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Diet & Nutrition

The Traveler’s Quick Guide to Healthy (& Unhealthy) Fats

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byNick

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7 Minutes

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Healthy to Worst Fats Sources Ftd1
Healthy to Worst Fats Sources Ftd1
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Unlike sugar, which lasts in the body for mere hours, the fats we consume last about six years.

So the fats you consume matter. They matter a lot.

For the last three months, I’ve traveled through remote parts of India where I can’t get most of my go-to foods.

Including, the fats and oils I usually cook with.

The other day, I got a question about what are the best, healthiest fats to consume and cook with, especially for vegetarians and vegans.

You’d think that something like “sunflower oil” would just be the seeds of a sunflower compressed into a healthy oil. While I still think the benefits of nuts and seeds (in moderation) outweigh their drawbacks, as you’ll see, the oils are a different story.

I dug through research and determined which oils I feel safest consuming. I plan on writing a detailed guide on why I work hard to avoid the ubiquitous vegetable/seed oils, but that’s a much longer topic for another day.

Before we get into the list, I want you to understand why your health depends on the fats you consume.

Watch Your Oils

Used vegetable oil poured into a container
Vegetable oils are highly refined, rancid, and with little nutrition

Over the last century, the world has become more insulin-resistant, sicker, and fatter than ever. While most nutrition experts blame that on carbohydrate consumption, that’s actually false.

Because of awareness and gluten intolerance, carb consumption has been falling. Yet rates of chronic degenerative disease continue to skyrocket.

The more likely culprit?

Fats. Around the same time as the disease boom, industrial processed vegetable oils largely replaced traditional fats like butter, ghee, and coconut oil.

You’ll learn why later, but despite their shiny labels covered in “healthy” certifications and accolades, these new man-made fats have disastrous effects on humans.

Here’s the worst part…

The fats you consume today determine your health for the next six years.

For example, here’s what a 2023 study said about linoleic acid (LA), the main fat in industrial vegetable oils [R],

“The half-life of LA is approximately 680 days, or approximately two years [R]. This means that it takes approximately six years to replace 95% of the LA in the body with healthy fats—making this a primary reason to maintain low LA intake.”

Perhaps the best explanation for their danger hinges on what happens when you consume them. Your body uses these oils for the membrane of every cell throughout your body.

Once part of the cell, these bad fats get easily damaged and no longer work the way they should. Whether through solar radiation, oxidative stress, chemical exposure, or other unavoidables of modern living.

Technically, this occurs by interfering with cardiolipin in the energy-producing mitochondria of cells. When the energy demands exceed the supply, you have a “cellular power outage”.

Almost like building a house on top of a foundation made of plastic; the growing number of dysfunctional cells eventually manifest as different diseases, depending on your constitution/genetics.

There are also the toxic metabolites. These chemicals result from fats broken down because of heat, light, oxygen, and other environmental factors. A few of the dangerous ones that cause tons of cellular damage include:

  • 4-Hydroxynonenal (4-HNE)
  • 9-hydroxy-octadecadienoic acid (9-HODE)
  • 13-oxo-octadecadienoic acid (13-HODE)
  • Malondialdehyde (MDA)
  • Acrolein
  • Isoprostanes

You have a simple solution to avoid all this. Choose different oils.

The role of genetics and cholesterol

Dietary fat is one of the most confusing topics because health “experts” can’t agree on anything. From the best types of fats, to which are essential to human health, to the most toxic oils.

One of the common concerns around dietary fat intake is the role of genetics. Specifically, a trait called “hypercholesteremia”. This subset of the population has an unusually dramatic response to saturated fats and they are most prone to side effects (and dangers) of ultra-high-fat diets.

The best way to tell is to run a comprehensive genetics test (just once per life) and then notice how your blood lipids change (during routine blood testing) with your fat intake.

While there’s even debate around the danger of high cholesterol (LDL) on clean diets, I’d still play it safe. For folks with hypercholesteremia and concerns based on previous blood work, I’d focus more on sources of monounsaturated fats that are low in polyunsaturated fats.

The top high-MUFA & low-PUFA oils include:

  • Avocado
  • Macadamia nuts
  • Hazelnuts
  • Cashews
  • Almonds

The Three Crucial Factors To Consider When Buying Fats

The different benefits of healthy fat consumption

Deceptive product marketing makes choosing your ideal oils for cooking and consumption tricky.

