Imperative to our health, fats are a key part of our diet regardless of our dietary orientation, be that of an omnivore, vegan or pescatarian. Fats enhance the palatability of food and flavours, while improving the absorption of nutrients from plant foods. Fats also help our skin to retain its moisture content, and appear younger and smoother. Not to mention our brain and the precious coating around our nerve cells, which are both mainly formed of fats derived from our food.
Article by Taru Towers. – nutritional therapist, remedial bodyworker, wellness explorer and lover of life.
As you can see, fats are absolutely vital for our health and underlie our enjoyment of food. As is often the case in nutrition however, one should always pay attention to quality. Rancid, spoiled fats can cause immense harm when ingested. Sources for these may be cheap take-aways, where the frying oils have not been changed in weeks, or even those out-dated, chemical laden moisturisers we rub onto our skin; look out for those dusty bottles and go bin them now!
The best way of eating fats is enjoying them directly from whole foods; think of nuts, seeds, avocados, grass-fed meat, small cold-water fish or organic soft-boiled eggs. The less processed the source, the less danger there is of rancidity and spoiling. Smell your fats – they should have pleasant scent to them, while downright bitterness will alert you of spoiling.
Liquid oils (like olive oil) become rancid quicker than saturated, solid fats like coconut or butter. The more polyunsaturated or liquid the oil, the sooner it is spoiled by heat, oxygen and light. For this reason, the nutritional supplements like fish oils or flax seed oil should never be heated and should always be stored in a cool, dark space.
Choose your cooking fats by considering their smoke point. After a fat starts to smoke, it forms free radicals, which may contribute to a risk of cancer. While refined oils have the highest smoking point, they also have the least amount of nutritional value, so where possible, choose organic, unrefined and always non-hydrogenated oil for all cooking. You can find some smoke point of common cooking fats in the end of this article.
Here are a few ideas on how to incorporate healthy whole food fats into your diet, beyond greasing your skillet.
Use it in salads, in guacamole, in smoothies or as a base for a healthy chocolate mousse; there are not many dishes that avocado could not contribute to. This fruit delivers about 20% of its weight as fats, which is over twenty times more than most other fruits. Its fat constitution is mainly monounsaturated oils, with which this plant also provides a plethora of vitamins, fibre and antioxidants like lutein and zeaxanthin, protecting eye and skin cells against UV damage. When choosing an avocado, go for the ones with a little give under your fingers and check the skin underneath the stem – if it is green, the avocado is fresh and good to eat. If the hollow is tanned, the fruit is past its best.
Allergy alert: avocados contain an enzyme called chitinase, which causes allergic reactions in those with a latex allergy.
Soaked nuts & seeds
Nuts and seeds can provide a perfect package for healthy oils, protein and fibre, but in some they provoke some uncomfortable gastrointestinal symptoms especially when eaten unsoaked.
Soaking nuts and seeds overnight in salted water helps to reduce the amount of phytates and oxalates, which are natural compounds protecting the seed. The less of these antinutrients you consume, the less stress and strain you pose to your gastrointestinal track.
Soaking the seeds and nuts also enhances our absorption of minerals, which are locked in the seed, waiting for germination. Rinse the soaked nuts in the morning after an overnight soak, and add to any dish or a smoothie or simply pack away for a pre-workout snack. In the fridge, soaked nuts stay good for two days – longer storage requires thorough drying either with a dehydrator, or an oven (please dry in under 50 degrees Celsius).
Better still – you can sprout the seeds and nuts. Sprouting imitates the natural germination of the plant and releases the fats for your benefit with increased nutritional yield. Some seeds, like sunflower seeds, are generally sold as pre-sprouted in most health food shops and well-stocked supermarkets. But I promise, they are easy and so much cheaper to sprout yourself.
While buying your nuts and seeds whole instead of milled is advisable, nut and seed butters offer an on-the-go option for those with little time. Store them in the fridge and keep the mass covered by oil – this prevents oxygen spoiling the butter.
Allergy alert: Nut allergies are one of the most common food allergies. If you suspect you have a have nut allergy, get tested by your GP. Nut allergy attack can be fatal.
Coconut – not just for your bulletproof coffee
Why have just the oil if you can have so much more? Consider using coconut in its totality. Coconut flour (around 20% fat) works a treat in gluten free baking or in pancakes, or you could use toasted coconut flakes either in your breakfast cereal or as a snack, simply on their own. When choosing coconut oil, the old rules apply; the less processed, deodorised or refined the oil, the better the nutritional integrity.
Smoking points of selected cooking
fats (Celsius / Fahrenheit)
Butter 177C / 350F
Lard 182C / 370F
Coconut oil 177C / 320F
Unrefined olive oil 160C / 320F
Unrefined sunflower 107C / 225F
Refined sunflower 227C / 440F
Linseed oil 100C / 225F