Good Fat vs Bad Fat: How to Choose the Right Dietary Fats

Along with sugar and carbs, fats still seem to be one of the most controversial macronutrients out there, despite our dietary requirement for certain fats. Yep, we need fat in our diet to survive, thrive, and power our brains and cell membranes. But does that mean you should go keto today? And what kinds of fats do you actually need for health? 

Let’s clear up some of the misinformation around fats—which are good, which are bad, and why you need them for optimal health. 

Types of fat

bad vs good vs best oils chart

Fats come from both plant and animal sources. Animals typically have saturated fats, which are solid at room temperature, and plants typically have unsaturated fats, which are liquid at room temperature (and then we call them “oils”). But there are exceptions: coconut oil is a saturated fat, for example, and fish oil is liquid. 

Bad fats

As you’ll see shortly, not all of the popularly labelled “bad” fats are really all bad. But there are some types of fat you should definitely stay away from. Let’s dive into the misconceptions and facts around bad fats. 

Saturated fats

This one’s the most controversial of them all: saturated fats. As we mentioned earlier, saturated fats tend to come from animal sources (with the exception of coconut oil). This includes meat, particularly red meat, eggs, butter, and dairy.

Decades ago now, the connection between saturated fat and heart disease was made and cemented in our collective health knowledge. However, the truth is a lot more nuanced than “saturated fat is bad for you.” Here are a few reasons this “bad” fat is actually supportive to your health.

  • Saturated fat is considered to be the most stable fat. This makes it good for cooking at high heat since it won’t oxidize or become toxic when heated. 
  • Saturated fat from properly raised animal sources supports health. Saturated fats from these sources are high in fat-soluble vitamins and can lower inflammation. But, toxins are easily stored in fat, so where you source your steak and eggs matters. Organic and pasture-raised is best. [1]
  • Saturated fat is abundant in the brain. Here’s a kicker you won’t hear in the mainstream narrative: your brain cells are made of saturated fat (along with cholesterol!) We need saturated fat for healthy brain cells and brain function, as well as the rest of our cell membranes, for that matter. [2, 3]

That said, there are still a lot of conflicting studies around saturated fats and health risks or benefits. The more important thing to know here is that an omnivorous diet that includes both animal and plant foods is a healthy diet for most people, and you can invest in your health by investing in high-quality foods. 

Trans fat

Trans fat, an unsaturated fatty acid, is the real bad guy in the fat world. You’ll find toxic levels of trans fat mostly in processed foods such as baked goods, fried foods, and margarine. 

These foods contain industrially processed vegetable and seed oils also called partially hydrogenated fats/oils. These trans fats are a disaster for your health, increasing risk of heart disease, inflammation, insulin resistance, and more. [4] As much controversy still exists around the effects of saturated fats and polyunsaturated fats, the consensus is pretty much established on processed, chemically-altered trans fats––stay far away from them if you want to maintain your health. 

Keep in mind that you will find very small amounts of trans fat in whole animal foods. However, these small amounts are not harmful, especially because they are not processed or chemically-altered. 

What are rancid fats?

Fats, especially unsaturated fats, can become rancid when exposed to oxygen, heat, light, and certain enzymes like lipases and peroxidases. Polyunsaturated fats are especially sensitive to oxidation, which is why you should never cook with oils like sesame oil, sunflower oil, safflower oil, etc. 

You start to see the issue here when it seems like every processed, packaged food is made with one of these oils, on top of being chemically-treated and genetically modified! Seriously, check your ingredients, even on packaged foods you think are “healthy”—these inflammatory oils are everywhere. 

Rancid oils form free radicals and harmful chemicals that will not immediately make you ill, but can cause great harm to your cells over time. Free radicals formed by rancid oils are known to cause cellular damage and have been associated with diabetes, Alzheimer's disease and other chronic health conditions. Rancid oils can also cause digestive distress and deplete the body of a myriad of vitamins. [5]

Good fats

Now let’s take a look at the so-called “good” fats. And again, all fats and oils aren’t created equal, and context is everything when we compare them.

Monounsaturated fat

Monounsaturated fats (MUFAs) are sort of the middle ground between saturated fat and polyunsaturated fat. The main healthy fats that come to mind in this category are olive oil, avocado, and avocado oil. Almonds and cashews are also sources of MUFAs. 

MUFAs aren’t quite as unstable as polyunsaturated fats, but not as stable as saturated fats, so if you’re going to use them for cooking it’s best to do so at a low heat. Otherwise, they are great for cold use. Monounsaturated fats contain the often forgotten about omega-9 fatty acids such as oleic acid found in olive oil. Omega-9’s are not considered “essential” but they are part of a healthy fat intake.

