Welcome back to More Than Healthy as we continue to share a Full Year of Resolutions. This week we are discussing the many health benefits of choosing healthy oils and fats. You probably know that vegetable oil isn’t good for you. But what you may not know is exactly why – and you might be surprised to learn what it does to your body. You also may not know what oils you should be eating and how to eat them.
There is a wealth of information available about this topic – in fact, as part of my coursework in functional nutrition, we spent over 40 hours of instruction, class discussion, and lectures on healthy vs. unhealthy fats and oils. But don’t worry – we’ve broken all that down for you in this week’s video. We’ve also packed this article full of clear and helpful information with links for additional reading. If you can learn to eliminate some of the bad while adding in some healthy oils and fats, the health benefits truly are immense!
Vegetable oil does not come from veggies
When I first met David over 20 years ago, he wasn’t the healthiest of eaters. In addition to his addiction to sugar and his love affair with bread, most of the oils in his diet were unhealthy. He actually thought vegetable oil was good for you…didn’t it come from vegetables?
That idea couldn’t be further from the truth. Not only are there no vegetables in vegetable oil, it’s a hydrogenated oil, which is really bad for you. Your body doesn’t even recognize it as a food!
The truth about hydrogenated oils
This is a term we hear quite a bit, but what does hydrogenated really mean? Hydrogenation is a proess where hydrogen molecules are added to edible oils. This alters the texture, stability, and shelf life of the oil. These oils stay liquid at room temperature and are used in many baked goods and fried foods. But hydrogenation also creates trans fats, which are very bad for your health. They’re so bad for you that many countries have banned or severely limited the use of hydrogenated oils in food products.
The health risks of hydrogenated oils have been well-established. Some of the conditions it is linked to include:
- Weight gain and impaired blood sugar control
- Increased inflammation, the kind that leads to heart disease, cancer, and diabetes
- Increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia
- Significantly greater risk of heart disease and stroke
In addition, the unsaturated fats found in vegetable oils tend to oxidize when they’re heated. This makes them even more dangerous to body tissues. It can trigger inflammation known for making blood vessel plaques unstable enough to cause a heart attack.
In other words…stay away from vegetable oils! There are plenty of healthy oils you can use to replace all of them. Even grass-fed butter is better for you than these hydrogenated oils.
Six key benefits of healthy oils
Let’s take a look at 6 benefits of adding healthy oils and good fats to your diet. We’ll also talk about how to add them and include some delicious, healthy recipes along the way.
Benefit #1: Good fats help you lose weight
One of the tragedies of the past 30 years is the push to low-fat foods at the expense of our health. Fat is not the enemy. We need fat! Every part of our body, especially our brain, needs good fat in order to operate. Good fat helps us feel satiated, helps regulate our blood sugar, and keeps us full much longer. The truth is, good, healthy fats actually help us lose weight.
Some of you may be thinking, “What?? I thought fat made us fat!” But in reality, it’s all about the quality of fat. Saturated fat, trans fat, and cholesterol are the bad guys. Foods that are filled with sugars or are highly processed typically have these kinds of fats. Good fats are monounsaturated fats, like those found in olive oil and avocados, and polyunsaturated fats, found in foods like fish, walnuts, and flax seeds. Healthy oils contain both of these good fats that our bodies need to function well.
Omega-3 fats are another essential type of polyunsaturated fat that we need. Our bodies can’t make these, so we have to eat foods that have Omega-3s. Canola, flaxseed, and soybean oils are good sources of these important Omega-3 fats.
Diet protocols and healthy fats
How many of you have watched friends visibly shrink as they’ve tried the keto diet? Or perhaps you yourself have used this diet to lose weight. This diet protocol requires you to increase the good fats in your diet and reduce or completely eliminate sugars and bad carbs, especially processed foods. Almost everyone I know who has done this has lost weight, and most of them have been able to keep it off. Mediterranean-style diets also emphasize healthy fats and oils and are known for weight loss and other health benefits.
When my husband, David, got off all processed foods, sugar, dairy, and bad fats, while we incorporated healthy fats into his daily diet, the weight just started coming off. He wasn’t even trying to lose weight! But now he weighs what he did in high school. With this dietary change, his body simply “right-sized,” and he’s never felt (or looked!) better!
Benefit #2: Healthy oils and fats promote a healthy gut
Fats have great impact on the health of your gut. They create balance or imbalance in the gut flora, which not only impacts our weight, it impacts all aspects of our health. Healthy fats work with your gut bacteria to protect the gut barrier. This barrier is vital to your health. Its job is to regulate your immune response and flush out all the toxins and chemicals. Healthy fats support and help grow good gut flora.
The Gut Microbiome: A bite-sized lesson
What’s going on in your gut is pretty darn fascinating. An entire ecosystem exists within your gastrointestinal system. To put the role of your gut microbiome into perspective, there are between 300-500 species and trillions of bacteria in your gut. These bacteria contain at least 100 times as many genes as you do. Their DNA outnumbers yours by 100 times over!
