Episode 60: Fats And Oils To Avoid At All Costs (And What To Eat Instead)
Fat. It’s easily the macronutrient with the most opinions attached to it, but how much do you know about the role of fat in the body? Aside from adding cushion to our backsides, fats have a wide-range of uber important jobs. And here’s the thing: your body’s cells are only as strong as the quality of fat you’re eating.
On this short, bite-sized episode, nutritional therapy practitioner Andrea Wien explains all about fats and gives an overview on the fats and oils to use and which to avoid.
Follow along during the episode with the infographic below, and then head to your pantry to toss out that rancid bottle of canola oil that’s lurking in the back.
(Note from Andrea): After recording the show, a savvy listener, Fay Kazzi (@theearthycanvas), alerted me to a study on olive oil used in higher heat applications. Upon digging deeper, it does appear that certain varietals of olive oil can stand up to high heat - around 400 degrees F - with minimal oxidation or destruction of nutrients.
That said, I'd still prefer to use a more stable saturated fat for deep frying, but it's good to know we may not have to worry so much about roasting in the oven. If you want to dig into the studies, you can peep them here:
Mentioned On This Show:
- "The Big Fat Surprise (Why Butter, Meat and Cheese Belong in a Healthy Diet)" by Nina Teicholz
- New data on harmful effects of trans-fatty acids
- The negative effects of hydrogenated trans fats and what to do about them
- Ask the Experts: Hydrogenated Oils
- BIOHM’s website (Promo Code: POD15)
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Andrea Wien: Welcome to The Microbiome Report powered by BIOHM Health. I am your host, Andrea Wien. And today we are looking at another mini episode, this one all about fats. If you missed our last episode on digestion, I really encourage you to go back and give it a listen. There's so many good nuggets in there. And these short mini episodes, about 10 to 15 minutes are meant for you to be able to quickly take in the information when you're driving in the car or doing the dishes, or otherwise just have a few minutes to kind of get in the know about something you might have always wondered about.
So today we're talking about fats and oils. And in doing research for this episode and seeing exactly what I wanted to talk about I went down so many rabbit holes and that's because we have such an interesting relationship with fat, especially in the US. You know we had a huge low fat craze I'll call it over the '90s and into the early 2000s. And then it seems like the pendulum has swung the other way in much of the research and in much of popular opinion.
So now we have the keto diet, which is 70 to 80% fat. So really keeping the carbohydrates very, very low. The paleo diet really talks a lot about good fats. Atkins diet was one of the first to really start to incorporate fats as a diet. So we don't want to get into too many of those details today. You can certainly go and research those diets or maybe we'll do another episode on different type of therapeutic or fad diets that are out there. But today I really wanted to give a primer of how fats work in our body, why eating dietary fat won't make us fat and the types of fats that we should be consuming, and the types that we should be staying away from and why?
So to get started, let's just give an overview of very broadly how our cells and hormones work. So when you think about each cell in your body, every single one of them is surrounded by something called a phospholipid bilayer. Now that word lipid may have given this away, but lipids are fats. So in essence, each of our cells is surrounded by a layer of fats. Now, this is important because when we're eating certain types of fats, that phospholipid bilayer is made up of what we're eating. So if we're eating fats that are structurally weak, or have some type of damaged composition as we'll see in the fats that we should avoid, that means our cells are not going to be structurally sound.
And as you can imagine, that leads to a whole array of problems. So this is very much a case of you are what you eat. Now when we talk hormones, all of our hormones are made from fats and our sex hormones, such as estrogen and testosterone are made from cholesterol. So an interesting way to start to change the script on cholesterol, which has really just been given this incredibly bad name over the years as something that we want to reduce as much as possible.
A few sidebar notes on cholesterol. And this is why this episode was so tough for me to synthesize because everything that we bring up in this episode, I want to take it down a bunch of different paths. But when we think about cholesterol, this is an analogy that maybe some of you have heard me use on the show before. And I believe that it's borrowed from Josh Gitalis, who we've had on the show as well. So Josh, thank you if this was one of your tips. If you showed up to the scene of a crime or to a fire and you saw the police officers there or the firefighters, you wouldn't think, "Oh, the police officer is here, so he must have committed the crime." Or you wouldn't think, "Oh, the fire is here and so are the firefighters. So the firefighters must be responsible."
