Fat: the key to your health and delicious vegetables – Part I

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It might be that I’ve been geeking out on nutrition for long enough, or maybe it’s the popularity of the ketogenic diet, but it seems to me like dietary fat is cool again. So, fat is phat? This might also just be the perspective in my little echo chamber, so I wanted to take some time to talk about it here because either way, there’s a lot of goodness going on with the slimy, squishy stuff.

Why fat is good for you

From a really high level, fat is one of three macronutrients (the others being carbohydrates and protein). Our bodies need varying amounts of all three to survive and function optimally. Fats make up our cell walls, and surround and protect vital organs. They are also the building blocks of hormones. Did you know that cholesterol (a type of fat) is actually something the body makes to repair damaged tissues? Additionally, some essential vitamins (A, D, E and K), are only fat soluble, so there must be dietary fat present in order for our bodies to absorb them. For survival, fat is clearly non-negotiable!

One of my favorite (and the most practical) benefits of dietary fat is that it just tastes so good! It’s cravable and satiating, so it’s important to have in our meals so we can be full and satisfied and actually stop eating. Meals without enough fat can leave you feeling hungry, which might cause you to overeat something that isn’t nutritious! Additionally, fats are a “slow-burning” form of energy. This means that when you eat meals with enough fat, you can slow the metabolism of carbohydrates, which will help provide you longer lasting energy and help avoid the sugar crash that can come with lowfat/high carb intake. Properly balanced meals with healthy fat portions can help you go longer between meals.

Healthy fats for cooking

Cooking with fats has opened a whole world of vegetables to me that I never would have incorporated into my diet regularly if steamed or boiled. Until my husband sauteed broccoli in garlic and olive oil and the little “leaves” got all crispy and dark, I wanted nothing to do with broccoli and just choked it down on occasion when I felt I owed it to my body to pay for some previous dietary sin. But now I crave broccoli cooked like that and it’s a treat rather than a punishment!

It is important to use discernment with which fats you use regularly, as cooking fats are not all equal in the eyes of health. Vegetable oils like corn, soy, and canola can easily go rancid and tend to promote inflammation in the body. Unfortunately these are the cheapest oils and used most often in the food industry. Other plant-based oils like olive and coconut are moderately priced, easy to find, and don’t cause inflammation. Walmart, Aldi, Trader Joe’s, Target, and Costco all carry organic coconut and olive oils for decent prices. Avocado oil is also tasty to cook with, but can be harder to find and more expensive. Seed oils such as sesame and sunflower can be used and have unique flavors, but are fairly unstable so should be protected from light and heat and not used in high heat cooking.

Animal fats get a bad rap in the conventional health world, but saturated fats from free range, grass-fed beef and pastured pork are extremely stable, flavorful, and great for high-heat cooking that might cause the plant-based oils to oxidize and become rancid. And they are inexpensive in that they can often be rendered from meats you are already cooking. You can also purchase high quality beef tallow and lard for cooking from local farmers at the markets, or you can order on Amazon.

The key with cooking fats is variety, both to keep the flavor profile interesting so you don’t tire of something, but also to balance the fatty acid profiles you are getting. Different fat sources offer different risks and benefits, so maintaining a variety is key for your body to get all the nutritional benefits fat has to offer, while still enjoying life and making other healthy foods more delicious!

Stay tuned for Part II, where I’ll share some simple, healthy ways to incorporate healthy fats into your meals.

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