Which Fats Should You Eat?

December 4, 2011 in Categories: , , , by

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First, the answer is YES!  You should eat fat.  Something like 30-50% of your caloric intake should come from healthy fats.  So, which fats are healthy?

 Let’s start with saturated fat.  Saturated fat is found in meat, eggs, coconut and palm oil.  Saturated fat has a wonderful property in that it is very difficult to oxidize, which means two things:  it doesn’t go rancid easily and it doesn’t cause oxidative stress in your body.  The saturated fat in meat and eggs is a long-chain saturated fat.  It is not the unhealthy fat that was once wrongfully accused as the cause of cardiovascular disease, but how healthy it is for you is still under debate.  My suggestion is to not worry about it, but don’t go out of your way to eat more of it either.  Coconut and palm oil contain a medium chain saturated fat and this is very special.  It can actually be used directly for energy by your cells, without modification and without a spike in insulin or blood sugar.  When I desperately need a snack between meals, I often choose coconut as a way of maintaining my insulin sensitivity.

Saturated fats are the only fats you should cook with on a regular basis.  This is because poly-unsaturated fats do something very bad when they get heated up: they oxidize and produce Advanced Glycation End-Products (AGEs).  This means two things:  they do go rancid much more easily and, if they do produce AGEs, they can cause oxidative damage to the cells in your body.

“Wait, wait, wait.  What are AGEs?” you say.  Good question.  Without delving too deeply into the biochemistry, AGEs are produced inside your body when sugar molecules (most often fructose) bind to fat or protein.  The resulting molecule can cause oxidative damage and inflammation, and is generally considered to be one of the major contributors to aging.  Don’t freak out too much because some production of AGEs is normal and healthy.  The problem is when our bodies produce too much or when we consume too much in our food.  The best way to limit your body’s production of AGEs is to limit your intake of carbohydrates, especially fructose.  You don’t need to go crazy; maybe try and keep under 100g of carbohydrates a day (unless you’re trying to lose weight, and then aim for 30-50g).  And while it probably isn’t as important, it’s also generally sensible to try and limit your consumption of AGEs.  This means not burning your food and not cooking with polyunsaturated fats (like olive, sesame, and flax oils).

It is also important to reduce your intake of omega-6 fatty acids to the best of your ability (and budget).  This means no modern vegetable oils or products made from them, like mayonnaise or store-bought salad dressings.  Also, be mindful of your nut consumption and try to eat grass-fed meat, free-range poultry, and wild game whenever it’s not prohibitively expensive.  At the same time, try and increase your omega-3 intake by eating more wild caught fish (canned salmon and sardines are great inexpensive options), omega-3 eggs, and maybe also using a fish oil supplement.

In summary:  You still have lots of great options.  You can get your “raw” fats from avocados, avocado oil, olives, olive oil, sesame oil, nuts and seeds and their oils (in moderation), and coconut and coconut products.  The best sources of “cooked” fats are grass-fed meat, free-range poultry, wild game, pasture-raised or omega-3 eggs and wild-caught fish.  For cooking, I suggest using a high quality extra virgin olive oil (see Olive Oil Redemption: Yes, It’s a Great Cooking Oil!), avocado oil, coconut oil (extra virgin or naturally refined), palm oil (make sure it’s ethically-sourced), grass-fed butter or ghee (if you tolerate it–many don’t, so use with caution), suet, lard, tallow or other animal fat (especially, if pasture-fed).  And remember, this isn’t supposed to increase your stress.  If you can only afford conventional ground beef, then don’t worry about it.  Do what you can and know that you will feel better for every positive change you make!


Hello – I have just found this site and I want to thank you soooo much for all the information you have here – I have been reading for ages and have learned a lot. I am trying to regain weight and am also struggling with a yet un-named gut disorder (suspect SIBO) and also with the medical establishment.