And yet this is what we do with cholesterol. Cholesterol goes to a place in the body where it's needed to repair, oftentimes the arteries. So when we look at the arteries and we see plaque buildup and high levels of cholesterol, we say, "Oh, the cholesterol is here. It must have caused damage." that's actually not the case. Something else is causing that. And that's a whole other episode that we can get into later. And the cholesterol is there to try to fix it. So of course, by reducing that cholesterol, we can decrease that plaque buildup that's on the arteries, but we're not actually fixing the underlying cause of why the cholesterol showed up there in the first place.
So when we start to think about it in that way, we can really start to drill down on root cause. But for the purposes of this episode, let's just talk about cholesterol being the backbone for estrogen and testosterone. So a lot of times we'll have someone come to me who is having trouble getting pregnant. And when we start to dig into how many fats they're eating, they'll still be on more of that low fat mindset. When we start to add in some of these fats, we see libido go up, we see fertility go up on and on and on.
The low fat diet also inhibits the body from making serotonin. So now we start to talk about neurotransmitters that are produced in the gut, used and produced in the brain. Serotonin of course is critical for regulating mood. So these are just a few examples of why we need fat in our bodies and why we need the right types of fat, which we're going to get into in a minute.
Now, the one other piece that I want to talk about before we move on from how fat functions in the body is the role of insulin and how it has a relationship with fat. And this is one of the reasons that the low fat diet was so detrimental to so many people. Because when food manufacturers started to take the fat out of all of their food, they needed to make up for that flavor because fat is what gives us that satiated feeling. You can feel it. It coats your mouth. It tastes good. When you eat something fatty, you feel satiated and full. And so without that in their products, food manufacturers had to make up for that in other ways. And how did they do that? With sugar.
When we start to look at insulin and how it plays into this complex relationship with fat, insulin inhibits the breakdown of fat in our tissues, in our adipose tissues. So instead of fat being able to be used around the body as the body would have liked and intended in hormones and in our cells in different ways, it starts to be stored in the body as fat. So a diet high in refined carbs and sugar is going to increase that insulin and the insulin is going to inhibit the breakdown of the fat.
There's so much more that we can get into on that and that's a very vague description of what's happening in the body. But all of this to say that it's not the fat that is making us fat. It's the sugar that's encouraging the body to store the fat in different ways. Now why, if this is the case, why did we have the low fat diet? Why was that such a disaster when it was so widely accepted by so many scientific bodies and regulatory bodies and health administrations, et cetera, et cetera? This is also a very complex answer. And it comes down really to some of the politics of how science is done.
I would encourage anyone who's interested in reading more about this to check out a book called the Big Fat Surprise by Nina Teicholz. I'll certainly link to it in the show notes, but it's really eye-opening to see how science can be changed and manipulated based on someone who has a big personality is what I'll leave it at right there. So go and look into that. But for now, let's jump to the types of fats and oils that are good and bad and what we should be looking for at the grocery store.
Okay, so just like our last episode, I have an awesome infographic. This one was actually put together by Coconuts and Kettlebells. So I'm going to link to this in our show notes, but this is a really good snapshot of which fats and oils are good to cook with and consume, and which ones we should avoid. And they make some really good points on this infographic that I think are important for people to know. Fats can easily go rancid when they're exposed to heat, air and light, which is something that all of us have in abundance in a kitchen, let's say.
But the more saturated a fat is, the less likely it is to be damaged. We can talk about the structure of fats and how different bonds have different levels of stability, but that's a little bit scientific. So what you need to know for now is just that the more saturated a fat is, the more stable it is. And by stable, we mean that it's going to be better for higher heat cooking. So when we look at what fats are best for high heat cooking, these are going to be stable fats that contain a higher ratio of saturated fats. So medium to high heat cooking. We're going to want to use the animal fats. These are butter, ghee, pork lard, beef tallow, duck and goose fat, and chicken fat.
