How to distinguish between good and bad dietary fats

Some of the following facts that you’re about to learn in this post may be a bitch-slap to the politically-correct idea that ALL dietary fats are bad and should be completely eliminated from the dinner table as much as possible.  This is simply NOT true, not even slightly.  There is a difference between natural and artificially-altered fats, and it is a critical one to understand.

An adequate supply of healthy dietary fats is VITALLY important for your overall health maintenance.  Fats are one of the main components of the cellular membranes throughout your body, therefore if you eat enough natural dietary fats your cells will be healthy and youthful and your metabolism continue to function normally.  Load your body with too many heavily processed, chemically altered fats (highly-damaged fats) however, and your cellular function will gradually become impaired as these damaged fats become woven into your cell membranes.  This sets the stage for a galaxy of degenerative diseases as you age…

Bottom line: keep eating the wrong sorts of dietary fats and you are engaged in slowly poisoning yourself!

cringe every time I hear these so-called health experts recommending the arbitrary restriction of dietary fat — claiming that a simple low-fat diet is the key to good health, weight loss or the prevention of degenerative diseases.  Not true: an over-restriction of any single  macronutrient (protein, carbs, or fat) in your diet will only lead to problems.  All three basic macros serve important roles in the creation and maintenance of a lean, healthy and disease-free body.  Dr. Mary Enig Ph.D, one of the leading dietary fat researchers in the world, notes in several of her books that there is little scientific evidence supporting the assertion that an indiscriminate high fat diet is always bad for us.

If this were true then why do traditional Pacific Islanders for example, who typically obtained 2/3 to 3/4 of their total daily calories from fat (mostly from coconut fat), remain virtually free of heart disease, obesity, and other modern degenerative diseases?… (at least until Western influences overwhelmed their little island paradises!)  Or what about Eskimo populations who consume up to 75% of their total caloric intake from pure fat — mostly whale blubber, seal fat, organ meats, and cold water fish?  Why don’t THEY display the same sort of tendency towards heart disease or obesity that western society does?

How about members of the Masai tribe in Africa, who remain free of many Western-style degenerative diseases and maintain low body fat percentages on diets consisting mainly of raw whole milk, blood, and meat?  Or the Samburu tribe of Africa that consumes an average of 5 times the daily recommended quantity of dietary fat mostly from raw whole milk and meat?  Or how about those traditional Mediterranean diets, which are known to be very high in fat (sometimes 50-70% fat content), but are generally considered to be healthy?

The problem is that in the collective consciousness our good dietary fats (natural, unprocessed fats) have gotten lumped together with these deadly processed fats which make up a large percentage of the processed food sold at your local grocery store, restaurant, deli, fast food joint, etc.  These deadly processed fats are literally everywhere and almost impossible to avoid unless you know what to look for and make smart choices in what you feed your body with.

Please note that I’m not recommending an extreme high fat diet or anything like that.  Active individuals who exercise on a regular basis certainly need adequate supplies of healthy carbohydrates for muscle glycogen replenishment as well as good sources of protein for muscle repair.  The above examples of the high fat diets of these traditional populations and their corresponding excellent health were provided simply to prove the point that you don’t need to be AFRAID of dietary fats, as long as you make them of the healthy natural variety and strive to remain within your daily caloric range to either maintain or lose weight, depending on your goals.

Following then is a list of some of the healthiest fat-based foods (and some of them may surprise you!)… as well as some of the deadliest types of dietary fats to be avoided at all costs:

The Healthy Dietary Fat Choices:

* Coconut fat: Coconut fat is approximately 92% saturated fat, yet surprisingly, it’s considered a very healthy fat.  The health benefits of coconut fat lie in its composition of approximately 65% medium chain triglycerides (MCTs), and about 50% lauric acid — which has very potent anti-microbial properties that help to enhance the immune system.  Medium chain triglycerides are more easily utilized for immediate energy by the body instead of being stored.  Coconut oil is also an excellent cooking oil for stir-frying since saturated fats are much more stable and do not oxidize like polyunsaturated oils when exposed to heat and light (which creates damaging free radicals, btw). The best sources of healthy coconut fat are organic coconut milk, virgin coconut oil (available here), or fresh coconut.

* Extra virgin olive oil: Olive oil is approximately 71% monounsaturated, 16% saturated, and 13% polyunsaturated.  Always choose extra virgin olive oil, which comes from the first pressing of the olives and has higher quantities of antioxidants.  Try making your own salad dressing by mixing a small amount of olive oil with vinegar.  This is healthier than most store bought salad dressings, which are usually made with highly processed and refined (chemically damaged) soybean oil extracted with industrial solvents.  Unlike most other oils on supermarket shelves, extra virgin olive oil is not extracted with the use of harmful solvents and is one of your healthiest choices for liquid oils.

* Dark, bittersweet chocolate (>70% cocoa): The cocoa bean is a very concentrated source of antioxidants and responsible for part of the health benefit of dark chocolate. The fat portion of the cocoa bean (cocoa butter) is a healthy natural fat, composed of approximately 59% saturated fat (mostly healthy stearic acid), 38% monounsaturated fat, and 3% polyunsaturated fat.  I’I’ll limit the description of healthy chocolate to ONLY dark bittersweet chocolate with  greater than 70% cocoa content.  Most milk chocolates are only about 30% cocoa, and even most dark chocolates are only about 55% cocoa, leaving the remainder of those products composed of high amounts of sugar, milk fat, corn sweeteners, etc.  Look for a quality dark chocolate that lists its cocoa content like Chocolove Extra Dark (77%) or Dagoba New Moon (74%), which contain mostly cocoa and very little sugar.  Keep in mind that although dark chocolate can be a healthy treat, it is still calorie dense, so keeping it to just a square or two is a good idea.