Hello Ive been researching AGEs for the last 4 1/2 years and have found that animal proteins create the highest levels of these heat generated toxins due to the glucose stored in the muscles. we have limited our animal protein intake to no more than 3 meals a week (not 3 days – 3 meals) and only cooked our meats in soups, no more broiling, frying or grilling. We have raised our intake of raw fruits and vegetables because they contain traces or no AGEs.
There are many studies on this distinction between which foods create the highest levels. Here is one:


You may want to look into this subject a bit more so you understand the implications of having too high of an intake of cooked animal proteins.

I have also found that insulin protects our body against glycation. So indeed animal protein does raise insulin levels.
My husband quit eating fruit, breads, grains, and sweets but still could not get his insulin levels to balance.
Since limiting the animal protein to 3 times a week and adding more fruits to replace calories his insulin levels are much, much better.

Through his own research he found that the high fat can disrupt the sugar getting into the cells, which raises insulin levels, so be careful of the fat intake too…even if it is from raw nuts. He keeps his fat intake to 20% or less.
Adding fresh fruits helps to get the calories you need. Fruit gets metabolized through a process called diffusion and does not need insulin to be metabolized (as long as fat level is not too high) You can check this for yourself by using a glucose monitor.

Hope this helps anyone dealing with high insulin levels. This info has been a godsend for my husband.

My Best, Kristine

What about diabetes, high cholesterol, high triglycerides? I was put on a low sodium, low carb, low fat diet!

These are the best fats, ESPECIALLY for diabetes, high cholesterol and high triglycerides! I would recommend checking out Peter Attia’s site for explanations on the links between dietary fats and sugars and metabolic syndrome. Eatingacademy.com

More and more grass fed beef is becoming available and the price is not that much more than commercial beef. You just have to be willing to buy it differently. Our family buys a split half of beef – so one-fourth of a cow – which is about 90-100 lbs (including bones) for $6.75 per lb. all at one time. The price per lb. stays the same for all cuts. Yes, it fills our freezer. The average price for extra-lean ground beef in May 2013 (according to http://www.bls.gov/ro3/apmw.htm) is $4.86 per lb. Our family eats 1 lb. per week, so that would be an increased cost of $1.86 per week for the good stuff.

Grass-fed beef tallow is full of good fats and fat-soluble vitamins. It would be possible to eat so much that you gain weight because it is a very energy dense food, but generally as long as you aren’t eating jars of it with a spoon, I think you’re fine.

I read in a paleo book that you should try to eat lean meats as opposed to meats with the fat on them , is that true for weight loss on the paleo diet ? Do I need to count calories on the paleo diet and not have so much beef fat/tallow ?

That’s a very old viewpoint and not one that is generally recommended by the paleo community today. The recommendation for lean meat assumes that you are only buying conventional meat and that you will get the majority of your fats from seafood. If you are buying grass-fed or pasture-raised meats, you should be eating the fat since it’s extremely healthy. I generally don’t advocate counting anything on paleo, unless you have a health problem that forces you to.

What about canola oil? It seems to me that every paleo sites lump it together with the other modern oil, which are full of pufas. I do not understand why. Canola oil mainly has monosaturated fat, depending the source it has 61-63 % oleic fatty acid(= monosaturated fat), 7% saturated fat, 9-11% omega -3 fat, and only about 21-27% omega 6 (bad pufa). I understand that heating monosaturated fat is bad, but what is wrong with canola oil in mayonnaise or in salad dressings ?

Canola is generally considered the least bad or the modern refined oils and in Cordain’s original version of the Paleo Diet, it was actually endorsed (which he later retracted). I think the reasons stem from the fact that the oil is heated as part of refinement, which damages fats, that ALA is not useable by the body so that omega-3 isn’t the “good” omeag-3, and it’s still has a substantial amount of omega-6.

