Everything you need to know when it comes to cooking with good fats
There’s one particular food group that’s been getting a whole lot of attention in the media for a very good reason: research has proven that, when it comes to selecting the best nutrient-dense foods to benefit our bodies and brains, fat is where it’s at. In fact, there’s never been a better time than now to proudly become an avid “fat head” in the kitchen.
I’m encouraging you to enjoy a whole variety of good fats from coconut oil and avocados through to bone marrow. That’s because, when you want to incorporate good fats into your cooking, there are so many different ways you can approach this culinary adventure.
Not only does coconut oil, for example, tolerate heat exceptionally well, it also adds depth of flavour to whatever food you are cooking it in. Another exceptional source of fat is a current star in many of the world’s top restaurants: avocado. As a source of good fat, there are so many different dishes you can make with this fruit and chefs around the world are using avocado in everything from creative takes on guacamole to pairing it with lots of new flavours, such as wasabi and seaweed.
Indeed, when I’m on the go there’s nothing easier than halving an avocado, squeezing on some lemon juice and cracking over some salt and pepper before devouring it as a snack. It keeps me feeling full and satisfied long after I’ve eaten it. After a surf, I also love wolfing down a bowl of guacamole with some of Nic’s famous seed crackers (also rich in good fats) because this snack always hits the right spot.
To incorporate more good fats from nuts and seeds into your cooking, try the aforementioned seed crackers or bake some tasty seed and nut bread then start experimenting with nut butters, cheeses and dips. These can be made really quickly and keep well in the fridge.
When you want to incorporate good fats into your cooking, there are so many different ways you can approach this culinary adventure.
For example, nut butters are a great way to increase your protein and good fat intake and they only take a few minutes to make in the right kind of machine. Whiz some nuts in a food processor until smooth then add a drizzle of oil. You can also add a bit of tahini and some spices to really up the ante on flavour.
Of course, you can also source good fats from pasture-raised free-range meats and sustainable seafoods. Sardines, for example, are a great breakfast dish full of omega-3s to boost memory and focus. Or the next time you make spaghetti and meatballs for the family, try adding some chicken livers into the mincemeat.
Beyond these, though, my all-time favourite good-fat dish has to be roasted bone marrow. It’s so rich and high in fat that you only need to eat a little bit to feel full. My favourite way to enjoy it is roasted in the oven then served alongside scrambled eggs for breakfast. A serving of bone marrow provides a whopping 6.79g of unsaturated fat, so is an excellent way to incorporate more fat into your diet.
In favour of fat
So why are some fats so good for us and why is the latest scientific research recommending that upping your intake of healthy fats is one of the best things you can do to achieve optimal health and longevity?
Well, healthy fats have been shown to provide building blocks for cell membranes, hormones and hormone-like substances; act as carriers of important fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K; and are required for the conversion of carotene to vitamin A and for mineral absorption. They act as antiviral agents, help lower cholesterol levels and modulate genetic regulation. That’s why evidence suggests your diet should be at least half healthy fats.
Not only does eating lots of fibrous vegies and healthy fats also help to stop the kind of detrimental hormone changes that often occur when the body burns non-vegetable carbohydrates, such as grains and sugars, but more importantly increasing the amount of fats you eat can actually protect your brain function.
By eliminating sugar from what you eat and instead replacing it with good fats, you are encouraging your body to use fat instead of carbohydrates as energy. When this process occurs it produces a chemical called ketone: a result of a shortage of insulin in the blood. “A fat-based ketogenic diet has an extremely broad range of benefits for both your body and your brain,” explains Nora Gedgaudas, a well-known nutritional expert and the author of Primal Mind, Primal Body. “In fact, not only can the brain run on nothing but fat, in other words ketones, it actually runs better!”
Saturated fat has been a fundamental dietary staple since Palaeolithic times and research has proven that a diet high in good fats can help protect and preserve the neurons of the brain.
Pretty amazing stuff, right? It’s not surprising when you consider that the human brain consists of up to 60 per cent fats, the same fats that help to create all the cell membranes in your body. New scientific research is also showing the correlation between dietary factors and their role in determining whether your brain ages successfully or is more susceptible to neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease.