* Avocados or guacamole: The fat in avocados (depending on where they’re grown) is approximately 60% monounsaturated, 25% saturated, and 15% polyunsaturated.  Avocados are a very healthy natural food that provides many nutrients, fiber, and healthful fats, while adding a rich flavor to any meal.  Try sliced avocado on sandwiches or in salads or use guacamole in wraps, sandwiches, or quesadillas.

* High fat fish such as wild salmon, sardines, mackerel, herring or trout: Just about any fish or seafood are good sources of natural omega-3 polyunsaturated fats, but the higher fat fish listed above are the best sources of omega-3’s.

(Due to the radical switch in modern processed foods to a higher proportion of omega-6 polyunsaturated fats like soybean oil, corn oil, safflower oil, etc., the average western diet is currently way too high in omega-6’s compared to omega-3’s — which wreaks havoc with your body. This is where good omega-3 sources like high fat fish, walnuts, and flax seeds can help bring you back into a better ratio of omega-6/omega-3.)

* Nuts (walnuts, almonds, peanuts, cashews, macadamias, etc.): Nuts are great sources of healthy unprocessed dietary fats as well as minerals and other trace nutrients.  Macadamias, almonds, and cashews are great sources of monounsaturated fats, while walnuts are a good source of unprocessed polyunsaturated fats (including omega-3’s).  Try to avoid nuts that are cooked in oil.  Rather, choose raw or dry roasted nuts.

* Seeds (sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, flax seeds): All of these seeds are great sources of natural unprocessed healthy dietary fats.  In particular, FLAX seeds have received a lot of attention lately due to their high omega-3 content. However, keep in mind that omega-3 polyunsaturated fats are highly reactive to heat and light, and prone to oxidation and free radical production.  Therefore, freshly ground flax seed is the only way to go!  Instead of using the store bought ground flax seed, you can buy whole flax seed and use a miniature coffee grinder to grind your own flax seed.  Try grinding fresh flax seed into your yogurt, cereal, or even your salad.  If you’re using a flax oil, make sure it’s a cold-pressed oil in a light-proof refrigerated container, and use it up within a few weeks to prevent it from going rancid.

NOTE… NEVER cook with flax oil!

* The dietary fats in organically raised, free-range animals: This is where many people have been misinformed by the mass media. Animal fat is inherently good for us, that is, IF it came from a healthy animal.  Human beings have thrived on animal fats for thousands of years.  The problem is that most mass produced animal products today do not come from healthy animals. They come from animals given loads of antibiotics that are fattened up with hormones and raised on un-natural feed.  The solution is to choose organically raised, free-range meats, eggs, and dairy.

The Deadly Dietary Fats:

* Hydrogenated oils, partially or otherwise (trans fats): These are chemically-altered oils that are subjected to extremely high pressure and temperatures during processing, which breaks down much of the natural nutrient value of the original molecules, and are subsequently contaminated with industrial solvents such as hexane… which are used in the extraction process.  Some even have a metal catalyst added to promote artificial hydrogenation, followed by bleaching and deodorizing agents.  These oils aren’t even worthy of your lawnmower much less your body! Yet somehow the FDA still allows this crap to pass as food.  Hydrogenated oils have been linked to obesity, heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and dozens of more diseases.  Even small quantities have been shown to be dangerous.  If you care about your health, check the ingredients of everything you buy and if you see partially hydrogenated oils of any kind on the label, defend your body and choose something else!

* Refined oils: Even if the oils in question are not hydrogenated, many oils that you’ll find on your supermarket shelves are refined — especially many of these so called “healthy” canola oils.  Refined oils still undergo the same high temperature, high pressure, solvent extraction, bleaching, and deodorizing processes as do hydrogenated oils.  Anything labeled vegetable oil, soybean oil, corn oil, cottonseed oil, safflower oil, and even many canola oils have been damaged by this refining process (unless they say “virgin” or “cold expeller pressed”).  This damages the natural structure of the fats, destroys antioxidants, creates free radicals, and produces a very unhealthy end product.

* Anything deep fried: including tortilla chips, potato chips, French fries, donuts, fried chicken, chicken nuggets, etc.  None of this crap should even pass as real food in my opinion!

Understand that the explosion of heart disease in the middle of the 20th century coincides perfectly with the introduction and widespread use of hydrogenated and refined oils in our food supply.  Keep these products out of your body as much as possible and you will begin living a better and healthier life almost immediately.


For more about choosing the correct dietary fats along with the best carb and protein sources, read Mike Geary’s post on 55 Lean Foods

Learn more about Mike Geary’s Top Rated Abdominals Training Program: The Truth About Abs. It’s been the #1 selling abs workout program on the net for 5+ years. You’ll learn more about nutrition like this dietary fats discussion along with Mike’s amazing crunchless approach to building a great set of abs!