For a couple of generations, we were told that fats are really, really bad for us and could cause serious health problems like obesity, heart disease, and cancer.
Now, we’re learning that all of the low-fat advice we were given was hogwash, introduced without sufficient evidence or consideration.
Fats help form our cell membranes, offer us a rich source of energy, protect our nervous systems, and help us make hormones. I’m here to tell you that saturated fats are not the enemy — in fact, it’s quite the opposite: they're packed with nutrients that make us their allies.
These days, some types of fats have experienced a public rehabilitation and been welcomed back into the fold, such as olive oil and avocado. (Others, particularly animal fats, are still shunned as evil miscreants.)
As a nutritionist, I'm often asked about my favorite healthy fats. Here are four I love that, although once considered evil, are actually good for you:
Ghee, or clarified butter, is made by simmering butter until the protein solids sink to the bottom and sugars rise to the top. After straining out the dairy sugars and protein, what you’re left with are pure medium- and short-chain fatty acids, which are easily digested and absorbed in our bodies to use immediately for energy.
The high levels of butyric acid in ghee nourish intestinal cells, and its vitamin K2 is vital for dental health. In addition, ghee contains conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), which helps with fat burning and could protect against artery plaque and diabetes.
Eggs are a controversial food in the nutrition world because of the perceived dangers to cardiovascular health. But the research shows that consuming eggs doesn’t necessarily boost your cholesterol levels, increase your risk of cardiovascular disease, or threaten your mortality.
There are a number of reasons to add eggs to your regular diet, if you can tolerate them. They’re a rich source of protein, anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids, nerve-supportive B12, and the carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin, which are essential to retina health. Plus, eggs are the most concentrated source of choline, a nutrient crucial for brain health, metabolism, cell signaling, and the nervous system.
3. Coconut Oil
Coconut oil is made up of medium-chain fats, which are absorbed immediately by the body and used for energy instead of being tucked away as fat. It also has antimicrobial and antifungal properties. Some studies find that coconut oil can also help us balance blood sugar and lose weight. New research suggests that it may have anti-stress and antioxidant properties, too.
And best of all, coconut oil is absolutely delicious! I use it in everything: cooking, baking, smoothies, hot drinks, body care products, you name it. I always say you should have three jars on hand — one in your kitchen, one in your bathroom, and one in the bedroom (it makes a great lubricant).
Tallow is the fat rendered from beef, and it’s rich in CLA, which, as discussed, can help reduce fat. It also contains vitamin E and choline. And some evidence from animal studies suggests that the CLA in tallow may help protect against tumors.
Plus, as a saturated fat, tallow is more stable and thus can be safer for cooking at high heat than more delicate oils.
Overall, the important thing to remember about all of these fats is quality matters. You aren’t going to get health benefits from conventional animal products. The research shows that grass-fed beef contains more CLA, omega-3s, and antioxidants; and free-range eggs contain more omega-3s than caged ones. So check out your local farm or farmers market to ensure that you're buying products that come from high-quality, organic, grass-fed animals!
Portion size matters, too. You don’t need to devour these fats and oils a jarful at a time. Simply adding a spoonful to your smoothies, sauté pan, or roasting tray will do the trick.
When we stop fearing fats all the time, we open ourselves up to their wonderful array of health benefits.