Fats and oils are one of the most confusing topics in nutrition. Are they good for us? Are they bad for us? Should we eat them or avoid them? And which ones should we use for which purposes? For the sake of clarity, please note I am using the terms fat and oil interchangeably here; they are the same thing.

How many people now are excluding dietary fat to the extent that they are turning themselves into a cellular desert? I would almost say it is a war on fats! Think about what happens to mechanical components if they are not lubricated... They squeak, they grind, they rust. We are not so different. So, hopefully you can begin to value these important nutrients. The first thing to understand is that we DO need fat in our bodies.

Now for the technical part, which I will attempt to explain non-technically. Different fat particles have different shapes. You can see this when you look at fats in your kitchen. Some are solid, like butter, and some are fluid, like sunflower oil. The different shapes of fats lend them to different purposes in the body. As you might imagine, solid fats (saturated fats) are good at maintaining structure, but are not very flexible. Fluid fats (unsaturated fats) are good at allowing flexibility, but not as important for structural purpose.

Solid fat is found in large amounts in animal products, such as meat, poultry and dairy. These oils are strong. And stable when exposed to heat, light, and oxygen. This makes them good for cooking. Cook with solid or semi-solid fats, such as butter, ghee, coconut or olive oil. But try to avoid over-consumption of these oils. Too much solid fat makes our cells hard, brittle, and unable to allow the passage of nutrients and information in and out of the cell.

Fluid fats are found in vegetable oils, such as sunflower, almond, sesame, and other nuts/seeds. They are also found in fish. These oils are delicate, and easily destroyed by heat, light, and oxygen. If you look at a label on a bottle of oil, and see that it contains a high proportion of unsaturated fats (fluid fats), then make sure it has been cold-pressed and is stored in a dark bottle. Consume it raw in salad dressings or straight off the spoon. Cooking with these oils will not benefit your health.

What most of us have is a diet too high in solid fats. Or, sometimes, a diet deficient in all fats! To correct the situation, we need to eat relatively more fluid oils. There has been a lot of research now that shows fluid fats (such as fish oils) can actually reduce the health issues associated with this fatty imbalance. Health benefits of the good oils include improved skin health, improved fertility, reduced allergies, reduction of inflammatory conditions, reduced risk of heart disease and stroke, and better mood, sleep, and brain function. So... my advice for today: don't be scared of the fat!*

(* Note this is general advice, if you are at risk of heart disease or other serious illness, please see a health professional before changing your fat intake.)