And in a plant-based situation, we're going to be looking at coconut oil or sustainably sourced red palm oil. In my house, we use a lot of ghee. So my son doesn't tolerate dairy very well, but he can tolerate ghee because the difference between butter and ghee is that the butter has all of the milk fats and proteins still in it, but ghee is actually the clarified butter, which is separated. If you've ever had like lobster tail, right? The butter that they give to you in that little dish is clarified butter. So it doesn't have any of those milk fats and proteins in it. So oftentimes people who have lactose whey, casein allergies or sensitivities can tolerate ghee.
Now, if you have a downright allergy to dairy or butter, you don't want to be experimenting with ghee. It is still dairy-based. It's just people who have some of those other issues are able to tolerate it better. So I would say in my house, the main cooking oils that I'm using are ghee, coconut oil, and then typically some type of lard or tallow that I either make myself or get from my local butcher. And again, we want to make sure when we're using those types of oils, that we're using pasture-raised versions of them, because a lot of toxins can be stored in the fat. And so we don't want to be taking a fat from an animal that was raised in a conventional setting and then using that in our cooking.
The second category of oils is monounsaturated oils. Again, that just refers to the structure of how the oil is built. So these are going to be used best for cold or very low heat. And they should always be stored in an opaque bottle, ideally a glass bottle. This is going to be a little bit interesting for a lot of people. Olive oil is number one on this list. And I say interesting for people because when we look at recipes that are out there, most of them use olive oil in things like roasting vegetables, for example, at high heats in the oven, 350, 400, 450 degrees.
Really olive oil is not stable enough to be doing that. So we want to be using olive oil and things like salad dressings, low sauté temperatures is fine, but we don't want to be blasting olive oil with high heat because it has the potential to go rancid very easily. Avocado oil is also one that is on this list. I would say that avocado oil does have a higher smoke point and a higher use for high heat cooking. So I do use avocado oil when I'm roasting, but it's also great to use a cold or very low heat. Macadamia nut oil, hazelnut oil, and almond oil also fall into these categories.
The next category of safe oils that we want to make sure are never exposed to heat are the polyunsaturated oils. So these are the sesame oils, walnut oil, rice bran oil, flaxseed oil, and you want to be choosing cold-pressed and organic polyunsaturated oils. There is a note here consumed sparingly. These oils are not ones that you're going to be using every day in your everyday cooking anyway, but you want to make sure that we're using them in smaller amounts. And that's simply because of the ratio of different omega fats.
Now, the oils that we want to be avoiding, these are industrialized oils that go through a high heat processing and can cause inflammation. So when we look at omega-3s and omega-6s, omega-3s can follow one pathway into anti-inflammatory uses in the body. Omega-6 has two different pathways that it can travel down. We won't get into exactly why they travel down different pathways at this point, but it can go into anti-inflammatory and it can go into inflammatory. And oftentimes when we are living in a modern world, those omega-6s are getting turned into inflammatory molecules. And we have quite enough inflammatory omega-6s in our diet anyway.
So when we're looking at what type of oils and fats to be using, we want to lean more towards the ones that are high in omega-3 and not the ones that are high in omega-6. So a lot of these oils that we're going to talk about in this section are high in omega-6 and inflammation-promoting. The other issue with this is because of the high heat processing that they go through, they are already rancid by the time they get to your local grocery store. So while some of these oils structurally might not be so bad for us. When we start to dig into how they've been stored and how they've been processed, that's where we run into trouble.
These are also oils that are industrialized and are more likely to have been sprayed with pesticides and have different types of chemicals in the growing process. So that's also something to be aware of. So the oils on this list are canola oil, soybean oil, cotton seed oil, corn oil, vegetable oil, grapeseed oil, sunflower, safflower, peanut, palm kernel, and vegetable oil spreads. Now we also see sesame oil and rice bran oil on this list. And again, there's a note and a caveat here that says okay in small doses when organic and cold-pressed.
