The Difference Between Saturated and Unsaturated Fats (and Why It’s Important)

raw butter

1. Eat enough fat. The proper amount is not going to make you fat, clog your arteries or give you cancer. The reason fat tastes so good is because your body needs it. Give your body what it needs.

2. Cook with saturated fats. They are the most heat-stable and will be relatively undamaged even with high-heat applications. Animal fats like lard and duck fat are actually mostly monounsaturated, this is a good thing. Coconut oil is great choices for all you vegetarians (but know that is not a nutrient dense as butter or ghee).

3. Monounsaturated for cold to low heat. Use these oils from vegetable sources for cold applications like salads, low heat applications like pouring over hot vegetables or, if you like, for light sautéing. Extra virgin olive oil is great, full of phytonutrients and antioxidants, but don’t waste it by overheating it.

4. Polyunsaturated for cold use. These oils are really best as supplements. You can add some to your salad dressing or smoothie if you want to, but it’s not really necessary.  Never heat polyunsaturated oils. Yes, they are sold as cooking oils in the supermarket but these oils are very delicate and will be damaged by heat or by light or air exposure. There is no good reason to buy vegetable oils that are sold for cooking.

5A. Avoid hydrogenated fats outright. Check food labels diligently. Even if the product says “0g trans fats,” it still, by law, can contain up to 0.5 grams per serving. Considering the fact that food processors can designate serving size any way they like, these numbers are truly meaningless. Look for the word “hydrogenated” on ingredients lists. If it’s there, this food is plastic. Don’t eat plastic.

5B. Skip spreads. Since saturated fats are not harmful, there’s no reason to buy processed vegetable spreads that employ different tricks to imitate the properties of the real stuff. Hydrogenation, interesterification, and the use of thickeners and blending fats and oils are all employed to make something inherently un-spreadable into something apparently spreadable. Just go for the real thing – butter. Better yet, boil the butter to make it into ‘ghee’ – it’s more stable, is free of dairy proteins and lasts outside of the fridge for months.

To sum it all up, names are more for convenience. Remember that no fat is entirely saturated, monounsaturated, or polyunsaturated. Every fat source is a mixed bag of all these types. We refer to animal fats as “saturated” and vegetable oils as “polyunsaturated” as a kind of shorthand. But many animal fats actually have more monounsaturated than saturated fats. Even olive oil contains some saturated fat and you can get omega-3s from butter. Remember not to take these labels as gospel. Good fat is good, bad fat is bad. There is still the need to be vigilant in what we eat, including avoidance of over-processed, nutrient-depleted faux foods and meat and dairy from sick animals. Choose fresh, choose organic choose 100% pasture raised and choose local. Avoid processed anything.



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