Let's talk fat. It's important to learn about the types of fats out there and become mindful of the quality of sources. This article will outline our take on fats and oils, cover recommendations and sources, and provide recipes.
Functions of Fat in the Body
Despite what many magazine covers and TV commercials will have you believe, fat is actually quite beneficial to us. It's essential for many processes and functions in our bodies and is not to be deathly avoided. Here are just some of its functions:
» Provides us with sustained energy.
» Helps our bodies absorb fat-soluble vitamins such as A, D, E, and K.
» Important for brain function and maintenance.
» Helps with insulation and protection of our vital organs.
» Adds flavour and mouthfeel to foods (okay, so this one isn't a 'function for our body' per se, but still important!).
Easy Chunky Guacamole
Types of Fats
1. Saturated Fat
The evidence of adverse effects for saturated fat intake is not as conclusive as we may think. There is considerable controversy over whether or not saturated fat alone actually affects heart health. Some say it does, while others say it does not. There is still clearly much research to be done in this area.
The majority of saturated fat is found in animal products such as dairy products, red meat, and poultry.
Plant-based food sources include palm oil and coconut oil (read more about coconut oil below!).
In view of this controversy, we like to err on the conservative side and recommend limiting saturated fats - consuming it in moderation.
2. Unsaturated Fats
Replacing saturated fats with unsaturated fats reduces LDL cholesterol and decreases the risk for developing cardiovascular disease. And guess what? Plant-based foods are amazing sources of unsaturated fats! Win-win.
There are two main kinds of unsaturated fats:
- includes omega-9 fatty acids
- Includes omega-3 fatty acids & omega-6 fatty acids
Omega-3 fatty acids are important for the proper growth and function of our brain and nervous system.
To learn more about omega-3 and omega-6 fats, read this PUL article!
Sources include: seeds (sunflower, flax), nuts (walnuts, almonds), & avocados.
We want to aim to consume unsaturated fats most often since they have more favourable effects on health.
3. Trans Fats
Very few trans fats are naturally occurring. About 90% are created during a process called hydrogenation, which turns liquid oils into solid fats (1). This method, for example, is used to create margarine, which may seem ironic since margarine was originally developed to be a healthier alternative to butter. Turns out, trans fats produced from this hydrogenation process significantly increases the risk for cardiovascular disease.
They can be found in many processed foods such as fried foods and baked goods - added for taste, texture and preservation purposes.
The recommendation is that trans fats should be avoided as much as possible. Be on the look out for ingredient lists including "hydrogenated oils", "partially hydrogenated oils and/or "shortening".
Coconut Lime Sorbet
At Pick Up Limes, we always recommend obtaining nutrients from foods first before reaching for supplements and concentrates unless you can't meet your requirements from food alone. The same is true for fats. Consuming fats from whole foods will provide so much more nutrition than the oil itself: fibre, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, etc.
Now, this is not to say you should stay away from oils altogether. They are useful when baking or cooking. Our simple message is that moderation is important. Fats provide 9 kcal per gram as opposed to carbohydrates and protein, which provide 4kcal/g which is why we don't need to eat as much of it overall. Infants and children require more healthy fats in their diet for their growing bodies. Speak to a dietitian or your doctor if you require more information for your child.
Whole Food Sources
+ Nut/Seed Butters (such as peanut butter, almond butter, tahini etc.)
+ Coconut (such as coconut meat, coconut milk or dried, shredded coconut flakes)
We've created your go-to list of oils below - download it as a PDF for easy reference. When possible, incorporate flaxseed, hempseed, walnut and canola oil - marked with an (*) - as they have a higher omega-3 to omega-6 ratio. Learn why this ratio is important here.
Oil Smoke Points: some oils have higher smoke points, meaning they are appropriate for cooking whereas others have lower smoke points and are better off consumed as is either drizzled over a dish or used for dressings and marinades. Here is a simple guide:
» Get Your FREE PDF Here!
A Note on Coconut Oil
It's true: coconut oil is high in saturated fat. Yep, we said it. But hold on, this doesn't mean you need to avoid it all together. Many of our very own recipes include this beloved and controversial ingredient.
Although excessive consumption of saturated fat has been linked to the cardiovascular issues we mentioned above, there is little evidence of adverse effects for moderate to low intake (1). This means that if coconut oil is to be used, it is recommended it be used in moderation. By adopting a plant-based diet, you're already excluding several foods high in saturated fats by default so putting a small amount in a healthy Nutella recipe that will to be consumed throughout the week is perfectly fine.
P.s. we've written a dedicated article all about coconut oil, take a read here!
In short: if you enjoy it, have it; however, treat it as you would with any other oil and consume in moderation.
Best Ever Vegan Nutella
+ Store oils in a cool place away from sunlight to prevent it from going rancid.
+ Make your own salad dressings and marinades at home as opposed to store bought, so you can control how much oil is added. Try this Tahini Vinaigrette Dressing or Golden Glow Sauce.
+ In place of oil, top salads with nuts and/or seeds, avocado, or olives.
+ Choose "grilled" "steamed" broiled" or "baked" over foods that are "fried" or "deep fried".
+ Using non-stick cookware reduces the amount of oil needed when cooking.
+ Let thy nutrition label be your friend! If purchasing packaged foods, read ingredient lists and nutrition labels for saturated and trans fat content.
The Bottom Line
Fats are Beneficial: avoid the trap of a "low fat diet". Fat serves various functions in the body and is required for optimal health. Aim for moderation and for healthier types of fats.
Aim for Unsaturated Fats: try to consume unsaturated fats (including omega-3 rich sources) more often than saturated fats and aim to eliminate trans fats.
» Unsaturated fat sources include nuts, seed, grains, legumes, olives and avocados.
Whole Food Sources: choose whole food sources of fat over oils when possible for added nutritional benefits.
Smoke Points: some oils are more appropriate to cook with and others are better left consumed as is due to smoke points. Refer to our list above for examples.
Coconut & Tofu Thai Red Curry
(1) Brenda Davis and Vesanto Melina. "Becoming Vegan: the Complete Reference on Plant-Based Nutrition." Becoming Vegan: the Complete Reference on Plant-Based Nutrition, Book Publishing Company, 2014, pp. 107-116.
Psst: » Find this book in our shop! Choose between the comprehensive edition or the express edition.
Want To Learn More?
Read our previous nutrition article called SOY » sorting through the controversies
What About You?
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❤ Written by: Mitra (PUL Assistant and Dietetics Student) & Sadia