When you have a limited food budget deciding where to put your money first can be daunting. Do you make organic vegetables and fruits highest priority? or supplements? How about free-range, grassfed meat? What comes first? If I know that I can’t afford to buy all quality ingredients right now, which items are most important? Of all the foods to buy in the highest quality possible, it’s most important that fats be of the highest quality you can afford. Why? Much of the fat available in our modern food supply are toxic fats. Avoiding these toxic fats and providing wholesome fat is first priority in maintaining health.
Deciding where to put your money in building a good diet for your family is indeed difficult. So many things your read just scream for your attention saying pick me first, I’m most important. It can be hard to prioritize.
It’s helpful in sorting it all out to look at things from a macro-nutrient perspective and think of the expense involved in meeting the bodies needs for each one. For instance, carbohydrates are a macro-nutrient. Meeting the bodies needs for carbohydrates is relatively inexpensive, and so it doesn’t really qualify as a budget problem. Proteins and fats, however are a budget problem. They are both expensive to buy as high quality items, and in many cases are even expensive for poor quality. So next we’ll ask, when protein is of bad quality is it as bad as poor quality fat? Given, they’re both pretty bad, but if had to choose which was worse I’d pick fats hands down. I’d pick fats because most of the fats at restaurants both sit-down and fast food, listed as ingredients on processed food, and just simply fats you would buy as ingredients to your own recipes are hydrogenated fats. It is most unusual to find healthy fats such as butter, lard or tallow, or coconut oil on offer. And even many healthy fats such as olive oil are not what they seem to be due to widespread adulteration. Healthy fats need to be highly prioritized in order to get them in your diet. They will require a fair portion of your food budget to buy and some effort to find. The effort and expense are well worth it and will pay off quickly in improved health.
What do fats do for your body?
Many people avoid eating any fat if at all possible and when they do eat fat they feel pretty guilty about it. That shouldn’t be. Fats are a vital macro-nutrient. This means your body needs plenty of good fat to keep up good health. The body needs fat to:
- Build healthy cell membranes. Saturated fats make up 50 percent of cell membranes, giving them necessary stiffness and integrity.
- Build healthy bones. For calcium to be effectively incorporated into the skeletal structure, at least 50 percent of dietary fat should be saturated.
- Protect the liver from toxins.
- Proper functioning of the immune system.
- For energy. Fats are the most efficient source of energy.
- For healthy hormones. Fats regulate the production of sex hormones.
- To make use of vitamins. Vitamins A, D, E, and K are fat-soluble vitamins, meaning that the fat in foods helps the intestines absorb these vitamins into the body.
These are just a few of the uses of fat in the body. It is of the utmost importance that the fats you and your family eat are of the healthiest kind you can afford.
Healthy Fats vs. Toxic Fats
What are toxic fats? What are healthy fats? How can I tell which one I’m getting when I’m at the store? What we are looking for primarily are signs that the fats in the product have been hydrogenated. This is pretty straightforward. And second we need to be aware of possible adulteration in the fats we buy. This is much harder to pin down, but I’ll give you a few tips from the book Swindled: The Dark History of Food Fraud.
First, healthy fats are very unlikely to be found anywhere in processed food. This also applies to restaurant and fast food. The economics of the situation pretty much guarantees that they will be using the cheapest fat with the longest shelf life. This will be a hydrogenated fat. I’m sure there are some exceptions, but just know that as a rule of thumb you’ll need to be wary.
Get in the habit of reading ingredient labels. You won’t learn what you want to know from the food facts. We are looking for traditional fats like butter, lard, tallow, coconut oil and avoiding soybean, canola and cottonseed oils which do not have a long history of use as human food. These oils will virtually always be hydrogenated. We are looking for the words hydrogenated ,partially hydrogenated, margarine or shortening. These we want to avoid. Here’s a link to a few tips on identifying hydrogenated oil in foods provided by the University of Maryland Medical Center. For all you southern cooks out there Crisco is a hydrogenated fat and Bisquick contains shortening.
On the issue of adulteration just be aware that the adulteration of food stuffs has been going on since time immemorial. Companies make the news fairly frequently on adulteration issues, specifically companies with food produced in Chinese factories. Also be aware that the US imports huge quantities of food from China. But it’s not just China with issues, for instance Extra Virginity: The Sublime and Scandalous World of Olive Oil, documents widespread mislabeling and outright adulteration in the world of olive oil.
How best to protect your family from adulteration? Bee Wilson suggests in Swindled: The Dark History of Food Fraud that the best protection is the knowledge of what real food looks like, tastes like and what the real costs are of producing it. This takes some time to learn. In the short run, I think your best protection is reducing the number of people between you and your food. For instance, orange juice from China has passed thru many, many hands before it gets to you, traveling huge distances as well. You just cannot know very much about that orange juice. I’d suspect that many of the people handling the orange juice on the way don’t even know much about it, only what they’ve been told. But when I buy oranges from someone you brought them up from the valley I know more. Not everything, mind you. I don’t know whether the trees were treated with pesticides for instance. I do know that they are from this seasons crop and are relatively fresh. Since I squeeze the juice myself I know nothing is in it but orange juice. And I’m learning how fresh orange juice differs from the orange juice from China making it easier to identify problem orange juice in the future. Bee Wilson mentions shortening the supply chain as a way to limit adulteration risk I think in this interview.
Where to find healthy fats?
While you can find healthy fats in the store it’s much easier to find good sources either locally thru you local Weston Price chapter or Googling for a local source. If you find every label you check has problems buying local or buying online may be your only recourse, other than making them yourself. You can also find mail order stores that carry some very fine products. For instance, I often buy beef tallow from US Wellness meats.
You can also make your own butter from raw milk cream and render your own lard. I know these sound difficult to make but really they are not that hard to do.