Brain Food: Healthy Fats for Cooking and Dressings

Fats are confusing.   Which fats are healthy for cooking and baking with and which are good for salad dressings and drizzling?

Let me lay it our for you: 

Brain Food: Healthy Fats for Cooking and Dressing - Wahls Paleo Diet

Not what you've heard before, right?  I had to completely change the oils my family eats after reading Dr. Wahls' book Minding My Mitochondria.  We ditched the canola oil and started to buy organic butter, clarifying what we needed for cooking.  I was so excited to find lard for $5 a pound at my local farmer stand.  We now only use walnut and olive oil for dressings and uncooked foods.

You will find my recipes for this series, Brain Food, have the correct oils.  Use the 'Wahls Paleo Diet Recipes and Ideas' link in the header to find all the posts in this series.  If you dig back into my blog you will find some that don't comply.  By the way, I can't believe this blog is going on eight years old!

Are you ready to change up your fats or if you are already working on the Wahls Diet, fine tune your knowledge?

Here are some good basic rules.

Always choose vegetable oils that:

  • Have been processed and heated the least to reduce the amount of volatile trans fats.  Cold pressed is almost always a good option.
  • Are from organic vegetables or seeds to reduce toxin exposure
  • Healthy vegetable oils include: olive oil, nut oils, avocado oil, grape seed oil, flax seed oil and hemp oil

Always choose animal fats that:
  • Are from grass-fed or wild animals to get a better ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fats
  • Healthy rendered animal fats include: lard (pig), tallow (beef), fish, chicken and other poultry, and ghee (clarified butter)

Coconut Oil

Coconut oil is the only vegetable fat I've seen Dr. Wahls say is okay to heat.  This was on her FaceBook Page in March:  "Coconut oil is ok for heating, clarified butter (removes proteins) and rendered animal fats all okay for heating. All others cold. Heating food at high temps damages vitamins, antioxidants, takes away compounds your cells wanted to use."

Omega-3 and Omega-6 Fat

What's the big deal about omega-3 and omega-6 fats?  Our bodies need both.  It turns out grains like corn and soy beans are very high in omega-6.  Industrialized cultures like ours eat a lot of grains.  We are don't eat enough omega-3 fats.  For many Americans the ration of omega-6 to omega-3 is 30:1.  For coastal communities with seafood-based diets, the rations is 3:1.  The best ratio of omega fatty acids for disease prevention is between 10:1 and 3:1 [source]

If our bodies and brains don't get a good ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 then substitutions start happening.  Substitutions are almost never a good thing.  Too much omega-6 can cause rewiring of the brain causing misfires and generally more inflammation.

If the diet is rich in omega-3 fatty acids then  the levels of inflammation molecules are lower and autoimmune diseases like arthritis, MS, Parkinsons, diabetes, heart disease and dementia are significantly less common.

As Dr. Wahls puts it, "Having a healthy mitochondria or not having a healthy mitochondria is the difference between having two miles to the gallon verses having 38 miles to the gallon.  We have hundreds, thousands of mitochondria per brain cell.  So it is the difference between being a snail and a jet liner." [from Food as Medicine Brain Health video]

Here's more information from Dr. Wahls.  In this short video she's talking about oils and fats:

Transcript of video: 

Oils are very important for our body as our fats.  My brain is 60-70% fat. Therefore it is important that I consume healthy appropriate fats so that my brain can make insulation, the myelin, on the wiring of the spinal cord and the brain.   
It is important to have omega-3 fats as you would find in wild fish, grass-fed meat.  And non-processed fats.  The processed vegetable oils are high in omega-6.  And when you heat those vegetable oils you'll increase the production of trans fats.  Trans fats are particularly unstable and will do a lot of damage to your blood vessels. 
For that reason, I encourage the use of omega-3 fats only for salad dressing.  If you are going to heat a fat use something such as bacon fat, lard or coconut oil.   

This just went up on the Wahls Foundation Facebook Page March 22, 2013:

The processed fats are high in trans fat to make the fat last long on the shelf (and are very toxic to brain cells). Add all the tasty carbs that quickly turn to blood sugar and you get damaged blood vessels, strained brain cells and steadily declining health.
How are you feeding your family? Fast processed food (trans fats), high carb diet that is tasty, convenient, and destroying our health and our economies world wide?


  1. What about lamb fats? I'm curious as to why you specify pig lard and beef tallow, what about pig tallow? I've just rendered some lamb suet to make tallow from some kidneys I was given from a home kill, so I'm curious to know where you think that would fit in.

    1. Lamb fat is A-okay if it is grass fed. Pretty much all animal fat is good for heating and cooking if it is from healthy grass-fed animals. I guess I should have made that clearer. You're probably the first person I've run into using lamb's fat! :)

  2. Great thanks! I'm in New Zealand, so we probably eat a lot more lamb I guess :-)
    We always refer to tallow being rendered suet (kidney fat) and lard being rendered fat from other areas, generally around the abdomen regardless of what animal it comes from.
    I did a wee google search and found a few sites that said lard is pig fat and tallow is beef fat, and then some that said what I thought - US wellness meats being one. Not sure which is true though - that's the trouble with the internet!

    1. The internet is fascinating. To think I'm sitting here in the middle of North America as spring comes on and for you cold weather is coming!

      Fats are interesting. There is a whole vocabulary I'm just learning. I looked up lard in Cook's Illustrated and they had this to say:

      That's good to know, but we still had a problem with lard from a culinary point of view. Most of the store-bought lard we’ve cooked and baked with has had a sour, off flavor. Enter leaf lard. Often called kidney fat, leaf lard is rendered from the fat that lines the abdominal cavity of the pig. According to Dr. David Meisinger of the National Pork Board, leaf lard is considered to be of higher quality than the fat from any other part of the pig. We contacted a producer of supermarket lard and learned that it was indeed not leaf lard but could have been rendered from any type of pork fat.