Well, I avoid it myself. There’s three things to consider when evaluating a fat/oil. First is the actual fatty acids that make it up (so looking at things like omega-6 to 3 ratio, other beneficial fatty acids like oleic acid or conjugated linoleic acid). Second is whether processing oxidizes those fats (likely in the case of canola oil). Third is the nutrient content of the fat/oil (fat soluble vitamins, polyphenols, which canola oil has very little of). I avoid canola oil for myself and my family, but think that there’s worse refined oils out there.

Hi Paliomom,
In this article, you say that saturated fat from animals is not the cause of heart disease.
Can you please tell me what IS the cause of heart disease, I’d like to avoid it!


Hi, could I please get a link to the study supporting your statement “The best way to limit your body’s production of AGEs is to limit your intake of carbohydrates, especially fructose.” I didn’t see it linked on the page.
Could I also get a link explicating a bit more on your statement “Saturated fats are the only fats you should cook with on a regular basis. This is because poly-unsaturated fats do something very bad when they get heated up: they oxidize and produce Advanced Glycation End-Products (AGEs).” with indicated research support?

You will not get answer Greg….everytime I read about paleo, if somebody ask for reference or is contradictory to paleo gurus statemenets, they didn’t answer! Paleo was the worst trail and error in my life. Massive brain fog, no energy, hypoglycemia everytime I eat protein or vegetables or roots etc. Massive mental decline from too much saturated fats! Gas, bloating….After lowering fats, protein and increase carbo, everything gets corrected. DON”T BE SO DOGMATIC IN PALEO STYLE!!!

How do you feel about avocado oil for cooking? I know the lipid profile is very similar to olive oil, but the smoke point is higher. My assumption by reading this article is that smoke point does not equal fat oxidation, and oxidation of fats can likely occur before the smoke point is reached, correct? As always, Sarah; great read!

What do you think about cooking with Bacon drippings? Im surprised that it’s never mentioned at all? I would prefer my bacon be Grass-fed, however, as it’s not yet affordable for me, I use TraderJoe’s Bacon Bits n Pieces, nitrate & nitrite free.
By the way, thank you so much for your dedication to the matter of health & for sharing with us!

It seems like all the oils OK for cooking are solid at room temperature (unless you like to live in a sauna). What oil would you reccommend for marinating before grilling meat? Is there a certain “safe” oil that would marinate well when melted, then solidified on the meat? Does that even work for marinating? Or is there an “unsafe” oil that is less unsafe and could be used for marinating?

What’s the max amount of olive oil (and butter) you should have daily?
And is it ok to cook olive oil over med high heat? Now that I’m trying to only eat mostly fruits, veggies and some meat I mostly sauté my veggies since I’m not a big raw food eater. But I’m worried about my butter (when cooking eggs) and oil consumption.

How much fat you want to eat depends on your goals. If you need to gain weight, it’s a good way to get extra calories into your diet. It is also a good way to make your meals more filling if you are hungry frequently. I do not recommend heating olive oil. Use fats that are solid at room temperature like bacon grease, lard, coconut oil, or palm oil instead. – Christina, Sarah’s assistant

I am confused. I didn’t think a lot of seed oils were allowed on the paleo diet. Well I know they aren’t for the SCD.

What about cacao/cocoa butter? Is it allowed for Autoimmune protocol? I didn’t find this in your (great) book. Thanks a lot!

What about extra light olive oil? I make my own mayo and find that this oil is the best tasting one, other’s seem to have too strong of taste.

What would be the best, healthiest fat to consume when you no longer have your gallbladder, as it aids in the digestion of fats? Thanks!

This doesn’t really pertain to fats-though I found this article extremely interesting and helpful. I will definitely be only cooking with palm and coconut oil in the future!! What I wanted to ask was, are you saying that you can only afford conventional ground beef? I only ask because I find it relieving that you’re being so down to earth about it – as so many people preach only about how you “MUST” have grass-fed beef. I personally do consume mostly grass-fed/free-range/organic, and buy in bulk when there are sales.. However, it’s not always possible. I appreciate the honesty!