Canola oil is also considered a monounsaturated fatty acid, but canola oil is one of those industrially processed seed oils––avoid at all costs! Furthermore, canola oil is a very long-chain fatty acid that cannot fit into mitochondria to be burned, requiring immediate endogenous manufacture of peroxisomes to dice it into a manageable size. This process can result in further mitochondrial dysfunction and major health concerns.

Polyunsaturated fat

Polyunsaturated fats (PUFAs) are the most unstable type of fatty acid, meaning they are very sensitive to light, heat, and oxidation. These oils should only be used cold.

PUFAs consist of seed and nut oils like sunflower oil, safflower oil, sesame oil, flax oil, etc. They can only be supplied by our diet. PUFAs are where we get the essential fatty acids (EFAs) omega-3 and omega-6, which have anti-inflammatory and protective effects on our health when sourced appropriately. 

You can read more about the benefits of omega-6’s and omega-3’s in one of our previous blogs here. 

To get the full nutritional benefits of PUFA oils, you need to be meticulous about where you source them. Toxic PUFAs like peanut oil, peanut butter, and even some other nut and seed butters can have mycotoxins or easily become rancid by the time they get to your pantry shelf. It’s best to consume these oils within their whole-food sources, such as nuts and seeds, raw. That said, many people find that these can be difficult to digest. 

If you’re looking to use a high quality PUFA source as a nutritional support, consider BodyBio Balance Oil, made with organic unrefined safflower and organic flax oil for the optimal ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 essential fatty acids. 

How to cook with fats

Certainly, you can avoid the whole conundrum of cooking with fats by simply using water or broth. But let’s face it––food usually tastes a whole lot better with a little fat. And as we’ve stated, it's good for you too, as long as you’re using the right high-quality fats when cooking or finishing dishes. Let’s take a closer look at the fats and oils to use when cooking. 

Fats to cook with high heat

If you’re cooking with high heat (typically above 375℉), such as searing meat, stir frying veggies, or roasting in the oven, go with a saturated fat that can handle that heat and won’t oxidize. You can use:

  • Butter
  • Ghee
  • Coconut oil
  • Lard

Remember, these are the fats that are solid at room temperature (and not processed, like margarine). 

Fats to cook with medium to low heat

Otherwise, if you’re using low heat, such as a quick sauté or in baking, you can also use the monounsaturated fats, the MUFAs. You can use: 

  • Avocado oil (375℉ to 400℉ range)
  • Olive oil (325℉ to 375℉ degree range).

As always with fats and oils, the higher quality you can get the better. If you’re only going to buy one thing organic, make it your oils! 

Fats you shouldn’t cook with at all

We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again: never cook with polyunsaturated fats/PUFAs! They are easily damaged by heat, so only use them cold. High-quality PUFAs are great in salad dressings, bowls, smoothies, and in general for finishing dishes. You can use: 

  • Flax oil
  • Hemp oil
  • Safflower oil
  • Sunflower oil

How to supplement fats

Many people could benefit from increasing healthy fats in their diet (including saturated fat and cholesterol!), for cell membrane, brain, and cardiovascular health. Once you have enough fat (and essential fatty acids) in your diet, suddenly you find that you feel much more satisfied with your meals, your mental energy goes up, and hormones become more balanced and predictable. 

But beyond increasing the percentage of healthy fat in your diet, why should you take fats supplementally, purely for nutritional purposes? 

Why should you supplement good fats?

People with chronic conditions can benefit from supplementing fats, especially in the optimal ratio of omega-6’s to omega-3’s. We call this lipid replacement therapy. Your cell membranes are made of lipids (saturated fats, cholesterol, phospholipids), so lipid replacement can be a huge support in cellular structure and function. [6]

Types of fat supplements

There are many different types of fat supplements, and each have different uses and benefits. Let’s start with the most popular, and most controversial—fish oil. 

Fish Oil

Once the darling of the supplement world, the efficacy of fish oil has more recently been thrown into question. Fish oil, despite technically being an animal fat, is a PUFA. If you think about it, this makes a lot of sense, since the fatty fish where producers source fish oil from tend to be cold-water fish like salmon. PUFAs remain stable at cold temperatures, so the fish oil doesn’t harm the fish in its natural state. 

In the processing of fish oil supplements, however, heat use and oxidation is common, rendering the supplement more detrimental than useful. In addition, there is some question as to whether fish oil, even in its natural, unoxidized state, is really that beneficial for heart health. This is due to the high omega-3 content of fish oil, which can throw off the optimal omega-3/omega-6 balance your body needs. [7]

Still, a high-quality, super-concentrated, solvent-free fish oil like BodyBio Kirunal may benefit those who are highly omega-3 deficient. Consult with your provider to determine if fish oil is the right option for you. 

