While carbohydrates are the main source of fuel in your body, your system turns to fat as a backup energy source when carbohydrates are not available. Fat is a concentrated source of energy. One gram of fat has nine calories, more than twice the calories in the same amount of carbohydrates or protein.
Some types of vitamins require fat for absorption and storage. Vitamins A, D, E and K, the main fat-soluble vitamins, cannot function without adequate daily fat intake. These vitamins are essential daily needs. Vitamin A keeps your eyes healthy and promotes good vision, vitamin D assists in keeping your bones strong by boosting calcium absorption. Vitamin E protects cells by neutralizing free radicals, and vitamin K is important for blood clotting. If you don't meet your daily fat intake because you follow a low-fat diet, you may be lacking sufficient levels of these important vitamins.
Fats are structural components of some of the most important substances in the body, including prostaglandins, which are hormone-like substances that regulate many of the body's functions. Fats regulate the production of sex hormones and stress hormones. Fats are important for healthy skin. One of the more obvious signs of fatty acid deficiency is dry, flaky skin. In addition to giving skin its rounded appeal, the layer of fat just beneath the skin (subcutaneous fat) acts as the body's insulation to help maintain body temperature. Fat forms a protective cushion for your organs. Many of your vital organs, especially the kidneys, heart, and intestines, are cushioned by fat that helps protect them from injury and hold them in place. (True, some of us "overprotect" our bodies.) As a consequence of the body’s internal wisdom, this protective fat is the last to be used up when the body's energy reserves are being consumed.
With so many products to choose from, how do you know which fat sources are healthy? My rule of thumb when buying fats is to consider how much processing is employed to obtain the fat from its original source. The best fats generally are those which can be simply and easily extracted through pressing or separated by another natural process. Olive oil, coconut oil and butter fall into this category. At the other end of the spectrum are fats extracted by a chemical or other complex, unnatural process, processes so rigorous that the extracted fats are rancid or nearly so before you even open the container. These fats were absent from our foods prior to the early 1900’s when these methods were first devised. Now you will find these fats in the oils used in practically all processed food, from salad dressing to mayonnaise to conventionally grown nuts and seeds. These fats are in all vegetable oils (canola, soybean, corn, sunflower, safflower, etc.) as well as in the margarines made from them. They are some of the most chemically altered foods in our diets and some of the most harmful substances you can put into your body, and yet they are almost always promoted as healthy! Even when you shop at one of the “natural” big-box grocery stores, you will find the majority of their pre-packaged foods contains canola oil.
Frequently we hear people refer to fats that are or have become rancid. Rancid fats are fats that have spoiled. Spoilage can occur for a number of reasons. For instance, all fats have a smoke point which is just what it sounds like—a sufficiently high temperature at which the fat/oil will begin to smoke. Most of us have been taught to avoid this condition for safety reasons when cooking because a fat heated to its smoke point is fast approaching the temperature at which it will ignite! But there is also a health reason to avoid hot fats. Over-heating fats breaks them down chemically, destroys nutritional quality and instantly turns them rancid. That is why I seldom use fats in high-temperature cooking.
Why are rancid fats bad for you? Well, a rancid fat is actually a free radical. This means it needs an antioxidant to make it usable in the body. An important nutritional goal is to maintain an abundant supply of antioxidants in the body. Every free radical, however, reduces your antioxidant stores. For most of us, our antioxidants are already depleted because of our low quality diet and the harsh physical environment in which we live. Whenever you select oil for cooking or other food preparation, chose high quality oils and cook on low heat. Do not continue to use any oil that has started to smoke. Discard it and start over. Butter and ghee can withstand higher heat so they are actually better choices when it comes to cooking. Buy butter from grass-fed sources if possible, and use a variety of non-vegetable oils such as coconut, olive, and palm.
In summary, I would encourage you to avoid:
Margarine and other butter substitutes
Any imitation butter or vegetable oil products
Instead, use these:
Butter (grass-fed sources, and only if you do not have dairy sensitivities/intolerances)
Ghee (grass-fed sources)
Nut oils (no peanuts; it’s not a nut but a legume, and it’s full of mold)
Hemp seed oil
Coconut oil (I use this in moderation because I prefer local, seasonal products; coconut isn’t local for me)
Lard and bacon grease (contrary to what we have been led to believe, so long as the original animal source was good quality and grass-fed)
One of the easiest changes you can make in your kitchen is to add quality fats and eliminate unhealthy fats. Then to be sure those good fats make it from your refrigerator shelf into your body, use them often as in this quick and easy recipe for a fresh, zesty salad dressing:
Cilantro Lime Salad Dressing
- juice of 4 limes (about 2/3 cup)
- 1/4 cup cilantro, roughly chopped
- 1 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 2 tablespoons honey
- 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
Just combine all ingredients in a blender and blend for 20 to 30 seconds.
Finally, remember that all fats, including the good ones, are perishable and do go bad. Buy and store them in dark glass containers, not plastic ones. Refrigerate fats and all nuts and seeds to prolong their life. If your oil smells bad, toss it, and replace it with fresh.
For more information on fats, visit:
If you still think real butter is bad, take a look at: