and their smoke points
We’ve had a lot of questions lately about healthy fats and fats for for cooking! Because I’ve been super busy traveling and studying up on my Restorative Exercise™ Specialist Certification, I thought I’d use that as an excuse to copy my own words directly from our book, Man on Top.
This is an excerpt from Chapter 6, and covers our 6 Healthy Diet Tenets.
Together, they spell… nothing! Yes, because we wanted to offer real advice, and not have clever sections just to spell a word that sold books!
Wait, what could we spell with “Man on Top?” Not much, looks like. Too bad.
Anyway, onto dietary fat, which is, by and large, your friend.
Dietary fat is not unhealthy, and is critical for good health. Luckily, the 80s and 90s are gone, taking the low fat craze with them. With those days gone, it’s time to embrace the good things that fat has to offer, while keeping in mind that while fat is not inherently bad, there can still truly be bad fats.
We’re going to start with the bad fats because it’s often easier and more important to limit these bad ones than it is to focus on adding more good ones. Still, there are good reasons to add certain fats, as you will soon see.
As we’re about to show you, there are very few fats that are actually bad, but trans fats are bad and should be avoided. Trans fats have been in the news a lot in the past few years, so you’re probably already familiar with what they can do to your health. The TV and Internet news outlets have informed us that the consumption of trans fats increase the risk of coronary heart disease, raising levels of our “bad” LDL cholesterol and lowering the levels of the “good” HDL cholesterol. They are just bad news. Trans fats are found in many packaged foods, shortening, margarine, and spreads. You can identify them on an ingredients list when you see oils and fats that are listed as “hydrogenated” or “partially hydrogenated.” In addition, ingredients such as shortening and margarine can contain trans fats, and are best avoided.
These polyunsaturated fats are often lumped into the good fat category, and it’s true, technically, that they are good, but only when they are balanced out by a good amount of omega-3 fats. However, most modern biochemists and nutritionists tell us that today’s diet contains too many omega-6s and not enough omega-3s, making it hard to naturally balance these fats out.
Too much of the 6s and not enough of the 3s (the imbalance), leads to a sort of systemic and chronic inflammation throughout the body. Over time, this inflammation seems to lead to all sorts of nasty health conditions, like heart disease, joint pain, arthritis, and immune system deficiencies.
There’s almost no stopping omega-6s from being a huge part of your diet, since corn oil, soybean oil, and the generic sounding “vegetable oil” are rich in this type of fat. Whatever else you do, try to minimize your consumption of these fats, not only avoiding those specific oils, but foods that contain them, such as dressings, and other packaged foods.
Oh, remember the first bad fat that I talked about? Trans fats? Well, those are almost always made with oils and fats that are rich in omega-6s anyway, so avoiding both is often a two birds, one stone sort of deal.
Those two fats (trans fats and omega-6s) are the “bad fats.” I know, I know I left out saturated fats, but bear with me… They aren’t bad. Be patient.
These fats are the flip side of the omega-6 fats from a paragraph or two ago. Not only do we get too many of the 6s, but most of us don’t get nearly enough of the 3s. The best source of omega-3s is primarily fish and fish oil, despite the marketing behind many products containing other, lesser sources of omega-3s. A good fish oil supplement, algae based omega-3 supplement, or eating fish like salmon or mackerel goes a long way toward maintaining your good health.
On those “lesser” sources of omega-3s, we’ll say this: manufacturers of food products are quick to capitalize on health trends, whenever possible, and omega-3s are no exception. While it’s true that things like walnut oil, sesame oil, and even soybean oil contain some omega-3s, the amount is pretty small. To make things even worse, the amount of omega-6s that they contain is so huge that it’s actually making things worse, despite the presence of the 3s. Remember, it’s not just that we need more omega-3s; we also need less omega-6s.
Some seeds, such as flax, are rich in omega-3s and lower in omega-6s, but they are still not the best choices for you in a quest for more omega-3s. Our bodies would need to convert plant sources of omega-3s (ALA) into a form that we can actually use (DHA and EPA). This conversion rate is really low (20-30%), so it would take a ton of flax to get a decent amount. It’s just not a practical source. This is not to say that you can’t eat these seeds, as they have plenty of other health benefits, but if you’re looking for more omega-3s, look to fish, fish oil, or an algae based omega-3 DHA/EPA supplement when possible.
Monounsaturated and saturated fats
Once you’ve got your omega-3s higher and your omega-6s and trans fats lower, we’re left with monounsaturated and saturated fats. These two fats will pretty much take care of themselves by managing the other fats. A healthy diet contains a mixture of all of these fats, and since they are everywhere, it’s often easiest just to take strides to limit the ones that are specifically bad and focus on eating the good.
