Tuesday, January 28, 2014

wholefood step-by-step: #4 fats & oils

Sorry I am a day late with this post, I got lost in the long weekend!

I planned to write today about coconut oil to keep things simple but I have decided to break my own rule and cover the whole topic of cooking fats and oils. Because if I just focus on coconut oil, I feel like I am not telling you the full story - ie. the fats and oils to avoid and the other fats and oils to include alongside coconut oil. 

I promise to still keep things straight forward and give you at least one small change you can easily make this week on your wholefood path.

Why we must eat fat

Let's start with the fact that good quality fats and oils are essential for a healthy brain (especially in developing children), healthy nervous system and hormone production. Pretty good reasons to include good fats in your diet. Added to this, eating a little bit of good quality fat (avocado, olive oil, butter, coconut oil, to name a few) satiates us, or in simple terms - it is satisfying and doesn't leave us looking for more food. 

Which are the best fats and oils?

This is a very detailed topic but basically the way I think about this is to think about fats and oils that have been minimally processed, it is the processing where the problems begin because heat and chemicals are used in the processing, changing the chemical composition of the food making it harder for our bodies to recognise, digest and put to use. Our bodies were not designed to function at their best on heavily processed foods. 

Unfortunately all fats - processed and unprocessed - get lumped in together and promoted as the enemy mainly as the causes for obesity, high cholesterol and heart disease. As explained above, fat is important and necessary for our health, I don't believe cutting it out completely is the way to go instead go for quality over quantity, traditional over modern man made.

In my kitchen I use organic butter or coconut oil to cook with and for salad dressings I use organic extra virgin olive oil, this keeps things nice and simple. When the budget allows there might be a bottle of nut oil such as macadamia or walnut in the pantry that I use on salad.

I remember as a child watching my great grandmother Emily slice butter and place it on bread like it were slices of cheese. My great grandmother lived until she was 86, I am grateful she taught me to make pastry from scratch using butter and that she fostered in me a love for cooking and real food. I digress. A worthy digression :)

A year or so ago I was in the habit of making ghee which is very nutritious and delicious and can be used for cooking or spreading as you would butter. Ghee is basically clarified butter, that is butter that has had the milk solids and water removed. It is expensive to buy organic ghee but if you are feeling like making your own, give it a go using these directions. 

The reason I don't use margarine or vegetable or seed oils like canola or sunflower, is because they are heat treated and/or chemically processed. These plant seed oils became popular when the saturated fats that our grandparents grew up on (butter, lard, meat fat) were demonised for causing heart disease and raising cholesterol. Given that fats are essential to brain health, hormone function and a healthy happy nervous system I prefer not to feed my cells damaged versions.

And while we are on damaged fats, trans fats are the big ones to eliminate. Trans fats are found in commercially produced baked goods - biscuits (sweet and savoury), cakes, donuts, pies, pastries - look out on labels for 'hydrogenated vegetable oil' or 'partially hydrogenated vegetable oil'. These fats are in no way supporting your health or your family's. It is really best to bake at home yourself using butter or coconut oil, or if you do buy baked goods in a cafe or bakery find one that uses real food ingredients - butter, not margarine or plant seed oil.

How much fat should I eat each day?

I'm not into calorie counting and weighing out food portions but I do believe in mindful eating. As I mentioned in the step-by-step post about salt, just because you are choosing a quality salt or in this case fat it doesn't mean you can eat it in unlimited quantities. From the range of pages I've looked at, 2-3 tablespoons of fat per day seems the consensus, of course you have to take into consideration your activity level. For more detailed information about this go here.

I am going to leave this topic alone for now because the whole aim of this series is not to overwhelm you!

This week to get some real food fats and oils into your kitchen you can do one or all of these:

- give coconut oil a go
- look for cold-pressed, extra virgin olive oil and coconut oil (this means they haven't been heat or chemically treated)
- say goodbye to margarine and plant oils and switch to butter
- try making ghee
- start reading labels and find out which foods you are eating that contain trans fats, then make a switch.

Are you still with me? Overwhelmed? I hope not! Tell us in the comments your preferred fats and oils.

Further reading

Georgia Harding is a naturopath who writes a fantastic blog called Well Nourished you can read her great post about fats and oils here

Sonia from Natural New Age Mum has written this fantastic post A Beginner's Guide to Coconut Oil

A great chart about fats and oils I found on Claire's Real Food Real Change facebook page

Natalie over at Digestible Kitchen is not scared of fat! Visit her beautiful site for information and inspiration.

And if you really want to read up seek out David Gillespie's books Big Fat Lies and Toxic Oil

* disclaimer: I am not a doctor, scientist or health practitioner, this information is based on research and personal experience please consult a health practitioner if you have a health concern.


  1. I simply love the flavour of coconut oil ... and olive oil and butter! Great informative post.

    1. I'm with you on the olive oil and butter, the coconut oil for me depends on what it is in I am careful with what I use it for because it can be overpowering. Thanks for stopping by xx

  2. We started using Coconut Oil for making popcorn in the saucepan and chocolate but that's all I've used it for so far. The popcorn is a winner and I have now eliminated microwave popcorn which is just "lazy/convenient" popcorn not to mention the additives that would be on it. We've made the switch and it's great. Regards Kathy A, Brisbane, Australia

    1. Thanks Kathy for your comment, sharing this sort of experience is exactly what I was hoping would happen with this series. Coconut oil popcorn sounds good to me! I will give it a go and that is fantastic that you have eliminated the microwave version and I am guessing it is not all that 'inconvenient' popping your own corn :) xx

  3. Am loving this "whole food step by step" series... keep it coming

    1. Yay thanks Meegan. Have no fear, there is plenty more where this came from. I really do want to make this as easy as possible for everyone. I'll post this series each Monday. x

  4. Hey Nikki, do you ever read Dr Mercola? I joke that he's my guru, but, really .... he's my guru. He's massive on good fats (recommending some people - depending on your nutritional type - eat 70% fat in their diet!) Kellie xx
    PS I made the mango sorbet recipe you featured - oh my god, amazing!

    1. Hi Kellie, yes I do read Dr. Mercola from time to time. Your guru :) Wasn't the mango sorbet amazing!! So simple and so well, divine. I hope you are feeling great xx


Thanks for your comments. I read every one!

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...