So we just need to be aware of how these things are being processed and be an educated consumer. Now, the things that we want to 100% always, always, always stay away from are man-made fats, which you might know as trans fats. These cause systemic inflammation, which increase your risk of experiencing all modern diseases. And I pulled some information here on trans fats. And you might think like, Hey, "I thought the FDA did away with trans fats. When I look at labels now it says zero grams of trans fats." And what's interesting is that a food product can have a small amount of trans fat and still be allowed to say that it has zero trans fats in it.
So there's a little bit of a caveat there and a little bit of a loophole for some of these companies who are creating foods that need to be labeled with 0% trans fat. Food items could be labeled 0% if they contain less than 0.5 grams per serving. So just something to be aware of there. The reason trans fats are so horrible for us is they cause inflammation and calcification of different cells, specifically our arterial cells. So that's a known risk factor for heart disease. They also inhibit enzymes required for the regulation of blood flow. And the list goes on and on.
There's data to suggest that when trans fats go up, death rates rise and when trans fats go down, death rates go down. So again, I won't get into all of the specifics of why trans fats are so horrible other than the few examples that I gave, but these are things that we definitely don't want to be ingesting and putting into our body. So this list includes margarine, vegetable shortening, partially hydrogenated or fully hydrogenated oils, high stearic or stearic-rich fats. So if you see any of those ingredients on your food label, you 100% want to stay away from them.
Now our little infographic here does have some information on how to choose the best fats and oils. Again, we've mentioned pasture-raised grass-fed sources, choosing plant-based fats that are cold-pressed or virgin. Those are some keywords to look for. And you always want to make sure that you're buying from, if not organic, at least a non-GMO source. So avoiding those industrialized oils that are exposed to high heat properties and the trans fats, which we spoke about, and unfortunately are still very prevalent.
Partially hydrogenated oil, I would say, has a place in most packaged goods in the grocery store. So it's not easy to stay away from these. And then especially if we're going out to restaurants, we also want to be very cognizant in those situations, because typically they are using some type of partially hydrogenated or hydrogenated oil in their cooking. Canola oil, obviously a fairly affordable and widespread cooking oil. So we just need to start thinking about asking these questions when we're out or if we're going to make those decisions to eat those foods regardless, then really making a valiant effort at home to not cook with those.
And sometimes people will say, "Well, how will I bake without vegetable oil or canola oil?" And the stable fats that we talked about are actually really good replacements for any type of baked goods. So before we had a lot of these industrial oils, people would use things like leaf lard in their baked goods. Or they would fry in something like a beef tallow or a goose fat. Duck fat French fries who doesn't love those? And I've found that using coconut oil as a replacement in my baking has really made no difference in the taste, especially if you're doing a refined coconut oil instead of the virgin coconut oil.
A refined coconut oil won't have that coconut taste. So if that's important to you in your baking, if you can't tolerate or don't want to have that coconut flavor, you can certainly use a refined coconut oil, which is a better option than using something like a vegetable or a canola oil. And if you really stopped to think about it, have you ever squeezed oil out of a vegetable? No. So there's not oils in vegetables. So we start to think, "Where are we actually getting these oils?" And the fact is that they're created from some pretty nasty places that we, again, don't have time to get into on this episode.
But of course, if you have any questions, if you have any concerns about anything that I've said or just want to follow up or get more clarification, please reach out to me. I'm @dreeats on Instagram or you can email the show. We are at The Microbiome Report at biohmhealth.com. And again, BIOHM Health is offering 15% off for all podcasts listeners with the code POD15 on their website at biohmhealth.com.
And I will of course, link to all of this in the show notes, along with some studies and this infographic that I mentioned, and some more information for people who are interested in learning more, or just digging deeper on this topic. So you can find that at biohmhealth.com/pages/podcast. And again, BIOHM is B-I-O-H-M. Thank you so much for listening. Have a great day.
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