Your naturopathic physician is well versed in the many conditions affected by unhealthy and healthy fats and will be glad to assist you in developing a program to optimize your health. Here are some general guidelines to help you optimize your health in relation to fats:
1. Keep total fat consumption down to less than 25% of total caloric consumption. A gram of fat is 9 calories, whereas a gram of carbohydrate or protein is 4 calories. Most Americans get 30-40% of their calories from fat, most of which is not in the form of good quality unsaturated fatty acids (the good fats). Fast food, fried food, desserts, dairy, and red meat are all good things to avoid or minimize. Also, be careful of hidden sources of fat such as coffee creamers, whipped toppings, gravies, etc.
2. Try low fat cooking options, such as steaming, boiling, baking, and broiling in preference to frying.
3. If you do fry or sauté food, remember that even good quality oils are damaged by heat. Smoking is a sign of oil breakdown. In order to minimize this, cook at the lowest heat that will work for you and choose an oil that is less vulnerable to deterioration. Oils such as olive, sesame, and canola are called monounsaturated. This means they only have one double bonds per molecule, which means they have fewer places in the molecule that are vulnerable to breakdown than polyunsaturated oils which have many double bonds per molecule. Polyunsaturated fats are very healthful if they are properly processed and stored, but aren't as good a choice for high heat cooking, so save them for salad dressings and other cooler uses. These oil include safflower, sunflower, almond, corn, and soy oils. Flax oil is a very healthful oil, high in essential fatty acids. It should be stored in either the refrigerator or freezer due to its very delicate nature.
4. Buy cold pressed vegetable oils from health food stores or food co-ops, preferably ones that are nitrogen packed and in non-transparent containers such as amber or green glass bottles. After you open a bottle of oil, store it in the refrigerator in order to prevent rancidity. Some oils such as olive may solidify. Don't worry, the oil is still fine and will return to its normal consistency at room temperature when you're ready to use it. In addition, adding some Vitamin E oil to your vegetable oils will help prevent the formation of free radicals and rancidity.
5. If you are eating meat, give preference to fish and poultry. If eating beef or pork, trim it as well as possible. Avoid processed meats such as lunch meats, sausages, hot dogs, and bacon. If using meats in soups, prepare the soup ahead, refrigerate it, and remove the congealed fat from the top before reheating it to eat.
6. Avoid excess simple carbohydrates such as sugars and processed grains, choosing instead complex carbohydrates such as grains, beans, and produce. Not only are the latter foods much healthier choices in general, but excess carbohydrate that doesn't get used by the body gets converted to fat for storage, so all these advertisements for "fat-free" sweet desserts are really only telling half the story.
7. Season foods with herbs, spices, lemon juice, and vinegar rather than butter, lard, meat drippings, margarine, cheese, or sour cream.
8. If using dairy products, choose ones with lower fat content.
9. To get healthy fats from your snacks, choose fresh raw nuts and seeds from your health food stores or food co-ops. These include almonds, walnuts, pecans, cashews, sunflower seeds, and pumpkin seeds to name a few. Store these in your refrigerator to preserve freshness.
Hopefully this has clarified some of the myths and confusion about fats. If you have further questions, consult your naturopathic physician. While many of the fats most common in our culture can have harmful effects on health, beneficial fats are strongly conducive to good health, and should be part of a healthy diet.