I recommend considering the following three factors to choose your best oil:

  • Contents (composition, additives, purity, sourcing)
  • Creation (processing)
  • Consumption (heated, exposures)

Contents refer to what’s actually inside (or not inside) the product itself. Did they grow the crop with GMO seeds that your body won’t recognize? Is it a chemical-laden toxic soup full of dangerous additives? Or is it organic and completely pure? The same crop grown in different places can have vastly different compositions.

Creation is how the manufacturer created the product. Did they use heat and pressure to extract the oils? If so, they probably damaged the oils and had to use all kinds of other chemicals to cover up the rancid (toxic) taste/smell. Or did they cold-press the oil? The fat processing method can transform the health impact.

Consumption is the way you use the fat. Will you just pour it on your food, raw, or will you cook with it and heat the oil on the stove? Or will you use it for deep frying (hopefully not!)?

Generally, the more saturated fat within a product, the more stable and thus safe to cook with. The more polyunsaturated fat, the less stable and more dangerous to cook with. Monounsaturated is in the middle.

Some signs of high-quality oil include certifications on the label for:

  • Organic
  • Non-GMO
  • Cold-pressed

And the “Other Ingredients” section on the back of the label should have nothing but the oil itself.

For animal products, grass-fed/grass-finished/pasture-raised designations are all good.

If you can’t afford organic, it’s better to buy one of the following “best oils” in the conventional form than the cleanest, most organic “bad oils”.

The Best Fats To Use Liberally (<10% PUFA)

A jar of ghee
Ghee is a versatile oil revered by the ancient Indian medical system called Ayurveda for its unique health benefits

You can consider lots of factors when shopping for fats. Your primary goal, however, is to choose one with low levels of polyunsaturated fats (PUFAs).

PUFAs are the ones that rapidly and dangerously breakdown, especially when heated.

The lower the oil levels of PUFAs, the better. I arbitrarily choose a cutoff point of less than 10 percent PUFA for this category.

My top four oils are ghee, butter, tallow, and coconut oil. Ordered from favorite to least:

🥑 Fat Source🧪 Linoleic Acid Content (Lower Is Better)
Ghee1-2% [R]
Butter1-2% [R]
Tallow1-3% [R]
Coconut oil2% [R]

Of course, you have your ethical and financial considerations. Vegans and vegetarians, for example, usually won’t use animal products.

Other oils in my top tier category include:

🥑 Fat Source🧪 Linoleic Acid Content⚠️ Drawbacks
Macadamia oil1-3% [R]Expensive, hard to find
Cacao butter1-3% [R]Hard to find, strong chocolate taste
Palm kernel oil2-5% [R]Terrible for environment

Ghee and butter are by far the best, most nutritious options. If you can’t consume it, coconut oil is the next best.

Unrefined, extra virgin coconut oil is next (but has a coconut taste). If you need a milder coconut taste, choose “virgin coconut oil”, or, for the most neutral, buy refined coconut oil.

Sadly, these best oils cost more because governments don’t yet subsidize them. So manufacturers pay a lot for their raw materials.

Fats I’d Use in a Pinch (10-15% PUFA)

For whatever reason, you may not get the top oils.

I wouldn’t rely on these oils daily, as this category contains an average of up to 15 percent linoleic acid, but they’re still better than most.

The following oils comprise the second tier of my healthy oils list:

🥑 Fat Source🧪 Linoleic Acid Content ⚠️ Drawbacks
Olive oil4 – 25% [R, R]Expensive, often cut with cheap oils
Mustard oil9 – 22% [R, R, R]Less stable than others
Avocado oil8 – 18% [R, R, R]Expensive, often cut with cheap oils
Lard11 – 15% [R, R]Unknown true linoleic acid levels

Olive oil in its ideal state (certified organic, cold-pressed, extra virgin) is widely considered a superfood. Notice the wide range of linoleic acid content.

Most commercial olive oils are towards that upper level of linoleic acid levels (unhealthy). That, plus most stores and restaurants, cut their olive oil with other seed oils to cut costs. Even the high-end ones.

Healthy olive oil is extremely hard to find and can cost as much as $39 for a single bottle. The only exception I’ve found is this one here. Otherwise, you’re better off skipping olive oil altogether.

Mustard oil you can find pretty easily, especially around India. It’s a full league above many other oils and much cheaper than the premium oils.