Evening Primrose Oil

Evening primrose oil is rich in gamma linoleic acid or GLA, one of the essential omega-6 fatty acids. We need it for heart, brain, and overall metabolic health. Interestingly, we get tons of GLA through breast milk in the critical first stages of life, and then our main sources are from organ meats, which needless to say most people aren’t eating much of these days. (But they should!) 

Evening primrose oil has been shown to be helpful for heart health, PMS symptoms, skin health, and more. [8, 9, 10] Anyone with a chronic inflammatory illness could benefit from evening primrose oil, especially those with skin-related conditions. However, it’s important to use evening primrose oil as one part of a balanced lipid replacement therapy plan. 

Flaxseed Oil

Flaxseed oil is a source of plant-based omega-3 essential fatty acids. We use organic flaxseed oil as part of our BodyBio Balance Oil, to achieve the optimal balance of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids for your cell membrane health. 

Again, if you are using flaxseed oil to specifically increase your omega-3 levels, it’s important to consume flaxseed oil only in an organic, low-heat expeller-pressed form, otherwise the oil will be rendered toxic and inflammatory. But processed correctly, flaxseed oil can help improve heart health, skin health, digestive health, and more. [11, 12, 13]

Olive Oil

Ah, our friend olive oil, perhaps the most controversial oil out there. We’ve mentioned earlier that olive oil is okay to cook with at medium-low heat, but what else should you know? 

Olive oil is a source of omega-9 fatty acids, which supports heart health. It is also a source of antioxidant polyphenols. But the most important thing with olive oil is to make sure you’re getting an organic, pure, high-quality source. Many olive oils on our supermarket shelves are actually cut with inflammatory seed oils to make them cheaper to produce and easier to sell to unsuspecting Americans. Do your research to find a high quality olive oil and get the good stuff. Trust us, once you taste real olive oil, you’ll never go back. 

MCT Oil

There is still a lot of hype around MCT oil, but it’s not magic. While MCT is a great source of calories and quick-burning energy, it does not contain the essential fatty acids that our cell membranes need. Many MCT oils are also sourced from palm kernel oil, which can raise palmitic acid, fuel for macrophages that can drive inflammation. So, occasional use is probably fine, but drinking MCT oil in your coffee every single day may not be. 

Read more about the science behind MCT oil here. 

Other supplements that support fat digestion and absorption

The fats and oils we’ve been discussing have many health benefits, and fats are an essential piece of our dietary needs. However, many people have difficulty digesting fats and oils, whether that’s due to gallbladder problems, low stomach acid, low digestive enzymes, pathogen presence in the digestive system, or a myriad of other reasons. 

That’s why supplements that support fat digestion and absorption can be beneficial for many people. Let’s take a look at some of the options in this category. 

HCl/ Ox Bile/ Digestive Enzymes

Betaine hydrochloride (HCl), ox bile, and digestive enzymes are the holy trinity of digestive supplements. They cover all your bases of digestive components your body naturally produces when you sit down to eat a meal. 

HCl or stomach acid is the first line of digestion when food enters the stomach. It’s also critical for killing off any bacteria or pathogens that make their way into your body on your food. Bile is made by the liver and released by the gallbladder to digest fats. Digestive enzymes are released by the salivary glands, stomach, pancreas, and small intestine for digesting protein, carbs, and fats along various points in the digestive process. 

Those who have difficulty digesting fats could benefit from any of these digestive supplements, but especially bile, since it acts as an emulsifier to break down fats and oils into fatty acids.

TUDCA

TUDCA (tauroursodeoxycholic acid––say that five times fast) is a specific bile acid that not only supports fat digestion, but has also shown benefits for neurological function and liver health. TUDCA also serves as a “chemical chaperone,” helping to guide nutrients in and out of cells as needed for healthy cellular function. It’s great for microbiome support too! 

BodyBio TUDCA is made without fillers or additives and we take great care to ensure a product free from mold, gluten, and other harmful substances. 

Learn more about TUDCA from one of our previous blogs here. 

Choosing good fats to support your health

There is still a lot of research to be done about the benefits of different fats and oils, but we know that we can’t live a healthy (and delicious!) life without them. There is absolutely no reason to fear fat, and when we include healthy fats in our diet, our brain and cell membranes share the benefits. 

For fats and oils, quality really matters. Choose your fats and oils carefully, and make sure to pay attention to which ones you use when cooking and which you use cold. Remember, saturated fats are the best to cook with, while unsaturated fats should be used at low heat (monounsaturated) or cold use only (polyunsaturated). 

We hope this blog has cleared up some of your questions around “good” and “bad” fats. What are your favorite fats and oils to incorporate in your diet?

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