• Becky Berberich

Are there good fats?

So far I have written in a few of my recipe blogs about not adding oil to my food. "But what of the good oils, Becky?! Haven't you heard about the benefits of coconut oil, or the olive oil in the Mediterranean diet? It's great for you!"

It is! As skin moisturizer in the winter. Internal health? Not so much.

First let's start with the known baddies. Saturated and trans fats. Saturated fats are called that because they have a different type of bond than traditional fat molecules, and most are typically solid at room temperature (I see you coconut oil). Trans fats are fats that have had hydrogen added to them to be stable at room temperature. Think margarin. Both of these will raise 'bad' cholesterol and lower 'good' cholesterol, but trans fats worse than saturated fats. Here's a link if you care about the molecular structure of these bad boys.

For years we have lived in a world with the dichotomy that there are 'good' and 'bad' fats and therefor 'good' and 'bad' oils. Bad news: A recent review of 72 studies found no link between saturated fat and heart disease. The review also showed that monounsaturated fats like those in olive oil, nuts, and avocados don't protect against heart disease. Sooooo... there's not really any good guys.

Don't get me wrong. You need cholesterol. The problem is, your body already makes 80% of it that you need, and your body will make enough in response to the whole fats you eat in food.. The 'good' cholesterol is simply better at moving the fatty cholesterol you need to where it needs to go without becoming wall spackle (think heart attack).

On a personal level, I do worry about my heart. My dad (who is the best and I can't imagine life without him!) did a STELLAR job of losing a good amount of weight in his late 40's to get it in a healthy range. His father had had a heart attack around that age and he wanted to lower his chances of the same fate. He and my mom are traditional 'healthy' eaters with lean animal protein and always with a side salad or green veggie at dinner. They go for walks and joined a gym and when he was 60 he decided to opt for a routine stress test thinking that he had this nailed down.

He failed the test. Hard.

Less than a week later (thanks schedule openings!) he was in the hospital getting his sternum cracked open so that three of his major arteries could be cleaned out.

Is it not weight loss? or exercise?

Before I became vegan my cholesterol last tested at 212... above the 200 safe zone. In fact, having a cholesterol level of 240 makes you twice as likely to suffer from heart disease. On the flip side, an 'ideal' cholesterol is below 150 with areas of the world that have the lowest incidences of heart disease having cholesterol around 125. My cholesterol on a vegan diet is 124.

Back to oil and fats....

So olive oil's is good, no? Olive oil does have anti-inflammatory properties (a whole other post worth writing about) and if I do add oil to things it is almost certainly olive oil. While it does show in some studies to raise your 'good', or less sticky, cholesterol, I'm not over here pouring it on everything. To me, the fat I get from avocados and nuts is plenty of fat in my diet. If you want to research 'good' fats they happily make the cut.

What about low fat dairy? I hear that's good for you and helps keep the waist small? Why? Because you heard it on a commercial for someone trying to sell you yogurt? Of COURSE they want you to think low-fat dairy is good. It makes them money. According to multiple Harvard studies:

“These results suggest that dairy fat is not an optimal type of fat in our diets. Although one can enjoy moderate amounts of full-fat dairy such as cheese, a healthy diet pattern tends to be plant-based and low in saturated fat,” said Frank Hu, senior author of the study. “These results strongly support existing recommendations to choose mainly unsaturated fats from vegetable oils, nuts, seeds, avocados, and some oily fish for a heart-healthy diet.”

In addition, oil adds SO MANY calories to things. Want to make a pasta salad with a recipe that calls for even a quarter cup of olive oil? That's an extra 480 calories to the dish. The last one I modified called for A HALF CUP, or 960 additional calories of fat. For me, who will always struggle with balancing flavor, calorie count, and benefits, I use oil lightly and sparingly. If you do your own research and find that you want it in your diet, I'm not holding it against you. I'm sharing my views on why I do what I do *insert peace finger emoji*

*Special shout out to wix for having pretty pictures as I attempt to get better at food photography or foo-tography

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