Mustard oil is generally 9-13% linoleic acid which is great for a seed oil (but only decent overall). Since it can range as high as 22%, it’s not one of my top picks.

Avocado oil is another expensive oil that’s becoming popular among health enthusiasts. It’s great for high-heat cooking, but unfortunately, is often rather high in linoleic acid. Like olive oil (perhaps worse), it often gets cut with unhealthy seed oils.

Although I’ve seen it range up to 18%, most avocado oil contains about 11-14% linoleic acid.

Lard is pork fat. Since most pigs have diets high in soy and/or corn, their fat is highly linoleic. The research around the PUFA content of lard can be misleading, too. Still, it’s a much better option than most commercial seed oils.

Fats I Won’t Touch (>15% PUFA)

Last, we have most of the other oils that I completely avoid as much as possible.

They’re almost impossible to avoid entirely, as manufacturers and chefs add them to virtually everything.

But these fats usually contain over 15% linoleic acid.

These unhealthy high-PUFA fats include [R, R, R, R]:

🥑 Fat Source🧪 Linoleic Acid Content
Safflower oil76%
Grape seed oil72%
Poppyseed oil70%
Sunflower oil68%
Corn oil58%
Cottonseed oil54%
Soybean oil51%
Sesame Seed Oil41%
Rice bran oil39%
Peanut oil33%
Margarine32-43%
Canola oil21%

By the time these oils reach you, they’re rancid and extremely unhealthy to consume. Preparation (high heat and pressure, exposure to oxygen, many chemical additives, etc.) only exacerbated this.

To cover up the nasty color, scent, and taste, manufacturers use industrial chemicals. Petroleum-based solvents like hexane, deodorizing chemicals (which create toxic trans fats), and color-enhancing chemicals.

These chemical cocktails are also quite unstable inside the body.

If you must choose one of these oils, the cold-pressed, expeller-pressed, or high-oleic versions are much better and lower in linoleic acid.

Request Restaurants Cook With These Fats

Chef pouring oil while cooking
Servers are usually receptive to oil substitutions, just ask.

You can certainly find some of these fats/oils at your local grocers.

But when dining out?

Choices often go out the window.

Unfortunately, restaurants are some of the worst offenders—slathering unhealthy seed oils on everything

Chefs clandestinely add toxic seed oils in dressings, sauces, marinades, drinks, and all kinds of other unsuspecting places Share on X

Whenever I go out, I tell my server that I have a sensitivity to canola and safflower oils (most commonly used). Which is true, I don’t feel as good after eating a ton of seed oils.

I request they cook in either:

  • Ghee
  • Butter
  • Coconut oil
  • Tallow
  • Mustard oil

Sometimes, they’ll add a tiny fee to change the oil. Usually, they don’t.

This has worked virtually everywhere in the world.

Is it perfect?

Obviously not. But it’s a good start and an easy list for you to remember!

Choose Your Dietary Fats Carefully

The fats you eat today will last in your body far longer than you’d imagine.

The wrong ones act like exhaust, accumulating and suffocating the life out of your body. Slowly preventing cells from working properly and eventually causing a biological energy crisis.

Depending on your genes, constitution, and lifestyle, this crisis manifests as one of just about any health symptom.

Over time, these symptoms snowball into full-blown disease.

But don’t lose hope. Your body is incredibly resilient. Minor changes today make an enormous impact.

My top dietary fats to use for cooking include (higher quality is always better):

  • Ghee
  • Butter
  • Coconut oil
  • Mustard oil
  • Tallow

Toxins are lipophilic. They have an affinity for fat.

To keep you toxin levels down, if you splurge anywhere on your diet, make it on clean fats.

After a few months of cutting bad fats out of your diet, you’ll notice a big difference.You’ll look, feel, and perform better. Share on X

Your skin may clear up. Your energy levels may rise. You’ll notice seemingly unrelated changes (like not sunburning as easily).

I plan to create a more thorough scientific guide to these high PUFA “vegetable” oils. But for now, I hope you use this list!

If you found this post helpful, I’d be grateful if you sent it to a friend or shared it on social media. That’ll help it spread and hopefully bring down the cost of these healthy oils as more consumers prioritize their health.

Thank you and let me know your thoughts or experience in the comments below!

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Post Tags: Biohacking, Diet, Food, Nutrition

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