The best way to explain why eating a diet full of the right kinds of fat is so important is through the words of Dr David Perlmutter, leading integrative medicine neurologist and US author of the acclaimed book Grain Brain, which I highly recommend. As explained by Dr Perlmutter, being liberal in your consumption of good fats and committing to a low-carb, high-fat diet (as opposed to the low-fat, high-carb diet that’s been promoted for so many years) is one of the best ways of achieving optimal health.
According to Dr Perlmutter, “Beyond the fact that fat plays a pivotal role in regulating the immune system, simply stated, good fats like omega-3s and mono-unsaturated fats reduce inflammation, while modified hydrogenated fats, so common in commercially prepared foods, dramatically increase inflammation.” Perlmutter also explains how saturated fats play such a pivotal role in the biochemical balances that keep us healthy because these fats also contribute to the structure and function of the lungs, heart, bones, liver and immune system.
Fat is also required for the body to properly absorb key fat-soluble vitamins, such as A, D, E and K, and research has linked deficiencies in these key vitamins with brain illnesses. For example, vitamin K contributes to brain and eye health, helping to reduce the risk of age-related dementia and macular degeneration. Without adequate vitamin A, your brain can’t develop properly and you are more susceptible to blindness and vulnerable to infection.
Vitamin K contributes to brain and eye health, helping to reduce the risk of age-related dementia and macular degeneration.
While synthetic trans fats such as the ones found in margarine and processed foods are poisonous, mono-unsaturated fats — the kind of mono-unsaturated fats found in avocados, nuts and olives — are healthy.
That’s why I snack on nuts, seeds and avocados, and also follow Dr Perlmutter’s advice to consume at least a teaspoon of coconut oil a day, all in a bid to minimise the inflammation in my body. Eating oily fish two or three times a week (remember those sardines for breakfast!) also helps pack my weekly diet full of health-giving omega-3 fatty acids.
It’s all in a bid to protect the health of my brain and keep it sharp for as long as I’m able. As Nora Gedgaudas points out in her talks about how to develop a superhuman brain, cholesterol is critical to high brain performance. From the moment we are born, fat becomes the primary source of fuel needed for brain development. That’s why, if you can minimise the amount of sugar and starch intake in your diet, preferably by cutting out gluten and grains altogether, begin to exercise regularly and get enough sleep, your energy levels (and hormones) should respond accordingly.
No longer will your body rely on sugar and burn glucose for energy; it will instead begin to burn ketones. That’s why I can’t promote the benefits of becoming a fathead enough! It’s a way to help the body and brain become a lean, nimble machine, letting you focus on the goals you want to achieve with a whole lot of newfound energy.
Cook with love and laughter,
Braised Octopus With Bone Marrow
- 2 tbsp coconut oil or good-quality animal fat
- 1 onion, diced
- 1 celery stalk, diced
- 4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
- 1 long red chilli, deseeded & finely chopped (optional)
- 1 bay leaf
- 2 thyme sprigs, leaves picked
- 1kg tentacles from a medium–large octopus, chopped into 5cm pieces
- 250mL full-bodied, preservative-free red wine
- 2 × 400g tins whole peeled tomatoes (or 800g tomatoes, diced)
- 100g kalamata olives, pitted & halved
- 30g salted baby capers, rinsed & patted dry
- 125mL fish or chicken bone broth or water
- Sea salt & freshly ground black pepper
- 200g bone marrow, roughly chopped
- Baby basil leaves, to serve
- Heat the oil or fat in a large, heavy-based saucepan over medium–high heat. Add the onion, celery, garlic, chilli (if using) and herbs, reduce the heat to medium and sauté for 3–5 mins.
- Add the octopus and cook for 5 mins, or until the tentacles are opaque and release some liquid.
- Pour in the wine and cook until reduced by half.
- Stir in the tomatoes, olives, capers and broth or water and season with salt and pepper.
- Reduce the heat to low and simmer, covered, for 1½ hours until the octopus is tender.
- Remove the lid and continue to simmer over low heat for 5–10 mins until reduced to a coating consistency.
- Stir through the bone marrow and simmer for 5 mins until cooked through. Garnish with some baby basil leaves and serve.
- Note: This dish is awesome on its own or tossed with some delicious zucchini or parsnip noodles.
