“Indulgence” Fats in a Nourishing Diet

I dislike labeling any food “good” or “bad,” but the terms do come in handy sometimes, especially when it comes to fats. Olive oil and avocados, which are full of monounsaturated fat, for instance. GOOD. The omega-3 fatty acids in salmon and flaxseeds. REALLY GOOD. Trans-fats. REALLY, REALLY BAD. But what about butter and bacon and cream? Are they all that bad?

That’s where I dispense with the “good” and “bad” labels and bring out a new one: Indulgence.

indulgence-healthy-fatsLet’s get one thing straight up-front. Our bodies need monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats like those I mentioned above (olive oil, avocados, salmon, flaxseed, etc.). They play several essential roles like storing energy and regulating cell function, and also have a positive impact on blood lipid levels (they lower overall cholesterol and LDL while raising HDL). So these types of fats aren’t luxuries; they’re a necessary staple of a nourishing plate.

Saturated fat, on the other hand, is a luxury (and it raises LDL)—your body already makes all it needs. So there’s no need to look for ways to add saturated fat to your daily diet. But … saturated fats, which come primarily from meat and dairy, are the creamy, silky, buttery, melt-in your mouth fats that can pack a lot of pleasure into just a few calories, which can come in quite handy if your meals are heavy on veggies. Not every meal. Not every day. But every once in a while.

Which is why I call them “Indulgence Fats.” Here are a few ways to use them:

  • Butter – Butter is renowned for adding richness to a dish. Swirl in a tablespoon or so (off the heat) at the end of a sauté to give it body and depth. Or brown the butter slightly before sautéing your veggies, like we did with these Sauteed Radishes with Mint, for an even more complex flavor.
  • Cream – Cream brings a lush silkiness to foods. Whisk a tablespoon or two into a pasta sauce, like our Brussels Sprouts Carbonara, or dribble some into a pan sauce for a creamy texture.
  • Duck Fat – This may sound wacky, but duck fat is a terrific indulgence fat. Make our Revelationary Duck Confit, save the fat in a jar in the fridge and use it in place of oil to add ridiculous richness to things like mushrooms, onions and potatoes. One tablespoon (enough, quite frankly, to sauté mushrooms for four people) has just 4 grams of saturated fat, which is half the amount of butter.
  • Bacon – People tend to demonize bacon, which is too bad. One slice has just 40 calories and 1 gram of saturated fat, and it can add a LOT of flavor to a dish (it is high in sodium though, which is another thing entirely). Try these Clams with Bacon and Garlicky Spinach and you’ll see what I mean. I recommend chopping the raw bacon up and sautéing it with onion or garlic so the flavor permeates the ‘base’ of the dish. Then drain off all but a teaspoon or so of the fat and go on with your sauté.

Is this a green light to sit down and eat a package of bacon fried in butter for dinner tonight? Um, no. But you already know that. This is more about letting go of the paradigm that Indulgence Fats are “bad” and using them (occasionally) to enhance the wholesome foods you want to be eating more of.


Get Your Flax Straight

It seems talk about flax—both flax oil and ground flaxseed—heats up and cools down at various intervals. There’s no question, flax is an incredibly nutritious food. But no matter what the buzz of the moment, it’s important to understand that flaxseed and the oil pressed from those seeds bring different benefits to our bodies.

Flaxseed Oil

Flaxseed oil is nature’s greatest source of plant-based Omega-3 Fatty Acids (walnuts and Canola oil are other non-animal sources, and salmon is also rich in Omega-3s of a slightly different makeup), which are vital to our health, but that our bodies cannot produce on their own. These fats affect the function of each cell membrane throughout our bodies, so it’s no surprise to find that their impact is wide reaching. Numerous studies have shown them to play an important role in protecting against heart disease and some cancers, and perhaps even autoimmune diseases like lupus and rheumatoid arthritis.

Ground Flaxseed

Many people seek out ground flaxseed for the Omega-3s that make the oil so healthy, but they’re looking for the wrong thing. Flaxseed’s claim to fame is its lignans (flaxseed has 100 times higher lignan count than oats, which are next in line). Lignans are powerful phytochemicals with antioxidant properties that regulate estrogen, which may explain why they appear to protect against certain cancers and cardiovascular disease.

Balancing it Out

Adding flaxseed oil to your diet—either as a condiment (it’s a fragile oil that doesn’t taste super-inspiring, so you’re best off adding a drizzle here and there) or a supplement—is not a bad idea. Most recommendations are for a bare minimum of 2-4 grams of Omega-3 Fatty Acids a day, and just a half tablespoons of flax oil will give you 4 grams. To get that much from flaxseed, you’d have to eat over 2 tablespoons a day. But don’t discount flaxseed, with its lignans and fiber and nutty taste. I like it paired with oats and dark chocolate in these beauties.