Of all the macronutrients, fats have arguably caused the most controversy. It has taken almost fifty years for fats to dig their way out of the hole made for them by the weight loss industry.

Today, healthy fats are working their way into almost every aspect of the wellness sector. From eating them to rinsing your mouth with them, to rubbing them on to your skin, to normalising hormones, fats have gone full circle! These days, dietary fats are encouraged! The right types of fats that is. The problem is that many people are unsure how to discern which fats to consume and which to avoid. Then there is volume, preparation and storage. So here is the low down:

You’ve got your oily fats. Your plant fats. Your heat stable fats. Your animal fats. Your hydrogenised, trans fats. Your fish fats. Mostly, these can be broken down into:

Polyunsaturated fatty acids (aka Omega 3 and Omega 6)

Polyunsaturated fats are chains of fatty acids with many links, meaning they are less stable and have a higher chance of oxidation on exposure to light, heat and oxygen. The oxidation of fats leads to inflammation – basically the opposite of what we want our fats to do! Included among the sources of polyunsaturated fats are: cold water fish, flaxseed oil, macadamia nut oil, grass-fed meats, free-range eggs, nuts and seeds. When processed and stored properly, these fats promote anti-inflammatory activity, improve cell membrane fluidity and counteract the inflammation caused by vegetable oils.

 Monounsaturated fatty acids (Omega 9)
live oil, avocado, almonds, eggs, lard all contain a large number of monounsaturated fats. These fats are more heat-resistant than polyunsaturated fats.

Saturated fatty acids – found in high amounts in animal meats, ghee, dark chocolate and coconut oil. Due to their stability on exposure to heat, coconut oil and ghee are the best fats to use in high heat cooking, with olive oil, flaxseed and avocado oil making a great source of fats for drizzling raw over your meals.

What about vegetable oils?

Vegetable oils such as canola, safflower, soybean and corn oil are highly processed. The fatty acids in vegetable oil are not easily recognised by the body and can contribute to inflammation and disturb important cellular processes. These crops also are often subject to high pesticide use. When exposed to high heat, vegetable oils oxidise easily and form harmful compounds, some of which may be carcinogenic.  

Butter or oil spreads?

Butter. Preferably grass-fed. Grass-fed butter has a better profile of omega fatty acids as well as being nutrient-dense in fat-soluble vitamins. By comparison, vegetable oil spreads and other butter substitutes are high in hydrogenated oils which are highly unstable and contribute to oxidative stress and inflammation. Ghee is butter that has been clarified of lactose and casein, both of which oxidise in high heat, making ghee great for frying! Ghee also retains the fat-soluble vitamins found in butter, as well as being a high source of butyrate which our gut intestine cells use as fuel.

A note on nuts

Choose raw and unsalted nuts. All nuts are great! But did you know that peanuts are not a nut? They are a legume and are prone to mould. Replace your PB with almond butter or ABC spread – a layer of oil on top is ideal – just stir it in! Store your nuts and seeds in the fridge to preserve their life and prevent rancidity.

Flaxseeds are a fabulous source of anti-inflammatory fats, especially for vegans. Flaxseeds must be stored correctly. Buy the whole seed, and grind them into a meal using a coffee grinder, then store in the fridge. The fats in flax oxidise easily and you never know how long flaxseed meal has been sitting on the shelf in the supermarket under exposure to light and heat.

Coldwater fish are a quick way to get a good dose of anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids into your diet. Choose SMASH fish (sardines, mackerel, anchovies, salmon and herring). Aim for 2-3 serves per week and mix up your sources. Environmentally minded? Check out https://www.sustainableseafood.org.au/index.php for the most sustainable option.

Remember, not all healthy fats are created equal! Particular health conditions require specific fatty acid prescriptions so always consult your Naturopath or Nutritionist if you are unsure which is the most suitable for you.

Posted by Alexandra McPhee
Alexandra McPhee

Alexandra (Lexie) McPhee is an Endeavour College of Natural Health Alumni and qualified, practising Naturopath. Her special interests include writing, communication with the natural world, the history of medicinal plant use and creating her own herbal oils and salves. 

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