Serves: 4 as a snack
- 50g tapioca flour
- 150g white & black sesame seeds
- 2 avocados, cut into 2cm-thick slices
- 3–4 tbsp coconut oil
- ½ tsp ground spice, such as curry powder, smoked paprika, cumin or turmeric (optional)
- Sea salt
- Lemon wedges, to serve
- Whisk the tapioca and 80mL of water in a bowl until combined. Place the sesame seeds in a small, shallow bowl.
- Dip the avocado slices into the tapioca mixture to coat, then coat with the sesame seeds, patting down gently.
- Heat the coconut oil to 160°C in a frying pan or saucepan. To test the temperature, drop a small piece of avocado in the oil — it should bubble instantly around the edges.
- Working in batches, fry the avocado for 50–60 seconds on each side or until the sesame seeds are golden. Drain on paper towel and season with a little spice (if using) and salt.
- Arrange on a platter and serve with lemon wedges to squeeze over the top.
Seed Crackers with Guacamole
- 1 avocado, diced
- 1 small red chilli, deseeded & finely diced
- ¼ red capsicum, finely diced
- Juice 1 lime
- 1–2 tbsp finely diced red onion
- 1 garlic clove, finely chopped
- 2 tbsp chopped coriander leaves
- 1 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
- Seed crackers of your choice (see recipe below), to serve
- Linseed Crackers
- 160g golden or brown flaxseeds (linseed)
- 80g mixed seeds, such as pumpkin, sunflower, sesame
- 1 tsp favourite ground spice, such as cayenne, smoked paprika
- Cumin or fennel seeds (or see below for other variations)
- To make the guacamole, combine all ingredients in a small bowl and mix well.
- Serve immediately with seed crackers of your choice (recipe instructions below) and raw vegetables (optional).
- Put the flaxseeds in a bowl, pour over enough water to cover and leave overnight. Place the mixed seeds in a separate bowl, pour over enough water to cover and leave overnight. The next morning, drain the flaxseeds and drain and rinse the mixed seeds. Add the mixed seeds to the flaxseeds, which will have a jelly-like texture. Add ½ teaspoon sea salt and spice and transfer to a blender. Pulse a few times to break up the seeds (but do not over-pulse — you want the seeds to be ground but still a little chunky).
- Preheat the oven to 50°C.
- Spread a very thin, even layer of the seed mix on a few waxed baking paper sheets. Bake for approximately 6 hours, turning over halfway through to help the drying process. Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely on the baking sheet.
- Cut into squares with a knife or break into pieces.
- Note: The crackers can be stored in an airtight container for 2–4 weeks.
Barbecued Steak with Chimichurri
- 4 sirloin or scotch fillet steaks (about 200g each)
- 3 tbsp coconut oil
- Sea salt & freshly ground black pepper
- 100g beef marrow (no bone), chopped
- Lemon wedges, to serve
- 3 garlic cloves, peeled & roughly chopped
- 1 jalapeño chilli, deseeded & chopped
- 1 very large handful each flat-leaf parsley & coriander leaves (about 15g each), roughly chopped
- Small handful oregano leaves (about 5g), roughly chopped
- 1 tbsp thyme leaves
- 100mL apple cider vinegar
- ½ tbsp smoked paprika
- ½ tsp ground cumin
- 150mL olive oil or macadamia oil
- Sea salt & freshly ground black pepper
- Remove the steaks from the fridge at least 15 mins before cooking so they come to room temperature. Heat a barbecue plate or chargrill pan to hot.
- Coat the steaks with a little coconut oil and season with salt and pepper. Cook the steaks for 2½–3 mins, or until browned, then flip over and cook for another 2½–3 mins for medium–rare.
- Transfer to a plate, cover with foil and rest in a warm place for 4 mins.
- Place the garlic, chilli and herbs in a food processor bowl and pulse to a fine paste. Add the vinegar, smoked paprika, cumin and oil and pulse to combine. Taste and season with salt and pepper. Set aside until needed.
- Reduce the barbecue or pan to medium heat. Add the chopped marrow and cook for 1 min until lightly golden and cooked through. Season with salt and pepper, then stir through the chimichurri.
- Spoon some chimichurri and bone marrow over each steak and serve with a seasonal salad of your choice and a wedge of lemon.
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