That being said, when you see favorite fats and fatty foods like olive oil and olives, coconut and coconut oil, avocados, and most meats and dairy products, rest assured that the fats in these items aren’t bad for you. In fact, they are pretty good for you. With animal products, they will be even better if they come from grass fed or pastured sources, since that will make them lower in omega-6s and higher in omega-3s, but even then most contain a decent mix of the good mono and saturated fats. Bacon, for instance, is often said to be all saturated fat, but this is not the case; more than half of the fats in bacon are monounsaturated, which is the “healthy fat” that they talk about in avocados and olive oil!
Speaking of saturated fat, and its evil henchman, cholesterol, these two get blamed for arteriosclerosis and many other coronary ailments, but cholesterol and saturated fats are actually essential to our diets.
It is a common myth that eating cholesterol or saturated fat will raise your blood cholesterol. Many studies have shown that eating more or less cholesterol and saturated fat does little or nothing to increase or decrease the levels in your blood. Eat more and your body makes less, and eat less, and your body is forced to make more for itself. For the most part, blood cholesterol is self-limiting.
Again, concentrate on limiting the bad fats and increasing the fat (omega-3s) that really needs the boost and the rest tends to work itself out for the most part.
Good fats gone bad
A good, boring lecture on good and bad fats would not be complete without at least a cursory mention of what can make a good fat bad. Time, heat, and light.
Have you ever opened up a really old jar of peanut butter? Maybe a bottle of olive oil that you found in the back of the cupboard over the oven? It still looks tasty, but smells horribly stale. It’s rancid. It doesn’t have the obvious curdle of old milk or the rotting stench and mold of old meat, but it’s bad, nevertheless. Don’t use it. Time, heat, and light have destroyed it. Luckily the smell and taste are warnings to not use it.
Keep your oils fresh by buying what you will use in a reasonable time frame and keeping them cool and out of bright light. If you like, you can keep it in the refrigerator, which will keep it fresh longer. Some of the better oils come in opaque or dark green or brown glass, which helps to protect the oil at home and when it’s still on the store shelves.
Cooking and overheating can also be a bad thing for many oils and fats. For cooking, choose oils with a high smoke point rather than low. Peanut oil is high (450°F), and is often used in stir frying for this reason. Coconut oil is becoming increasingly popular because of its many health benefits – you can get the expeller pressed version which is tasteless. Extra Light Olive Oil is a decent choice, too. While butter smokes at a low temperature, clarified butter has a much higher smoke point. Personally, when I do my high heat cooking, I choose coconut oil or clarified butter, which you can often buy as “ghee” in an Indian market.
Below, you will find a partial list of my favorite fats and oils, followed by their smoke points. Keep in mind that smoke point isn’t everything; oils can still be bad for you (soybean, for instance), even when they have higher smoke points. …they just don’t smoke as easily. Also, a lower smoke point doesn’t make them bad to cook with, just don’t go with high heat.
The chart below starts with the highest smoke points, and goes down. For clarity, I left off the oils that I simply can’t recommend (shortening, canola, soybean oil, etc.). This is an abridged list, listing only common fats and oils. For a more complete list of fats and oils (both good and bad) see Appendix 3 of Man on Top.
My favorite healthy fats and their smoke points
- Avocado oil – 520°F, 271°C
- Clarified butter/Ghee – 485°F, 252°C
- Olive oil (extra light) – 468°F, 242°C
- Palm oil – 455°F, 235°C
- Coconut oil (refined) – 450°F, 232°C
- Olive oil (virgin) – 391°F, 199°C
- Olive oil (extra virgin) – 375°F, 191°C
- Lard – 370°F, 188°C
- Coconut oil (extra virgin) – 350°F, 177°C
- Butter – 250–300°F, 121–149°C
As you can see by the butter vs. ghee (clarified butter) comparison, it’s often the purity of the fat that makes or breaks a smoke point. Extra Virgin is tasty, but the tastiness is in the particles of olive that are left in the oil. On the other hand, Extra Light Olive Oil is rather tasteless, but a better choice for cooking. Extra Light Olive Oil has a smoke point of 468°F, which is good, while Extra Virgin Olive Oil has a pretty low smoke point of 375°F. Both are healthy, but use one for cooking and one for places where you are looking for good taste, like dressings. There are some oils that should never be used for cooking, like flaxseed and fish oil (yuck).
The “lard is bad for you” myth
1 – pork fat is 45% monounsaturated fat, which is the same
fat that makes peanut oil a healthy choice.
2 – since the dramatic decline in butter and lard consumption, heart
disease has risen even faster.
3 – saturated fat (39% for lard) is necessary for hormone production
and the rebuilding of healthy tissues throughout the body.
Mother’s milk, for instance is 54% saturated fat.
Thank you for reading, and I hope the explanation of healthy fats was a help to you!
Feel free to drop me a line with your questions on nutrition, exercise, or of course, fat!
To subscribe to our newsletter, just click below!