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Dr. Ben Connolly

Demystifing Fats and Oils

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Many times I see a shocked look on patients’ faces when I tell them to eat more fat in the form of healthy oils. They are surprised that a Doctor is telling them to eat more fat when for years they have been told that fat is bad and everything low fat is good.  Thus I thought it was time to write a short post explaining why we need fat as well as explaining which oils are safe for cooking and which ones are not.

Our body is largely made up of oil. Going back to high school biology we remember that each and every cell in the human body has a phospholipid bilayer. That means that it is composed of oil. The human body has billions of cells which all require oil to function optimally. I also like to point out to my patients that we are waterproof, water rolls off our skin, which is because our skin cells are made of oil which helps to keep water inside our body and prevent us from drying out.  When I hear complaints of dry skin I always look at adequate oil consumption and proper hydration before thinking about moisturizing creams. After all, beautiful skin comes from the inside out.

How much fat should one be consuming in their diet? Depending on the individual I often recommend that patients consume 30% of their daily calories from fats. I recommend they get these fats almost entirely in the form of monounsaturated fats such as olive oil and omega 3’s with a little bit coming from saturated fat such as butter or animal proteins.  (An easy way to tell the difference between a saturated fat and an unsaturated fat is if they are solid at room temperature. Butter is a saturated fat and is solid at room temp. Olive oil is unsaturated and is liquid at room temp.) A healthy goal is to consume 2 tablespoons of extra virgin cold pressed olive oil daily. This helps decrease many risk factors for cardiovascular disease. Also consuming 2 grams of omega 3’s from small fish such as sardines or kippers or supplement with clean fish oil in either a liquid or capsule form.

Oils also have a smoking point, strong heat causes chemical bonds in the oil to break or flip which can create trans fats and in the process release smoke. Trans fats are dangerous and increase risks of coronary heart disease. Extra virgin cold pressed olive oil has a smoking point of 191 degrees Celsius making it quite fragile and therefore we should not use olive oil to cook with. Instead using oils which have high smoking points such as avocado oil (190-271 degrees Celsius) or grape seed oil (216 degrees Celsius).

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