When it comes to fats, people are quick to point the finger and label them as “good” or “bad”, and “healthy” or “unhealthy”. Although that might seem like a good way to look at things, it doesn’t really work, because the food itself is actually a lot simpler than that. In fact, when it comes to distinguishing fats, there is truly only one way to do it, and that’s simply to ask yourself if they were made by Mother Nature or not.
Natural vs. Man-Made Fats
When you get back to basics, food is really simple. Real food comes from nature, and either comes from a plant or an animal, that’s it. Real food, the good stuff you should be eating, doesn’t come from a factory, a box, or a chemical experiment. If all of the grocery stores disappeared tomorrow, we would still be able to find real food because it is available to us in nature. So in order to compare “good” fats to “bad” fats, the best place to start is by looking at real food.
Real food fats include whole foods like nuts, seeds, olives, avocados, eggs, dairy, seafood, and animal fats. These are 1-ingredient foods that are present in nature that cultures have been using for thousands of years. They are whole foods in their whole format that contain fats and nutrients that are essential to our body. Mother nature is no fool, she didn’t put the egg yolk with the egg white to have you throw it out, she put it there because it is all good for you.
On the contrary, man-made fats are the types of fats that are not present in nature, and without industrial processing and chemical reactions would be impossible to re-create. Man-made fats include vegetable oils and trans fats that are anything but natural. These types of fats can only be manufactured in factories with chemical processes, and if the grocery stores went away tomorrow you wouldn’t be able to find these types of fats. I hate to use labels, but if I must use the term, man-made fats are the “bad” fats, not the stuff Mother Nature gave to us.
Types of Natural Fats
Now that we’ve distinguished the fundamental difference between natural fats and man-made fats, I want to say this loud and clear:
NATURE DOES NOT MAKE UNHEALTHY FATS.
Zero, zilch, zip, nada, nothing.
Any whole food that contains fat that comes from Mother Nature is good for you. End of discussion.
Bacon – good.
Egg yolks – good.
Butter – good.
Chicken skin – good.
Avocado – yes, eat the whole thing.
If you think about this logically, why on earth would part of the egg be healthy, and the other part not? It’s the same egg. Why on earth would one cut of the animal be healthy and the other cut not? It’s the same animal. Why on earth would milk be healthy, but butter, the stuff made from milk, not be healthy? By using that same logic, one could argue the right side of an apple could be healthy but the left side not. It just doesn’t make sense.
Types of Fat
Now, I know what you are thinking, “But it’s because there are different types of fat!” Ok, let’s roll with that for a minute.
Strictly looking at fats found in nature, fats can be broken down into three categories; saturated fats, monounsaturated fats, and polyunsaturated fats. Saturated fats are distinguished by their bond structure; they contain no double bonds, as the chain is “saturated” by hydrogen between the carbon atoms. Because of their structure, saturated fats are generally solid at room temperature, making them a great fat for high heat. Monounsaturated fats, on the other hand, have one (mono-) double bonds between the carbons, hence they are considered unsaturated. While polyunsaturated fats, similar to monounsaturated, have more than one (poly-) double bond. This includes essentially fatty-acids omega-3 and omega-6.
But here is the catch, all-natural fats contain a combination of all three of these types of fats! Although we often classify fat-based foods by the type of fats they contain (such as butter as saturated and olive oil as unsaturated), in reality, they all contain multiple types of fats, not just one. For instance, butter and olive oil both contain a combination of saturated, monounsaturated, and polyunsaturated fats. So, often people are classifying things as “good” or “bad” without looking at the whole picture.
The Bottom Line
If you want to eat well, it is actually really simple, choose real food. By opting for real food you are, by default, only choosing healthy fats. Mother nature does not make unhealthy fats and anything that comes from a tree or an animal can be used in a healthy diet. So spread your butter and throw away the margarine, drizzle the olive oil and ditch the canola oil, and eat your bacon, chicken skin, and brisket without concern. These are the foods that humans have eaten for thousands of years, and Mother Nature is no fool.