Good Fats and Bad Fats

blog cholesterol healthy fat inflammation smoke-point

We were told for over three decades that fats were bad for us.  Eat a low-fat diet, they said.  It’s better for your health, they said.

Chronic diseases, including heart disease, have continued to increase, despite people eating a low fat diet.  The rates of Alzheimer’s, diabetes, and autoimmune diseases are also on the rise.

A sad statistic is that 40% of Canadian adults have a chronic disease.  We are doing a little better than our US neighbors, with 60%, but alarmingly, in both countries, these numbers are growing.  

Is it a coincidence that these numbers have risen along with the promotion that a low-fat diet is best?  

It turns out that, after all this time of being told that fats were bad for us, it’s not true.  In fact, it is the opposite of true. Yes, bad fats are bad for us, but good fats are actually good for us!

For the last thirty-five years we have been taught that fat makes you fat, that saturated fat and cholesterol cause heart disease, that whole grain-pasta us a better choice. This is, in fact, the complete opposite of the truth, and I can’t stress enough the importance of eating high-quality fats.
— The Autoimmune Solution by Sarah Ballantyne, PhD

The basic building blocks of our bodies are cells.  Each cell has a cell membrane, and the cell membrane is made up of lipids, which are … fat!  If we don’t eat enough fat, our cells just don’t function the way they should.

Our brains, composed of about 60% fat, especially depend on dietary fat and cholesterol.  According to Dr. Perlmutter in his book Grain Brain, the brain contains 25% of the total cholesterol in our body, and one-fifth of the brain by weight is cholesterol. 

One-fifth of the brain by weight is cholesterol.
— Grain Brain by David Perlmutter, MD

Clearly, our health depends on healthy dietary fats, and our brains especially need cholesterol. 

Not all fats are created equal, however: there are good fats and bad fats.  

Good fats from plants include organic, virgin, cold-pressed versions of the following:

  • Avocado oil

  • Coconut oil

  • Macadamia nut oil

  • MCT oil

  • Olive oil

  • Red palm oil

  • Sesame oil

Bad fats which promote inflammation include: 

  • Canola oil

  • Corn oil

  • Cottonseed oil

  • Partially hydrogenated vegetable oil

  • Peanut oil

  • Safflower oil

  • Sunflower oil

If you are concerned about inflammation (and, really, everyone should be?), then avoid all the oils on the bad fats list. 

Even good fats can turn bad, though, if they are heated beyond their smoke point. Avocado oil has the highest smoke point, so it is the best choice for frying.  Coconut oil has a slightly lower smoke point but is also good for frying.  Olive oil smokes at low temperatures, so it is better for braising or slow cooking.  Any of the good fats can be used for making your own salad dressings. 

What about animal fats? In moderation, some animal fats can be healthy if they come from grass-fed, wild, or pastured sources, not factory-farmed sources. 

If you have an autoimmune disease or if your body is showing signs of inflammation, it is critical that you avoid the bad fats and consume more of the good fats.  

Your body and your brain will thank you!

Interested in learning more? These books are excellent reading!

Grain Brain by David Permutter, MD and Krisitn Loberg

The Paleo Approach: Reverse Autoimmune Disease and Heal Your Body by Sarah Ballantyne, PhD

Headstrong by Dave Asprey

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  2. All information in this post is based on my personal experiences. Please discuss any changes to your diet, lifestyle or medications with your healthcare team. No information in this article is meant to replace medical advice. Please read my Terms and Conditions.