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Only the Healthiest Fats

by Kasia Hopewell, ND

Confusingly, some fats are essential to optimal growth and others are downright unhealthy. This article will provide some basic guidelines for choosing the right fats for your family and for maintaining good health, while addressing those fats that are potentially damaging to your health.

In very general terms, it is less relevant the quantity of fat that we consume than the quality of the fat we eat. This is clearly demonstrated by the fact that some of the healthiest people in the world (the Mediterranean’s) can consume up to 60% of their calories as fat that is derived from clean, unprocessed wholesome sources like olives, nuts and seeds, and fish.

Here are some guidelines that will help in choosing the right fats:

• Children need a higher percentage of fat in their diets than adults to promote brain and membrane development. They also need cholesterol, which is found only in animal products. The healthiest sources of cholesterol are found in animal products that are free-ranged and organic.

• Include a rich source of Omega-3 fatty acids (an essential fatty acid) as they have been shown to be disease preventative and are lacking in the Western diet. Good sources are fish oil supplements (look for a guaranteed clean source); sardines, herring, anchovies, wild salmon, and Pacific halibut; natural free ranged eggs (not grain fed). For vegetarians, flax seed oil is the best option.

Breastfeeding will provide all the fat a young baby needs, especially if the mother is conscious of the quality of the fat she consumes. Pregnant and breast feeding moms should be getting good sources of omega-3 fatty acids so that their child will benefit.

• Fats are severely damaged by light, oxygen, and heat – processes that are frequently used to make the majority of the fats we consume. Look for fats and oils that are cold pressed, virgin, and have been protected from light. Store in glass containers in a dark cupboard or refrigerate after opening if storing for an extended period. Enjoy unprocessed oils such as those found in whole nuts.

Avoid deep-frying as the high heat damages the fat. For light frying, use a sunflower or high oleic safflower oil. As an alternative to oils, use a vegetable broth or water. For baking, safflower oil, coconut or even butter are your healthiest options.

• If you do use other types of oil for cooking, read labels and look for oils higher in monounsaturated fats and lower in polyunsaturated fats. Polyunsaturated fats have been linked to heart disease and other health concerns.

• Best oils to use raw in salads, marinades or added after cooking include: olive and sesame oils.

Avoid hydrogenated oils like those found in margarine and most processed baked goods. They contain trans-fats that are very damaging to our cell membranes and have been linked to cardiovascular disease and cancers.

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