×
×

Be a Fan of Fat

Reacquaint yourself with fat’s nourishing properties, and learn how to feasibly and sustainably incorporate it into your lifestyle.

article image
Adobe Stock/Nadianb

Around the world and throughout history, people have had vastly different relationships with fat than we have in our culture today. Fat has been highly valued as food, medicine, and resource, and fat on the physical body as a sign of security, wealth, wisdom, and even health. But today, many images of beauty and health have become inseparable from a worldview that sees deprivation and self-control as more virtuous than satisfaction, enjoyment, and nourishment. Fat — a highly nutritious, protective, and healing substance — has borne the brunt of this Western attitude, depriving generations of people the opportunity to be healed and sustained by fat.

Fat is essential. It heals the digestive tract and nourishes the brain, as well as the musculoskeletal, endocrine, hormonal, reproductive, immune, and cardiovascular systems. Many traditional peoples who ate pre-industrial diets considered fat a highly important food, preserving it for those who needed it most: those pregnant and nursing, children, those weakened by illness or injury, and those exerting themselves physically.

Remembering fat’s power and the gift of nourishment it offers and returning to a worldview that holds fat as sacred and life-giving is our opportunity to reclaim a positive relationship with fat, and ultimately with our own bodies and how we nourish them. I’m not going to claim that restoring our relationship with fat is the ultimate solution to modern health issues. But I’d like to suggest that by reinvigorating our diets and our hearts with traditional fats, while we also look at the lifestyle dynamics that have made the consumption of fat problematic, we can begin to evolve toward prizing physical nourishment and emotional well-being, prioritizing the environment, and taking steps toward social justice.

A Falling Out with Fat

First, we need to address a few issues to understand our current relationship with fat and move forward.

We have a broken food system. The fats, vegetables, fruits, and grains that were a part of people’s pre-industrial diets were more nutrient-dense than what’s coming out of much of our food supply today. And their consumption didn’t come with the same kind of environmental devastation, such as deforestation, factory or confinement farming of animals, and industrial agriculture. Plants and animals raised in these conditions are nutrient-deficient, so the fat they produce is of lesser quality. When consumed, these deficient foods don’t nourish the human body as deeply. Food produced in the industrial model also leads to environmental pollution and exploitation that further deplete the Earth’s resources and further threatens the Earth’s ability to nourish plants and animals (and thus humans) adequately.

article image

Image Stock/DragonImages

Traditional vegetable oils, such as olive oil, are a great way to incorporate high-quality, healthful fat into your diet.

Alongside industrial agriculture has come industrial food production and a loss of cultural wisdom around food preparation. Historically, food was prepared to optimize nourishment, support digestion, and make difficult-to-digest foods more absorbable. Meat was often slow-cooked with vegetables and herbs that were rich in fiber and offered diverse flavor profiles, such as bitter, pungent, and mineral-salty. The same is true of cultures that emphasize plant-based fats, such as olive oil and coconut oil; these were incorporated into dishes also rich in other diverse flavors that worked with the body to improve the digestion, absorption, and utilization of those fats. Not only were fats used back then of higher quality, but they were also prepared in ways that helped the body digest and utilize them.

Many people in the United States today eat poor-quality fats in unintentional ways that don’t support the body’s ability to absorb them. When the body doesn’t digest and absorb a food properly, a variety of symptoms may result, including inflammation, weight gain, brain fog, depression, weak immunity, skin issues, and menstrual imbalances. Fat isn’t causing these problems; they’re the consequences of industrialization; loss of food culture; fast-paced, economically driven lifestyles; factory farming; and devastation of the Earth’s resources.

How to Feasibly Incorporate Fat

How can we restore a positive relationship with fat? First, we must do everything we can to put aside the cultural baggage around fat, and see fat as sacred. Second, we need to learn about the truly beneficial actions that fats have in the body. Finally, we need to commit to eating all foods, including fats, in a conscious way.

When we buy grass-fed, pastured meat and dairy from small-scale farms, we support local farmers who are working in ways that promote the health of the land and animals, and thus produce food that’s more nutrient-dense. Vegetables grown organically in soil via smaller-scale agriculture are more nutrient-dense and contribute to a world with less pollution runoff from conventional fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides.