To sum it up, the more diverse your gut microbiome is, the better your health. A diet that is high in saturated (bad) fats creates an imbalance in your gut bacteria, which drives inflammation and obesity. Studies show that overweight/obese people and people with metabolic disorders like diabetes have a greater proportion of unhealthy gut bacteria. Studies also show that healthy fats, like Omega-3s, increase microbial diversity. Healthy fats make a big difference in gut health.
Help heal your gut with healthy fats
We’ve shared a lot about my husband’s journey with leaky gut. David had struggled with health issues for decades that were all related to the same underlying issue: a very unhealthy gut microbiome. Once he completely removed sugar, gluten, dairy, and all bad fats from his diet, his gut was able to begin to heal. That was when he was finally able to make significant progress in his health journey. Part of that healing included adding Omega-3 fish oil (we will discuss this more in-depth in a future post) and other healthy oils to his diet every day.
The results have been no less than miraculous to us. As a direct result of healing his gut, David was able to get off all 10 medications, including those he’d been taking for pain for years. He’s been living virtually pain-free now for two years. It’s changed his life – and mine. We’ve shared all about this journey in our book, hoping to help others find their way to optimal health, too.
Benefit #3: Good fats help boost energy levels
Good fats keep you on your toes throughout the day without having to feel hungry. If you eat a diet high in sugar, carbohydrates, and bad fats, you will experience a rise in insulin levels. This makes you feel tired and lethargic. Good fats, however, have the opposite effect.
Fat as an energy source
All fats are considered to be a concentrated source of energy, providing nine calories per gram. That’s more than double the calories found in carbs or protein. Your body burns carbohydrates first, but it turns to stored fat when the carbs run out.
Here’s where the right kind of fat really comes into play. Although they contain the same amount of energy as healthy fats, saturated fats wreak havoc on your cardiovascular system. Once these fats are broken down in your intestines, the bloodstream carries it away for storage. Some of it builds up in the arteries and veins, making them stiff. As they become narrower, it creates a clog. Then your heart has to work extra hard to pump blood, increasing your risk of heart attack, stroke, and heart disease.
Since all fats have the same amount of energy per gram, if you opt for healthier fats, like monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats as discussed above, you’ll have more energy while protecting your heart, brain, and overall health.
An energy experiment
Just like stoking a fire helps the flames burn stronger and brighter, burning good fats efficiently gives our bodies a boost in energy. Try an experiment for a few weeks: Reduce your sugar, bad carbs, and fats, and increase your good fats. Then see if you have that afternoon slump. I can almost guarantee that you will see an amazing spike in your energy levels throughout the day.
It’s been fun to watch David’s remarkable increase in energy levels over the past few years since he started on this health journey. Here he is, five years older, but with significantly more energy and vitality than he had five years ago.
Benefit #4: Good fats are good for brain health
Did you know that your brain is composed of nearly 60% fat? Healthy fats and oils are crucial for the brain’s integrity and ability to perform. These fats build cell membranes and support new brain cell formation. Studies reveal a connection between an imbalance in healthy fats from diet and impaired brain performance as well as cognitive diseases. In addition, deficiency of healthy fats can lead to stress, anxiety, and other mood disorders.
One of the best benefits of David’s health journey has been the vast improvement to his brain fog. I was so concerned about David’s memory a few years ago. Our kids were asking me if dad had early stage Alzheimer’s of dementia. Honestly, I was starting to wonder, too. But when he completely changed his diet and started eating good oils and taking his Omega-3s, his memory really improved. So much so that I think he now has a better memory than I do!
Alzheimer’s disease is the most common neurodegenerative condition in the world. One of the key features of Alzheimer’s is a buildup of beta-amyloid plaques inside the brain cells. Studies have promisingly shown that healthy fats can help remove these plaques. In my opinion, that fact alone is reason enough to increase healthy fats in our diets!
Benefit #5: Good fats are good for heart and bone health
The whole world over, heart disease is the most common cause of death. But one area of the world consistently has less heart disease among its population: the Mediterranean. Because of this, there has been extensive research on the Mediterranean diet, which is full of fresh fish and produce and healthy oils and fats. This research shows a clear link between these healthy fats and heart health.
These healthy fats protect against heart disease in a variety of ways. They lower inflammation, a leading cause of cardiovascular disease. Healthy fats protect “bad” LDL cholesterol from oxidation, which can lead to inflammation of the arteries and atherosclerosis, which is linked to very serious health concerns. They also help prevent excessive blood clotting.
Healthy fats and oils have also been shown to lower blood pressure, one of the strongest risk factors for heart disease and premature death. In fact, one study showed that olive oil reduced the need for blood pressure medication by 48%. Harvard studies say that cutting out unhealthy fats while adding at least a half tablespoon of olive oil daily led to 14% lower risk for cardiovascular disease and an 18% lower risk for coronary heart disease.
And bone health, too
Fats also play a primary function in bone metabolism and maintaining bone health. One reason for this is because fat is a crucial element for your body’s absorption of fat-soluble vitamins. So adding good fats to your diet will help boost the absorption of vitamins. This helps strengthen your bones, which in turn boosts your immune system and protects your heart health.
