Dietary Fat

On selecting healthy dietary fats

The proportion of fat in the American diet has gone down. At the same time, America’s body fat has gone up. Part of the explanation for this seeming paradox is the change in the types of fat we eat. Stick to the right fats and the fats won’t stick to you.

Work with the Alaskan Inuit tribes and you’ll be invited to try real Eskimo ice cream, not Eskimo Pies™. This combination of seal blubber and caribou oil whipped to froth and garnished with wild berries is tasty and healthy. Sadly, one modern shortcut to the ancient recipe substitutes Crisco™ and sugar. To the body’s metabolism that means, trans fats and refined carbohydrates, toxins which the body stores as fat.

Vacation in the South Pacific, such as the U.S. territory of Guam, and learn how ancient islanders lived on coconuts, a fading tradition. Today’s Guam residents shop at grocery stores which could be anywhere else in the U.S., except for higher prices to cover transportation. We may all do well to eat coconuts, especially with fish, as did the Pacific Islanders. Coconut oil is 50% medium chain triglycerides – scientific jargon for easy-to-burn fuel. Since coconut oil is more easily metabolized than other fats, dieters and marathon runners alike can benefit from a tablespoon a day. It also makes the best shrimp stir-fry and jambalaya.

Coconut oil should smell like suntan lotion and taste like piña coladas. If it doesn’t, check the label for the euphemisms refined and enriched. Refine means removing the oil’s natural vitamins. Enrich means adding processed vitamins to lengthen the shelf life. The food industry makes refining and enriching sound like an upgrade from a 1979 Dodge Dynasty to a 2005 BMW. It’s really the other way around.

This month’s Metabolism Matters has been “tabled” below, to serve as a shopping guide. Remember that healthy oils are more easily converted into energy, not fat. Stop buying oils with the terms in red and start buying oils with the terms in green.

Marketing term

What it really means

Cold/expeller pressed

Solvents were not used to extract oil from seeds or nuts.

Extra virgin

The first oil to be extracted. Contains the most vitamins.


No nutritional significance. It just costs more.


Meets federally established criteria for organic, which has been shown to contain 2/3 fewer pesticide residues.

Hydrogenated and Partially hydrogenated

Contain trans fats. Avoid margarine, Criscoand similarly processed vegetable oils.


Seeds and nuts are roasted. Adds flavor and is safe.

Genetically modified

“GMO” is not universally labeled. GMO may impose health risk depending on what was modified. It could also beneficially reduce pesticide use.


Unprocessed to help retain original nutrients.

Fat free

Of course cooking oil is fat. Allowed when the portion size is small enough that the total fat falls below labeling criteria. It’s a gimmick!

Expiration date

Expired oils that smell like stale potato chips are oxidized or rancid.