However, food produced consciously is often more expensive. If purchasing grass-fed, pastured, free-range animals and organic produce is out of someone’s economic reach, then my holistic health voice says, and deeply believes, “Do the best you can, and let it nourish you. Your best is always good enough; your best is always perfect.”

article image

Image Adobe Stock/New Africa

If you’re able to, buy food from small-scale farmers and purchase consciously produced food that’ll provide you with higher-quality fats.

If you can afford to purchase this way — even if it means reallocating funds in your budget — then I encourage you to take that step. It’ll help you, it’ll help the Earth, and, over time, it’ll help make consciously produced food more accessible for those who can’t currently afford it by slowly tilting the demands of the capitalist food system. When working within a budget, spend more money on a smaller amount of a higher-quality fat, whether it be meat, dairy, eggs, or oil. While you may consume less of it, you’ll still get more nutrition if it’s of a higher quality.

Favorable Fats

Once we’ve started to address how to approach fat, we also need to identify which kinds are essential for our health. Here are a few key fat sources to consider.

Animal-based sources. The fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K exist primarily in animal-based sources, and they’re stored in the fat of animals that are raised outside on a traditional diet.

Vegetable oils. Most Americans don’t have any problem incorporating healthy amounts of vegetable oils into their diets, whether that’s traditional oils, such as olive, coconut, or palm, or more modern oils, such as canola, soy, cottonseed, or sunflower. You can liberally include the former oils in your diet, ideally when ecologically sustainable sources are accessible. Avoid the latter group of oils, as they’re higher in omega-6 fatty acids and may lead to inflammation. If you can, avoid hydrogenated oils, as they can negatively affect heart health.

Cholesterol. An incredibly valuable substance to the human body, cholesterol can be found in food, but the body also makes it when there’s a need for it. In other words, if you have a need for cholesterol, your body will make it, whether you eat it or not. Cholesterol functions as an antioxidant, helping the body fight free radicals, heal tissues, and reduce inflammation and various forms of stress. Eliminating cholesterol from the diet of the average American is like sending the firefighters home when there’s a fire burning — the fire keeps burning (poor diet, nutritionally deficient food), and the firefighters (cholesterol) aren’t there to help put it out.

So, how much fat do we need? Many — if not most — Americans need to reduce poor-quality fats and refined, low-fiber foods in their diets, and consume more high-quality fats and whole foods, such as vegetables and whole grains. Fat is potent and nutrient-dense; you don’t need to eat a lot of it to get its health benefits. Cooking with butter or ghee, for example, is a wonderful way to get nutrient-dense, easy-to-absorb fat into the diet; I usually suggest 2 to 4 tablespoons a day for most people. Ideally, you can eat nutrient-dense animal products that are rich in fat-soluble vitamins every day or every other day: eggs from pastured chickens; meat and organ meats from grass-fed, pastured animals; wild-caught or sustainably raised seafood; and other dairy products from grass-fed, pastured animals.

For me, restoring a positive relationship with fat isn’t just about the fat itself and the nutrition we need from it. It’s part of a larger process of reclaiming a healthy relationship with food — one where we see all food, and ourselves, as sacred. It’s a process of re-prioritizing food quality, cooking for ourselves, enjoying our food, and connecting with the inherent wisdom of nature. And it’s an opportunity to return to and be nourished by the recipes of our ancestors — to relearn to prepare our food in ways that maximize nutritional output and improve human absorption of those nutrients. When you smell these foods cooking in your kitchen, feel them nourishing your body, and watch the long-term impacts they have on your health, you’ll become — if you aren’t already — a fan of fat.


Fat-Soluble Vitamins

If you choose to supplement with any of these fat-soluble vitamins, never take more than the recommended dose. The body stores excess fat-soluble vitamins in fat tissue, and too much can be dangerous. Always consult your doctor or other health care provider before supplementing with fat-soluble vitamins.

Vitamin A

Vitamin A is needed for protein assimilation; calcium assimilation; brain development; glandular function; immune system function; growth of hair, skin, and eyes; and fetal development. Animal products are the only sources of pure vitamin A, but plants contain carotenoids, which can act as vitamin A precursors. If necessary, the liver can convert carotenoids into vitamin A. Carotenoids also act as antioxidants in the system.