I have recently started the paleo diet and have been getting a good amount of healthy saturated fats into my diet. I had bloods tests and the only thing that came back as a concern was a higher than normal level of ldl cholesterol. I was curious to know what this was at and I am not shocked that it is somewhat high. Does the exceptable level of ldl in the paleo community differ from the conventional medicine community? Or should I be cutting back foods that perhaps increase ldl? How many grams of saturated fat are recommended?



I’m curious,

It seems like every M.D. who researches nutrition, and the World Health Organization are against ALL saturated fat, and are against liquid fats in general because they are high in calories without adding nutrition. The only fats they advocate are a 4 to 1 ratio of Omega 3 to Omega 6, and this in moderation…

How is it that they are so wrong in telling us to avoid fats?


lately I’ve been experiencing allergic reactions to coconut oil. What would be the next best cooking fat to use? I was using palm shortening but I read that was no good if I’m trying to balance my hormones. Thank you

I’m reading Wheat Belly and the author goes into some detail of the exogenous nature of meats which produce AGEs content of more than 1000 fold when heated at high temperatures and longer cooking times ! As well as high AGE content of cured meats. What is your perspective on this?

I recently found your site and am SO excited. Have had food issues all my life (65 now). With all your credible research, I plunged into your autoimmune protocol food regimen @ 10 days ago (had been eating quite healthy prior) Noticing so many positive changes: decrease in inflammation hands and feet (inflammatory arthritis), consistently clearer nasal passages, reduction of ‘brain fog,’ peaceful guts, relaxing of entire body including emotional state. And I am definitely noticing reduction in eye floaters. At 5′ 10 1/2″ I am also trying to maintain/gain weight, so keeping to your article about that. THANK YOU, Sarah, for your generosity in sharing all your discoveries, and for your scientific approach, scouting out all the research info. I discovered your articles after beginning a Novena of prayer for the intention of help and guidance to re-balance my body systems using food, vice medications. I KNOW I was led here. God Bless you! I also just had a first appt. with a Naturopath to further help professionally guide me. I was seeing gradual deterioration of health – so discouraging. The medical Drs. I see have no time to listen and no ideas beyond standard meds. Now I have hope to halt disease progression and restore proper functioning of body beginning at cellular level. AMEN!

Thank you for sharing! I’m new to paleo, and I’ve been wondering about how much and which fat to eat, and this was all of the answers I needed. 🙂

I notice that you add “schmaltz'”, rendered chicken as a good fat for cooking. I have been eating more turkey and wonder if the turkey fat is also ok. Thank you, Estelle

As I checked out the meat you suggest, I find that the ones I’m interested in are quite high in Omega 6, Is that a problem? thanks!

Hi there,

I have developed an intolerance to olive oil. :/ But I love salads. Avocado oil is expensive… What are your feelings on sunflower oil? I know safflower, canola etc are a no go.


Hi, I’m new to the auto immune protocol and after reading this article I’m wondering about a conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) supplement I’ve been taking to stabilize my weight. I have Hashimoto’s thyroiditis and I’ve struggled with controlling my weight. I also have another condition called Ehlers-Danlos syndrome which basically means I’m extremely hypermobile. As such, it’s incredibly important that I keep my weight down to avoid injuries and heightened general pain levels. Using 3400mg of CLA per day has allowed me to halt weight gain, and I’m slowly losing weight (approx -1kg/8weeks).

Is this affecting my health for the worse and should I stop taking this immediately?

Thank you


I’m confused again. You list flax, nuts and seeds here. But other list you’ve posted say “no” to those. Please explain. Thanks!

Responding to Cori – Is it the case that flax, nuts and seeds are ok on the standard Paleo diet, but excluded on the Paleo Autoimmune Protocol until such time as the autoimmune disease/s is/are in remission, when it is then safe to try and reintroduce them?

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