For decades, we have been taught that fat is bad for us. If traditional dietary wisdom is to be believed, eating fat makes you fat, clogs your arteries and increases your risk of metabolic disorders, heart disease, stroke and just about every other health condition that you can imagine. Low-fat foods have been marketed for many years, and most health-conscious people avoid butter and whole milk in favour of low-fat spreads and tasteless skimmed milk or milk alternatives instead. We cook with processed oils and load up on carbohydrates in an attempt to feel full, all in the name of “health”.
The Body Needs Fat
The simple fact is that the body needs fat. There are several reasons for this. Vitamins A, D and K are fat-soluble, so you need some fat in your diet in order to take in enough of those vitamins. In addition, the body uses fats to make hormones. If you try to subsist on a fat-free diet, you will end up developing health problems as a result.
Fat is also useful from a dietary compliance point of view. Eating fatty foods increases your feeling of satiety, and this means that you’re less likely to want to snack or binge-eat. So while fatty foods may be more calorie-dense, you end up eating less in the long term and you’ll find it easier to lose weight.
Good Fat vs. Bad Fat
Good fat, such as saturated fat (yes, saturated fats are not the enemy!) fills you up, gives you energy, and comes from animal sources that are rich in vitamins and other nutrients that can help with conditions such as blindness, rickets, hormone deficiencies and even inflammation.
If you grew up during a time when saturated fats were deemed the enemy, it may be difficult to believe this more modern view, but it’s true. Our bodies were designed to live on a diet that included animal-based protein sources and saturated fat. We use saturated fat as our primary source of energy. Today we may lead a more sedentary lifestyle, but if you follow the Paleo diet and eat in moderation, you will see many health benefits from eating saturated fats. If you are the kind of person who leads an active lifestyle, then it makes sense to fuel your body with one of the best energy sources there is.
The bad fat types are the highly processed ones that were developed in an attempt to stop people from eating saturated fat. Peanut oil and hydrogenated vegetable oil, for example, are fat varieties that are bad for you. These fat forms are the ones that will have an adverse impact on your blood cholesterol, contributing to an increased risk of heart disease or stroke.
What Fat Should You Eat?
Some of the best types of fat to eat, as a Paleo diet follower, come from butter and ghee. One recent trend that people in the fitness world are trying is to add unsalted butter (from grass-fed cows) to their morning coffee. This provides a long-lasting energy boost to help you get through the day, and tastes great too.
Ghee comes from clarified butter. It is prepared by boiling butter and then removing the residue. Ghee can last for a long time — if you keep it in an airtight container to stop it from oxidizing, then it will stay fresh even if you don’t put it in the fridge. You can add a range of spices to ghee to accent the flavour, and use it in day-to-day cooking. Ghee isn’t something that your caveman ancestors would have made, but it is still a good Paleo food. It is almost pure saturated fat, and it is rich in conjugated linoleic acids, which are thought to have cancer-fighting properties. It is a good source of energy, and it does not contain casein or other milk proteins, so it is suitable for consumption by people who are casein or lactose intolerant and those who have leaky gut syndrome and other auto-immune issues.
Coconut oil is another good choice for people who are following the Paleo diet. This healthy and tasty oil contains a lot of lauric acid, which is thought to be both anti-microbial and anti-fungal. It contains 92 per cent saturated fat, and it goes well in a lot of Paleo-friendly recipes. Coconut oil is ideal for day-to-day cooking.
Eggs and Animal Fat
Eggs are one of the most misunderstood foods in the Paleo diet. They are high in cholesterol, and this means that a lot of people are wary of eating them. However, eggs are actually very healthy. They are incredibly nutrient-dense, even for the number of calories that they contain. Recent studies have found that there is no direct link between dietary cholesterol and blood cholesterol, so you can safely eat eggs in moderation.
Animal fat is a more complex issue, however. While animal fat is, in the purest sense, a good part of the Paleo diet, it is important to be mindful of where the animal fat is coming from. Modern livestock is often farmed in intensive conditions and they are fed a lot of antibiotics and other drugs. Traces of these drugs can end up in the fat of the animal, so you have to take care when eating meat from unknown sources.
If you can find free-range, grass- or grain-fed meat sources, or even meat from farms that practice ethical organic farming, then it will be safer to eat than meat bought cheaply from a supermarket. The ideal scenario would be to buy fat from an ethical local farmer or butcher and render the chunks of hard, fatty tissues yourself so that you can cook with it. You can often purchase animal fat for a very low price because the demand for it is quite low. Rendering the fat can be time-consuming, so you may want to use it only for special recipes, but it is worth the effort because it will make your food taste great.