Sources

  • Fat from fish, as well as their eggs, skin, and liver (such as cod liver oil)
  • Fat from sea mammals
  • Fat and organ meats (liver, kidneys, heart) from grass-fed, pastured poultry and livestock
  • Milk and other dairy products from grass-fed and pastured livestock
  • Egg yolks from pastured poultry

Note: Whenever possible, choose animal products and byproducts that were raised without hormones and antibiotics.

Plant Sources of Carotenoids

  • Seaweeds
  • Green and yellow vegetables and fruits, such as sweet potatoes, kale, mustard greens, carrots, apricots, peaches, pumpkins, squash, chickweed, nettle, violet, red raspberry, red clover, and purslane

Vitamin D

Vitamin D helps the body make neurochemicals that help prevent depression, and is important for calcium and phosphorus absorption and utilization. Vitamin D improves immunity and is necessary for thyroid function. Vitamin D precursors found in food require conversion by the liver and kidneys. The skin can create vitamin D through exposure to the sun’s rays.

Sources

  • Egg yolks from pastured poultry
  • Fish liver oil
  • Shellfish
  • Small fish from northern (cold) waters
  • Butterfat from grass-fed, pastured livestock
  • Fat and organ meats from grass-fed, pastured poultry and livestock
  • Dandelion greens
  • Alfalfa
  • Nettle
  • Oatmeal

Note: Some sources say vitamin D can only be obtained from animal products, but other sources say it can also be obtained from plants.

Vitamin E

Vitamin E can protect against the oxidation of lipids inside the body. (Cell membranes are composed of lipids.) Vitamin E can also help improve oxygen utilization in the body, increase immune response, prevent cancer and cardiovascular diseases, and repair body tissues.

Sources

  • Flaxseed
  • Dulse, kelp, and other seaweeds
  • Egg yolks from pastured poultry
  • Fat and organ meats from grass-fed, pastured poultry and livestock
  • Fat and organ meats from wild-caught seafood
  • Olive oil
  • Dark-green leafy vegetables
  • Legumes
  • Nuts
  • Seeds
  • Oatmeal
  • Dandelion leaf
  • Nettle
  • Red raspberry
  • Rose hips

Vitamin K

Vitamin K is important for healthy bone development during gestation and childhood. It’s critical for tooth and bone health during any stage of life. It also plays an important role in blood clotting and aids in converting glucose to glycogen in the liver.

Sources

  • Egg yolks from pastured poultry
  • Fat and organ meats from grass-fed, pastured poultry and livestock
  • Fat and organ meats from wild-caught seafood
  • Fermented foods, including fermented vegetables (such as miso, kimchi, and kefir)
  • Brassica family vegetables
  • Oatmeal
  • Alfalfa
  • Green tea
  • Kelp and other seaweeds
  • Nettle

Brittany Wood Nickerson is a professional herbalist and owner of Thyme Herbal in western Massachusetts, where she offers courses in plant medicine and Earth-based rituals. She’s passionate about empowering others to use herbal medicine in their homes, and she’s also the author of Recipes from the Herbalist’s Kitchen and The Herbal Homestead Journal.


Nourishing Food for Lifelong Health
In Recipes from the Herbalist’s Kitchen, Brittany Wood Nickerson reveals how the kitchen can be a place of true awakening for the senses and spirit, as well as deep nourishment for the body. With in-depth profiles of favorite culinary herbs, such as dill, sage, basil, and mint, this book offers fascinating insights into the healing properties of each herb, and shares 110 original recipes for scrumptious snacks, entrées, drinks, and desserts.

This title is available at the Grit store or by calling 866-803-7096. Item #8332.


This book, written by Andrea Chesman, is a comprehensive guide to rendering and using whole animal fats, including lard, tallow, and poultry fat. Cooks will learn the distinctive qualities and best uses of each fat, along with methods for curing and storing them. In addition, 100 scrumptious recipes highlight traditional cultural favorites, such as matzo ball soup, pasta carbonara, and more!

This title is available at the Grit store or by calling 866-803-7096. Item #9101.

Updated on Jul 24, 2021  |  Originally Published on Jun 10, 2021

Grit Magazine

Live The Good Life with GRIT!