Mr. Crumbs is my second set of eyes. Every morning he reads my posts tells me where I forgot an apostrophe or wrote “the” twice. I’m so thankful for him because after thinking thoughts, typing thoughts, reading those thoughts and then re-reading those thoughts, my eyes are usually crossed!
At the end of yesterday’s note he says to me, “I was left wanting to know more “why” and some examples so it made sense.” This is excellent, because creating a solid foundation and truly understanding the reasons behind it all will better equip us to make decisions regarding our food and health.
Our bodies require fat to function properly, but not all fat is not created equal. Picking apart the good from the bad can be confusing, so here are some examples to help us make sense of it all.
Saturated fats are very similar to bricks.
- Bricks are solid and strong.
- Bricks are usually uniform is size.
- Because of this size, bricks stack nicely together and maximize the space they’re in, leaving little opportunity (or need) for the use of mortar.
It’s also because of this size that saturated fats tend to be solid at room temperature. Ever wonder why butter stays a solid even when it’s been left out on the counter for DAYS? It’s because butter is primarily saturated fat. The amazing shape of a saturated fat molecule leaves very little, if any, room for free-radicals to intervene.
Remember the mention of ugly, damage-causing free-radicals? Looking up at that brick wall, free-radicals are like the mortar surrounding the bricks.
Free radicals are evil little creatures but they can’t do a whole lot on their own. This is why they’re always searching for another molecule to attach to and harm. However, they’re barking up the wrong brick wall with saturated fats.
Simply put, saturated fats don’t have any weak spots for free-radicals to cling to. Their stability makes them safe for us to consume. The strength of their shape remains even at high temperatures, making saturated fats excellent for cooking. Saturated fats are the good fats!
Something else to chew on… notice the source of these fats. These come from animals or tropical plants, and are minimally processed (if processed at all). We all know that minimally processed food is a good thing, right?
Coconut oil (92% saturated), butter (63% saturated), suet (beef fat, 55% saturated) and palm oil (50% saturated) are excellent sources of good, saturated fat.
Monounsaturated fats are similar to stones.
- Some stones are strong, some are weak.
- Stones come in imperfect shapes.
- Stones can maximize space, but not efficiently.
Remember that monounsaturated fats have a bend in their structure. This single bend prevents the molecules from binding in tight together, causing monounsaturated fats are usually liquid at room temperature.
Monounsaturated fats are similar to saturated fats in that they don’t go rancid easily and for the most part, are safe for cooking. Our bodies even make some monounsaturated fats from the saturated fats we consume.
But let’s think about the shape for a moment. Monounsaturated fats (stones) are not as compact and solid as saturated fats (bricks) and don’t fit nicely together like saturated fats. There’s more mortar in the photo above than the brick photo, right? That’s because of the bend in the molecules. This bend isn’t detrimental, but it does allow opportunity for free-radicals (floating around in the mortar) to wreak havoc. This is where we must be cautious in how we use monounsaturated oils for cooking.
Since extreme heat is most often to blame for damaging oils (and allowing free-radicals to intervene), monounsaturated fats should not be used at high temperatures (like deep frying). The monounsaturated fats listed below come from natural sources like the saturated fats above, so consumption is fine as long as we’re mindful of the temperatures.
Olive oil (75% monounsaturated), almond oil (62% monounsaturated), macadamia oil (60% monounsaturated), cashew oil (58% monounsaturated) and peanut oil (45% monounsaturated) are good sources of monounsaturated fat.
Polyunsaturated fats are similar to pebbles.
- Pebbles are weak.
- Pebbles come in a large variety of irregular shapes.
- Because of their nature, pebbles cannot maximize spaces.
Remember the double bond of polyunsaturated fats? These two kinks prevent the molecules from ever fitting efficiently together. Polyunsaturated oils are always liquid, even in cold storage (like the refrigerator).
Take a look at the amount of mortar it takes to hold those pebbles together – it’s enormous! With all the free-radicals floating around, those two double bends in polyunsaturated fats don’t stand a chance!
The two bends in polyunsaturated fats allows them to go rancid easily and should not be used for cooking. In fact, they should never be heated at all – not even at low temperatures! The molecular structure of polyunsaturated fats is so fragile that even cooking with them at low temperatures could potentially damage the bonds.
There are two polyunsaturated fats that our body cannot make and yet are essential for optimal health – double unsaturated linoleic acid (a.k.a. omega-6) and triple unsaturated linolenic acid (a.k.a. omega-3). It’s best to obtain these two essential fatty acids from natural food sources (which is an entire topic in and of itself, for another day).
However I will note that most yellow vegetable oils (i.e. canola oil, soybean oil, sunflower oil, corn oil, safflower oil, etc.) are not good sources for omega-3 and omega-6, regardless of what the packaging says. These types of oils are highly processed, highly volatile and their welcome home” sign for free-radicals is a concern. They offer no nutritional value and consuming these oils often disrupts the balance of nutrients inside our bodies.
For now, aim to obtain your omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids from walnuts, sunflower seeds, legumes, grains, green vegetables and fish.
Also don’t forget that all fats contains all three types of fat, so even though butter is primarily saturated fat, it still contains a small portion of polyunsaturated fat too (4%). Consider that your quota. 😉
Do Something: Over the next few days, take an inventory of the various fats and oils you have in your kitchen. Look at each one and determine what type of fat it primarily is: saturated, monounsaturated, or polyunsaturated. If you find a fat that is primarily polyunsaturated (natural sources aside), give serious consideration to throwing it away. Aim to cook with the saturated fats and leave the monounsaturated fats for dressing and seasoning post-cooking.
As of right now, these are general guidelines. There are exceptions to the rule when it comes to the smoke point of fats, but isn’t there always an exception to the rule? 😉 That too, is worthy of its own post.
Here’s a list of common fats and oils and where they fall on the fat scale. Remember that saturated fat is good, and we should be aiming to use and consume that type of fat over any other. Polyunsaturated fats, when not in a natural state, are the bad fats and should be avoided.
Sunflower oil: 69%
Grapeseed oil: 69%
Soybean oil: 58%
Corn oil: 55%
Hydrogenated vegetable shortening: 52%
Want more information? This post is part of an entire series on fats. You can find more information, delicious recipes and helpful tutorials for healthy fat here.