Benefit #6: Good fats are good for your skin
You might find this surprising, but another benefit of healthy oils and fats is that they can boost your skin health. Another name for healthy fats is essential fatty acids, or EFAs. And they really are essential – our bodies need them, both inside and out! And we can’t make EFAs on our own; we only get them from the foods we eat.
These EFAs are skincare powerhouses! They are the building blocks of healthy cell membranes. Polyunsaturated fats help produce the skin’s natural oil barrier, which is critical to keeping the skin hydrated, plumper, and younger looking.
In addition to looking better, studies show that healthy oils and fats may reduce skin’s sun sensitivity, helping avoid severe sunburn and preventing skin cancer. They can also diminish inflammation associated with acne.
David’s skincare testimonial:
“My skin is naturally really dry and sensitive. Over the past several years I’ve watched it continually improve. In fact, sometimes I feel like I look younger than I did 5 years ago, and people often think I’m younger than I am. When I play pickleball in the 65-69 age group division, I often get the comment, “You don’t look like you’re 65.” I’ll take it! I chalk it up to drinking more water, eliminating the bad foods, and increasing the good fats.”
So – Bring on the healthy oils!
Pretty compelling stuff, right? Now that we’re all converted to the myriad benefits of healthy fats and oils, let’s talk about which ones to use and when. I’ll break this down by the oils we like to use, and you can use this as a guide as you incorporate healthy oils and fats into your daily meal planning and cooking.
Olive oil: The health benefits of olive oil could practically fill your whole bookshelf! We love olive oil and use it a lot. We especially like to drizzle it over foods after they’re cooked for flavor. It is also a great base in salad dressings – this Avocado Pomegranate Dressing is absolutely delicious! We don’t cook with this oil at high heat, because it has a lower smoke point (the point at which an oil literally begins to smoke) than other oils. When it gets heated, the beneficial compounds in oil start to degrade, and potentially health-harming compounds form.
Avocado and coconut oils: Both of these oils are very stable at high heat, so they are great for cooking and baking. Need a delicious and healthy dinner? Try this recipe for Roasted Chicken with avocado oil. Looking for a healthy version of an energy bar? This recipe for my Cashew Apricot Energy Bars with coconut oil is a hit.
Grass-fed butter and ghee (clarified butter): This is a good example of using fats in moderation. And when you can choose between hydrogenated oils or margarine and grass-fed butter, always go for the butter! This is a good option for cooking and baking. Try this fabulous recipe for gluten-free pie crust that uses butter. It’s a delicious base for my yummy (and sugar-free) Triple Berry Pie.
Sesame oil (unrefined): This oil is very stable because it contains a high amount of natural antioxidants. I use this as a garnish or when I’m cooking at low heat as it can burn. For a healthy meal option filled with veggies and some of this healthy oil, check out my recipe for Fried Cauliflower Rice. Or for a double dose of healthy oils, try my Seared Ahi Tuna. You’ll get the healthy fats from the tuna as well as the sesame oil in this delicious dinner.
Additional healthy oils include:
- Almond Oil
- Apricot Kernel Oil
- Flax Seed Oil
- Hazelnut Oil
- Hemp Seed Oil
- Pumpkin Seed Oil
- Sunflower Seed Oil
- Walnut Oil
(Note: All of these can be controversial, so I use them on a limited basis and never cook with them.)
Other sources of healthy oils and fats
Another fat we eat on a regular basis is avocados. They are an excellent source of good fat and help you feel full all day. They are also great for heart health. One avocado supplies 975 milligrams of potassium, or about ⅓ of what you need in a day. Getting 4.7 grams of potassium per day decreases blood pressure by about 8.0/4.1 mmHg, which is associated with a 15% lower risk of stroke.
David’s absolute favorite is my recipe for Guacamole. It’s the result of years of trial and error. We use it in a lot of different recipes, and sometimes we enjoy it with our favorite grain-free cassava tortilla chips.
Other healthy fats many people can have that are really good for you include pasture-raised eggs, nuts, and seeds. There are so many great benefits from the fat in these foods.
Just a reminder that I have gathered and posted a repository of healthy and delicious recipes with lots of ways to get good oils and fats into your diet. They’re posted on our website, and you can access them any time on your journey to optimal health.
Feel better with healthier fats
Even if you don’t know much about oils and how to use them yet, I can guarantee you’ll feel better if you replace unhealthy, ultra-processed oils with healthier options. You’ll feel the difference! You might know that David battled recurring cancer over five years ago. There is significant research that shows a connection between bad fats and increased risk of several kinds of cancer. That’s enough to encourage us to take them out of our diet. We’re doing all we can to reduce the risk of his bladder cancer coming back. Adding healthy oils and fats and eliminating the bad ones seems a small price to pay.
Let us know if you have any questions about healthy oils and fats and how you can add more of them to your diet. You can post a question below or on any of our social media pages.
For those of you interested in our free More Than Healthy coaching calls, we do them once a month on a Tuesday night at 6 PM MST. Anyone can join us. To join us, just text COACHING to 1-647-558-9895 to join our email list or watch our social media pages and we will have the link there.
Have a healthy and happy week!