By Amanda Bullat, 21 Acres Nutrition & Culinary Education Coordinator
So, what is the skinny on eating fats these days? Which fats are healthy, which are not? Won’t I gain unwanted weight, or worse, completely clog my arteries if I eat too much fat? These timely questions have been the topic of conversations between nutrition professionals, physicians, and their patients for years. Generally speaking, over the last 30-plus years we’ve been told that in order to be “healthy,” we should avoid fats or at the very least follow low fat diets. Interestingly, however, over the same period of time we’ve seen an increase in chronic health conditions such as obesity, diabetes, depression, and anxiety. Perhaps there’s a link between following a low fat diet and the prevalence of these modern day diseases. Let’s take a closer look.
Based on my professional experience, it’s not uncommon for a client to arrive in my office facing a myriad of symptoms including depression, fatigue, anxiety, mood swings, hypoglycemia, insulin resistance, insatiable hunger, digestive issues (gas, bloating, acid reflux, loose stools, constipation, etc), hormonal imbalances, and weight concerns. Typically these clients also consider themselves “healthy”— except for these nagging symptoms. They’re commonly active, eat little to no processed foods, choose Organic foods when possible, and are often vegetarian. A few of my female clients have also complained of their hair being dry, brittle, and falling out easily. Both male and females tend to have drier skin and scalp, with likely a few more wrinkles than necessary for their age. After reviewing their food choices over the course of a typical day, it's not uncommon to see these symptoms coincide with a low fat diet.
One of the more common dietary recommendations these days is for a low-fat, higher carbohydrate diet. The piece that people often forget, however, or perhaps aren’t educated on to begin with, is that not all carbohydrates are created equal. Studies are starting to show that when people consume more refined carbohydrate foods in order to satisfy their insatiable hunger or lack of energy, their bodies go into storage mode as their metabolism slows. Eating more carbohydrates triggers the release of insulin, which tells your body to store fat. Adding healthy fats to every meal and snack, however, provides your body with a steady stream of energy and fuel to burn throughout the day and decreases your chances of needing the refine carb pick-me-up.
Fats send a signal to our brains telling us when it’s time to stop eating, that we are satisfied and well-nourished on many different levels. When we don’t eat enough healthy fats, we may find ourselves snacking, often times leading to overeating in order to feel satiated. Healthy fats derived from whole foods add nutrition, satisfaction, and pleasure to our meals. Our brains are 65% fat, our hormones are made from fats, so is the outer layer of every cell in our bodies. Fats also keep our skin smooth and silky, they enhance our immune system, stabilize our blood sugar, protect our hearts, and help to normalize our blood cholesterol. Great you say, those are all the things I want! How do I get started?
When choosing healthy fats to add to your diet, it’s important to focus on whole foods with minimal processing in order to support the health benefits coming from the fat. For example, butter, a saturated fat, is a great source of fat-soluble vitamins such as A, D, E, and K. It’s also a good source of important trace minerals like magnesium, zinc, chromium, selenium, and iodine. In order to ensure the biggest nutritional bang for your caloric buck, it’s best to choose organic butter from pastured cows that are free from hormones, steroids, and antibiotics. The market at 21 Acres sells both salted and unsalted butter from our sister dairy Cherry Valley — delicious!
The kitchen at 21 Acres uses a variety of seed oils for their culinary needs, including sunflower oil, grape seed oil, and camelina oil. If you’re unfamiliar with camelina oil, it’s Washington’s answer to flax. Grown by the Greenwalt family in southeast Washington for over 100 years, Camelina oil contains an abundant amount of poly-unsaturated fats including omega 3, omega 6, and omega 9 fatty acids. Studies have shown that increasing our intake of omega 3 fatty acids can be beneficial for our heart and brain health. Ideally our intake of omega 3 fatty acids to omega 6 fatty acids should be in a 2:1 ratio. The standard American diet, however, is more like 1:20 omega 3 to omega 6, which has been shown to enhance inflammation and therefore disease progression in our bodies. One thing to be aware of with oils that are higher in polyunsaturated fats is that they are not stable under high heat or prolonged exposure to light. It’s best to use such oils for drizzling over your meals just prior to eating and reserve higher temperature cooking for the more heat stable saturated fats like butter or lard.
Other locally produced healthy whole food forms of fat include hazelnuts, walnuts, and syrah pumpkinseeds.
RECIPE: Kale & White Bean Soup ~ inspired by Therapeutic Whole Foods Cooking, Bastyr University
1 cup small white beans, soaked 12 hours
1 onion, coarsely chopped
1 Tbsp Cherry Valley butter
2 garlic cloves, smashed and chopped
3 cups chicken stock or bone broth
1 tsp sea salt
1/4 tsp black pepper
1 dried bay leaf
1 six-inch sprig fresh rosemary
1/2 lb Italian seasoned sausage (chicken, turkey, lamb, or pork)
4 carrots, sliced
2 bunches kale (red, green, or dino), stems removed & coarsely chopped, leaves roughly torn
Parmigiano-Reggiano, grated, added to taste
In an 8-quart soup pot over medium heat, saute onions in butter, stirring occasionally, until softened. Add garlic and cook, stirring. Add soaked, drained beans, broth, salt, pepper, bay leaf, and rosemary. Simmer, uncovered until beans are just tender, about 50 minutes.
As soup simmers, brown sausage in heavy skillet over moderate heat. Add to soup pot. Stir in carrots, kale, and remaining quart of water. Simmer uncovered, stirring occasionally, until kale is tender. Season soup with salt, pepper, and Parmigiano-Reggiano to taste. Serve with hot fresh bread and Cherry Valley butter.