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On the trail of local healthy fats...

The underlying principles of the LCHF/Primal diet are twofold. Firstly, to reduce carbohydrates to allow for circulating levels of insulin to drop, thus unleashing a cascade of beneficial metabolic effects, and secondly, to remove inflammation-stimulating foods from your life, namely sugar and industrial seed oils. But to my way of thinking, a "diet" or "way of eating" is more about what you DO eat rather than focusing on what you DON'T eat. With that in mind, I set out on the trail of healthy fats that were locally available in my small central Ontario city of 22,000 souls.

Healthy fats are ones that come from relatively unprocessed sources, the ones our ancestors would have recognized. Rendered animal fats and dairy fats top that list. Relatively stable oils pressed from tree fruits were also highly prized throughout history. Pressed seed oils are a very recent invention, other than fresh linseed/flax oil, which was a rarity and highly valued in times past. The fact that grain-based, highly unsaturated oils have very short shelf-lives, spoiling and going rancid very rapidly, made them historically unusable for human consumption, even if they could be easily pressed. Once rancid (which happened almost instantly), linseed oil made great lubricant and a long-lasting, if rather stinky, paint...

More recent technology in the 20th century allowed for better packaging to exclude light and oxygen (think dark glass bottles with good seals), refrigeration or, the ultimate preservation trick, hydrogenation, to turn those pesky unstable polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) into much more stable saturated fats. Never mind that the process uses toxic metals and other chemicals, and doesn't create the same shape of saturated fats that are used throughout the body... What harm could a misshapen quasi-fat do in the body anyways, right???

Butter and olive oil are healthy fats that are part of everyday life in Canada. However, there's OK butter and olive oil, and superior butter and olive oil. A variety of "extra virgin" olive oils (EVOO) are available at a variety of price points in all grocery stores, but there's lots of stories of how these oils are cut with canola oil, or represent poorer quality olive oils. It's a situation of "buyer beware", or to put it another way, "You get what you pay for".

Being neither an elitist or spendthrift, I keep three bottles of olive oil in my house. Everyday, cheap-from-the-grocery-store extra virgin olive oil, the workhorse for most things. I say cheap, but no olive oil is truly cheap compared to the big jugs of "vegetable oil". The second is a bottle of "extra light" olive oil (ELOO), EVOO's deodorized cousin. Same fatty acid profile, less of the other compounds that make olive oil a virtual superfood for health and flavour. I use it when I don't want the flavour of EVOO, like in baking. The third is my primo Rallis Extra Virgin Cold Pressed olive oil from Greece. Believe it or not, it's a local food. Nick Rallis, from Sauble Beach and his family own an olive orchard in Greece and they press this extraordinary oil using Canadian Ice Wine technology for an amazing richly flavoured raw olive oil. Locally, it can be purchased at the Milk Maid in Owen Sound and from Nick or family at Keady Market on Tuesdays and sometimes at the Owen Sound Farmers Market on Saturday mornings. Visit their website for more of their fascinating story. http://icepressed.com/ I use my Rallis oil for salads and other uses that will ensure it is never cooked and that the amazing flavour shines through.

My approach to butter is similar. Everyday grocery store butter is my go-to. I use it for everything - no margerine has entered my house in decades. When it's on sale, I stock up and freeze it. My freezer probably has 10 or more lbs of butter in it right now. Though the gold standard of butters is a purely grassfed butter, they are very hard to find in my area and over-the-top expensive. I have a half-lb package of a New Zealand butter that I found in the grocery store in Wiarton, but it was $12 for a half lb - out of reach for most people. It's for special places where the butter taste will shine through, not just for general use. We currently have a small bag of little new potatoes that will be boiled in their papery-thin skins for supper soon, and the premium butter will come out for them. The grass-fed butter is much darker and richer in colour and taste, but I will admit that, having grown up on regular old salted butter, I actually don't enjoy the unsalted grassfed butter as much as I thought I would.

So, today I was on a mission to find healthy fats in my town. And here's what I came up with. My first big score was a 100% avocado oil mayonnaise, an exceptionally rare bird. I have been using Hellman's full fat olive oil blend mayo - partially olive oil (they say...) and partially canola oil. Not an ideal choice but the best of the available alternatives. I have made my own mayo with ELOO in the past and it's delicious, but I usually don't bother. The avocado oil mayo was at the Good Health Mart on the west side of Owen Sound. They also had avocado oil, not quite so rare, but still hard to find. Both were quite expensive.

The duck fat (a product of Quebec) came from a boutique food store on the main street, the Milk Maid. A client told me about this. I am excited to try it out, as it's supposed to add a very rich taste to vegetables and eggs. Great for roasting veggies. The jar was $10.

Other healthy fats that I hope to locate locally are lard (I'm hoping to talk my farmer friend into getting lard processed from her own Berkshire pigs), tallow (from grassfed beef preferably), and goose fat (also from my farmer friend, I hope).

Then, of course there is coconut oil, both the extra virgin type (EVCO) - full of coconut flavour) and the organic but non-virgin type, again the deodorized cousin of the EVCO. And of course, I recommend to everyone to start a jar for bacon drippings and keep it in the fridge for frying up other foods, imparting that wonderful smoky salty goodness of the bacon flavour.

For adding specific flavours, oils from other sources can be used as flavour enhancers. Into this category goes the toasted sesame oil that gives Asian cooking a very characteristic aroma, also flavoured olive oils and the nut oils. In my collection at home, I have richly flavoured pumpkinseed oil that I brought back from Germany and a lemon scented EVOO, gift from a friend. I haven't tried the macademia nut oil, a recent find as well, but as I LOVE macademias, I can't imagine that it won't be wonderful.

That's by no means an exhaustive list, but it does cover most of what I have found so far in my area. Even the cheapest healthy fats are going to be more expensive that industrially produced processed oil products - butter vs margerine, EVOO vs canola or corn oils - but they are still a wise investment. Given that the fats we eat are incorporated into every cell in our bodies, it is vital that the quality of the fats we choose be the best we can afford. Good health is the payoff, and it's a bargain at any price.

Enjoy your fats!

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