Fats, good and bad: The lowdown by nutritionist Alli Godbold

Our fat phobia can be traced back to a 1953 study by Dr. Ancel Keys who reported a distinct correlation between fat and heart disease.  Since then fats have had an increasingly bad press.  Governments in the Western World started recommending we reduce the level of fat in our diets and and there has been an explosion in the supermarkets of fat-free and low-fat products.

Yet we’re becoming increasingly obese as a nation and heart disease is still prevalent – precisely because we’ve cut back far too much on an important food group and increased our consumption of refined carbohydrates and sugar. Fat is essential in our diet for optimal health. Fats are important for the absorption of fat soluble vitamins A, D and E and they’re needed for the manufacture of steroid hormones (including cortisol and the sex hormones), for the brain, for our nerves and for the cell wall of every cell in the body.  If we avoid fats we end up with suboptimal health.

GOOD FATS

These are the fats we should all be including in our diet:

MONOUNSATURATED FATS

Found in olive oil and avocados, these fats are thought to improve cardiovascular health.

SATURATED FATS

We should not be scared to include saturated fats from eggs, organic butter, grass fed meat and coconut oil.  As part of a healthy diet these fats are not dangerous. Eating foods containing saturated fat will make you feel satisfied for longer preventing you from foraging for snacks and can therefore help with weight management.

POLYUNSATURATED FATS or PUFAs

These are the essential fats found in oily fish, nuts, seeds and their oils.  Our bodies are unable to make these fats so we have to obtain them from our diets.  These healthy fats have many important functions and are vital for good cardiovascular health and the immune system.

The best source of omega 3 polyunsaturated fats is oily fish so I recommend eating  salmon, herring, mackerel, anchovies, sardines three times a week or failing that to take a good quality fish oil supplement which supplies 1g of EPA/DHA per day.

Omega 3 fats are essential for suppressing inflammation in the body, which is something that tends to increase as we age.  Inflammation in the body creates tissue damage and can result in all sorts of degenerative disease from heart disease to diabetes.

Nuts and seeds and their oils tend to be richer in the polyunsaturated fats called omega 6 fats, these fats are also important for the immune system as well as sex hormone balance.

BAD FATS

PROCESSED FATS

These are formed when manufacturers hydrogenate vegetable oils to make them solid at room temperature to extend the shelf-life of their products  – think of those processed cakes in cellophane. Our bodies cannot process hydrogenated fats and they’re thought to increase insulin resistance (which in turn increases our risk of Type 2 Diabetes).  Processed fats also interfere with how our bodies process the good fats as they block the essential fat pathways.

WHICH FATS SHOULD WE COOK WITH?

This is a question I am often asked as there is quite a lot of confusion over which fats can be safely heated and which fats are best kept for cold use.

SATURATED FATS are best used for high temperature cooking.  Their chemical composition means these fats are stable at high temperatures – our mothers were right to roast with goose or duck fat.  Use butter, ghee or coconut oil for cooking, according to the flavour desired – personally I prefer to cook scrambled eggs with butter and pancakes with coconut oil.

MONOUNSATURATED FATS like olive oil and rice bran oil can also be heated but are best used for sautéing.  Use olive oil or rice bran oil for your stir fries but never let the oil smoke as it will become damaged at too high a temperature.  A handy tip is to ‘steam fry’ by adding a little water to these oils as you cook with them as this helps to lower the overall cooking temperature.

POLYUNSATURATED FATS like walnut, sunflower and flax seed oil must only be used cold. This is because their chemical structure means that they are easily destroyed by heat.  Use these oils in smoothies and dips as they supply a good blend of omega 3, 6 and 9 fats – good for immunity and cardiovascular health.

FATS I KEEP IN MY CUPBOARD:

Extra Virgin Olive Oil: I use this for salad dressings and also for low temperature cooking, I love the flavour so have about four different extra virgin olive oils which have different depths of pepperyness – I love the really good quality stuff drizzled on salads and vegetables. If olive oil is not extra virgin then it has been refined and does not have the same health benefits.

Currently I am using some amazing olive oil from Chateau de Panisse which a friend gave me as a wonderful present

Coconut Oil: I use this in baking and for frying pancakes as well as for Thai stir fry dishes and in my ‘energy balls’. It’s great for cooking at high temperatures so I use it for frying.

I love the coconut oil by Viridian

Goose Fat:  I use this for roasting potatoes and buy it from the supermarket.

Rice Bran Oil:  I use this for frying eggs and or when sautéing onions and when I don’t want an olive oil flavour.  It’s best used in lower temperature cooking like stir fries.

I use Alfa One Rice Bran Oil which I buy in the supermarket.

Organic Sesame Oil:  I use this in my Japanese salad dressing and in a stir fry marinade combined with soy sauce, fish sauce and water

Flax Seed Oil:  I keep this in my fridge to preserve its shelf life.  I add it to salad dressings or smoothies as it contains a good mix of omega 3,6 and 9 fats, although very few of the omega 3’s actually convert to the useful EPA and DHA.  Only ever use it cold.

Avocado Oil:  I use for salad dressings and in theory it’s fine for low temperature cooking as it’s rich in monounsaturated fats.

My Stir Fry Marinade:

1 teaspoon tamari soy sauce

1 teaspoon fish sauce

3 tablespoons water

Stir fry green veggies with a little garlic in some extra virgin olive oil and when they turn a lovely emerald green add some grated ginger and the marinade – cover the pan and ‘steam fry’ for a few minutes until the vegetables are tender, finally and off the heat drizzle over a teaspoon of organic sesame oil.

Alli Godbold

Alli Godbold is a qualified nutritional therapist, specialising in weight loss, fatigue and digestive and hormonal health. She is also a certified gluten practitioner. Alli has worked forThe Food Doctor and currently works as nutritionist for The Healthy Holiday Company and is a regular contributor to Healthista.com.  She runs frequent cookery workshops from her West London kitchen and has published a popular cookery book Feed Your Health.   She created the Nourish diet for weight loss and improved health and has recently published a book of healthy recipes for her Nourish clients More Nourish Diet Recipes