The buzz these days is that oil is ok for you as long as you stick with the “healthy” oils like coconut, avocado or olive oil. After all, our body needs fat to function properly. Fats have several key roles in our body: A source of energy, proper cell function and structure, optimal brain and nerve function, transporting fat soluble Vitamins A,D,E and K and forming steroid hormones. Without fats we would be in big trouble. Where the logic begins to falter is in how we obtain that fat. Dietary fats are essential so the question is not whether we eat them but how much and from what source. Let’s take a look at both of these questions separately.
How Much Do We Need?
The average American gets 30-40% of daily calories from fat and 15% of that is saturated fat (Keep It Simple, Keep It Whole). However, the American Heart Association recommends 7% of daily calories come from fat and only 1% comes from saturated fat. That is a huge difference! The standard American diet is falling abysmally short of the recommendation for fat intake! In fact, the American Heart Association’s recommendation may still be on the high side according to current research but at least it is trending in the right direction.
Where Should We Be Getting Our Fats?
First we need to understand that there are two kinds of fat: saturated fats that are solid at room temperature (found mostly in animal products) and unsaturated fats that are liquid at room temperature (found mostly in plants). Of all the fats there are only two essential fatty acids, Omega-3 and Omega-6 both of which can be found in plant foods. Omega-3 is an anti-inflammatory agent and Omega-6 is both an anti-inflammatory and pro-inflammatory agent. In order to maintain optimal health, it is important to maintain a ratio of Omega-6 to Omega-3 of between 1:1 and 4:1. According to a 2002 study of the importance of this ratio by AP Simopoulos, there is a 70% decrease in the risk of mortality in patients with heart disease if this ratio is maintained. So how much fat do we really need to maintain this ratio? Women need 1.1 grams and men 1.6 grams of Omega-3s or 1/4-1/3 tsp a day. That translates into 1-3% of our daily calories from fat which is well below the recommendation of the American Heart Association. Plant foods like ground flax and walnuts are rich in Omega-3s and Omega-6s so they are a great place to get your daily requirement. However, a plant-based diet rich in leafy greens, fruits, nuts, seeds, legumes and grains will naturally help you achieve the appropriate and correct kind of dietary fat intake. Although oils are plant-based they do not contain the essential fatty acids in adequate amounts and do more harm than good by causing damage to our cardiovascular system and promoting heart disease, diabetes and cancer. More beneficial sources exist in plant-based foods.
Tips For Decreasing Oil in Our Diets
- Use non-stick pans
- Saute foods in vegetable broth
- Soak vegetables in vegetable broth before roasting to keep them from sticking to the pan
- Use oil free sauces like tamari, BBQ and teriyaki
- Make salad dressings that are oil free to go on top of your salads
- Substitute pumpkin or unsweetened applesauce for oil when baking