JANUARY 31, 2014 4:29 AM EST
Articles abound instructing you to drop just one thing from your diet: Ditch the wheat! Stop eating meat! No more sugar! Make this one change and your health will be rosy!
Unfortunately, that’s an oversimplification. Healthy eating involves optimizing multiple factors. People who are interested enough, or have suffered enough, will take the plunge and completely transform their diets.
In case you’re not there yet, at least take a first step in the right direction: fix your fats.
Why fats and not something else? Because it’s the easiest aspect of your diet to change, and it brings the greatest long-term benefits. Whether you’re eating Paleo, vegan/vegetarian or anything in between, switching to good fats is the change that gives you the most bang for your buck.
Replacing damaging fats with health-promoting ones is simple compared to removing wheat (though for sensitive people, eliminating wheat can be life changing). Cutting out sweet treats? Excellent move! But we know that’s not always easy! Upgrading fats? Painless! No one’s pining for margarine, nor is anyone likely to be suffering soybean oil withdrawal.
What Not To Eat
Avoid highly processed seed oils: soybean, corn, peanut, safflower, sunflower, and cottonseed, shortening, and all margarine. These fats promote inflammation. Ask your doctor — chronic inflammation is a factor in a multitude of diseases, including autoimmune disorders, heart disease, diabetes, rheumatism, and more. This damage doesn’t happen overnight, nor will you see immediate improvement when you remove these fats from your diet. But over years and decades, eating healthy fats will significantly benefit your health and well-being.
What’s wrong with these industrial seed oils?
All polyunsaturated fats become rancid (oxidized) when heated or exposed to air and light, specifically because they’re polyunsaturated. This creates free radicals — just what doctors tell us to avoid. On top of that, unless it’s stated otherwise you can assume that corn oil, soybean oil, and canola oil come from genetically modified (GMO) corn, soy, or rapeseed, respectively.
Squeeze a fresh olive. You’ll get a drop of oil. You could theoretically, with a bit of effort, make olive oil, butter, or coconut oil at home. Not so for canola or any of the other seed oils. Their production involves heating the oil to high temperatures, washing it with hexane (which leaves traces), then bleaching and deodorizing to remove taste and color, thus damaging the oil.
Our body needs both omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids, but in the right ratio. Industrial oils have far too much omega-6; in corn oil, it’s over 50%. Using industrial seed oils regularly throws the omega-6 to omega-3 ratio way off, causing far-reaching health consequences.
And let’s face it, these oils taste pretty terrible! You may not notice their taste in cooking, but just stop eating them for a year, then taste foods cooked in them again. You’ll wonder how you ever ate an egg cooked in canola oil.
Which fats should you eat?
Eat gently-manufactured, traditional fats that have stood the test of time.
Olive oil is a great choice for salads and low-heat cooking. Buy cold pressed, certified organic, extra-virgin olive oil with an acidity level no lower than 0.08%.
After being demonized for decades (people wrongly equated hydrolyzed coconut oil with the traditional version) coconut has been rediscovered as a healthy oil. Naturally anti-bacterial, antifungal, and anti-viral, it’s almost purely saturated, making it very stable — no problems with rancidity. Use it for any kind of cooking, even at high heat.
Butter and Ghee
The best butter is organic and comes from grass-fed cows. Ghee is the pure butterfat that remains after milk solids and water are removed (easy to prepare at home). Even those sensitive to dairy can usually tolerate butter, or at least ghee.
Animal Fats: Lard, poultry fat, beef fat, etc.
If you aren’t avoiding animal products, include these fats by all means — with one proviso. Make sure you source only animals raised in humane conditions. Fat from grass-fed cows, pigs, or pastured poultry is healthy, whereas fat from animals raised in industrialized farming settings is decidedly not.
Here’s the catch.
If most of your food comes from ready meals and fast food outlets, you’ll be getting bad fats even if there aren’t any bottles of over-processed oil in your home. Don’t microwave your next meal (which isn’t going to bring you good health for a multitude of reasons). Get in the kitchen and cook something from scratch using any one of those healthy and delicious fats. Your taste buds will thank you. Your body will as well.