Fats are such a hot button topic right now. I had one You Tube subscriber UNSUBSCRIBE (ouch!) recently because I created a serious of videos about how to cook oil-free. Her problem was that in her mind I was denouncing olive oil as being healthy, and that (in her opinion) is nonsense. I get where she’s coming from. After all, isn’t the Mediterranean diet the healthiest diet of the lot? Well, kind of… but a true, traditional Mediterranean diet does not involve cooking with copious amount of olive oil. The health of the diet really comes from eating a diet full of whole and unrefined plant-based foods. Olives were eaten more than olive oil. And guess what…olive oil is the refined version of an olive because the fiber has been removed.
How to tell if a food is processed/refined: THE FIBER HAS BEEN REMOVED!
Here’s what my friend, cardiologist Dr. Joel Furhman says about olive oil: Olive oil is not a whole food—it is a fattening, low-nutrient, processed food, consisting of 100% fat. One tablespoon of olive oil has 120 calories, as do all oils. One-quarter cup has 500 calories. Healthy salads are definitely a way of life for people who want to lose weight or improve health, but many of the benefits of a salad are lost when the calorie count is increased ten-fold with oil.
Now, we’re not just talking about olive oil here, we’re talking about all refined plant oils, including coconut oil. I go on until I’m blue in the face about coconut oil because it’s become one of those irritating nutritional myths (that it’s good for you) – it’s SO a saturated fat, which will raise cholesterol.
But this leaves us with the question: Are plant oils (coconut oil included) better than animal fats/dairy? With my evidence-based scientific hat firmly planted on my head, I would have to concude that most plant oils (obviously not trans-fats) are better because they don’t cause an inflammation spike after ingestion, whereas animal products generally do.
“Fat-free” is the worst!
Some of the most unhealthy foods at the grocery store are low-fat or fat-free. They take the fat out and add sugars and other additives to make the food taste okay. Thus a “fat-free” or “low-fat” food will usually be highly processed. I recommend avoiding these foods on account of your health and your taste buds!
So What Does a Normal Person Do?
My Mum in the U.K. often refers to “normal” people, which is her way of pointing to my tribe as being a load of crazy Californian health nuts! I get where she’s coming from because there’s an awful lot of nonsense in my neck of the woods, but I also see that many of her “normal” friends do not have the health profile that I would personally choose (sorry Mum!!!).
That being said, I’m all about moderation. If you are in relatively good health, you should be able to enjoy good quality plant oils (cold-pressed olive, flax or avocado) in moderation. I love dipping a piece of warm sourdough bread into a vat of fruity olive oil as much as the next girl, but I save this kind of thing for a treat. It’s also healthy to have a little olive or avocado oil on your salad or drizzled over veggies once in a while. But there are other great oil-free dressings and dips that I like to alternate with too.
If you need/want to shed a few pounds, are diabetic, or suffer from any kind of cardiovascular disease, you might want to cut out most oils from your diet all together. Cardiologist such as Dr. Furhman has seen great results with this protocol.
Sophie’s Healthy Fat Tips
- Think of fats that are in whole foods such as nuts, seeds, olives, and avocados. Choose these healthy fats over all others.
- Minimize frying and sauteing with oil. I love fried food, I really do – but frying any kind of oil will release free-radicals and cause glycation (aka inflammaging). You are better off sauteing with water or veggie broth. A little white wine won’t go amiss either!
- Spreads in moderation: While I love my vegan “buttery” spreads such as Earth Balance and Melt, and Miyoko’s cultured “butter”, they are highly processed foods, contain a variety of oils such as coconut oil, and should again be used in moderation (total bummer, right?) But these spreads are waaaay healthier than most margarines. I particularly like Melt Buttery Spread because of its taste and because it’s organic.
- Look for oil/fat subs for cooking and baking. I love applesauce, banana puree, pumpkin puree, tahini, nut butters, and cashew cream. Here’s a recipe for cashew cheesey dip. This is a versatile creamy sauce that can be used in place of cheese, sour cream, cream, and even as a creamy treat if you sub out savory seasonings with a few dates!
- Load up on seeds! They are so choc full of healthy brain and body fats that I insist you eat them. Whole seeds such as flax seeds are better than the oil or even the ground version because they will typically be fresher. I pulverize a couple of tbsp of flax seeds in my morning smoothie. I also load up a breakfast bowl with all kinds of seeds. They all have different health benefits, so include most of them. Keep in mind that Chia seeds should be soaked a few hours prior to eating.