this 2020 study found that 82% of avocado oils are rancid, or mixed with cheaper, poor quality vegetable oils:
It is rich in oleic acid which is a very healthy fat that is high in an antioxidant lutein. It enhances the absorption of important nutrients, known to reduce symptoms of arthritis and may prevent gum disease.
BUT avocado oil becomes unhealthy when it’s not 100% pure (sometimes it is semi-substituted with vegetable oil). If avocado oil is not pure or if it has been refined, it’s light yellow and almost clear in colour.
Just a note, it is important to purchase the correct volume for your needs. Pure oil can oxidize with time so it’s best to get it on a buy-as-you-need basis. Also remember to store it away from light and heat.
Recommended daily intake: 1 – 2 tbsp (15 – 30 ml).
My ‘HARD NO’ list
ALL INDUSTRIAL SEED & VEGETABLE OILS
This, in my mind, is the danger list. Industrial seed and vegetable oils are highly processed refined products that you should not only avoid cooking with – but avoid altogether.
Here are some examples, there are others… basically steer clear of all industrial seed and vegetable oils:
Margarine & similar
And here’s why:
- Plant oils are rich in omega-3 and -6. There are concerns that the excessive intake of omega-6 can be unhealthy. Linoleic acid, the most common omega-6 fat, is harmful for heart health because of potential pro-inflammatory and thrombogenic properties and chronic inflammation is an underlying factor in some of the most common Western diseases.
- They are often highly processed and therefore have fewer nutrients.
- Hydrogenated oils, changed to become partially solid, are the primary source of unhealthy trans fats. Examples of which include margarine, ice cream and biscuits.
- Oils that are high in polyunsaturated fats are susceptible to oxidation, both on the shelf and inside the body.
If I can offer a final thought: eat real food. Nothing that is processed or refined. Investing in quality food, including oils, is an investment in the quality of your future health.