If you’re like most Australians who have grown up in a low-fat world, you will no doubt have been taught some misconceptions about fat. Since the 1980s, mainstream nutritionists have advocated for a low-fat diet, and have advised replacing natural saturated fats, like butter, with man-made fats, like margarine. They believed that saturated fats were the cause of high cholesterol, as well as weight gain. Only recently has this poor nutritional advice (which has NEVER been backed up by reliable science) been dispelled. Finally health experts are discovering that natural fats are actually very good for us, and don’t necessarily make us fat (unless of course you eat bucket loads of butter a day!), nor do they specifically raise cholesterol levels. We love this image below that puts the debate about fats so succinctly:

We’ve also included an image below to show you which healthy fats to use in cooking. You’ll notice that the safe fats/oils are divided into two sections: fats for hot uses and fats for cold uses. Some fats, such as those for cold uses, are quite fragile and can easily become oxidised and produce free radicals (VERY BAD STUFF) when heated. This is one of the main reasons why all the man-made oils are bad, because they have all been pressured under great heat during the process of making the spreads and oils.

More about Processed Fats

Man-made fats can cause damage to our bodies. When you get into the science of this, it’s actually really, really scary just how dangerous man-made fats are. These fats come under the types of trans-fats, hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated fats, and other highly processed, oxidised oils. As a reminder, these include:

Canola oil
Vegetable oil
Soybean oil
Safflower oil
Grapeseed oil
Corn oil
Sunflower oil
Rice bran oil

Why are these fats bad for you?


Trans-fats are the worse. These are unsaturated fats that have been turned into much more dangerous fats by changing the placement of the hydrogen atoms in the molecule. The most common trans-fat is margarine, which has been processed to become solid like butter. These fats are able to be absorbed by individual cells in the body and mess up the function of the cell. Trans-fats hamper with cell function so profoundly that they can kill your cells – and eventually, kill you. Because trans-fats are man-made and have foreign molecules, the body doesn’t know what to do with them. Research indicates that trans-fats are linked with fat-storage (especially around the belly area), obesity, inflammation, atherosclerosis, heart disease, growth defects and high cholesterol.

Trans-fat is not only found in margarine and shortening, but many processed products such as pastries, donuts, muffins, biscuits, cookies, cakes, frostings, pies, crackers, chips, bread, instant flavoured coffee drives, microwave popcorn, and the usual fast food suspects like French fries, fried chicken, battered fish, etc. Trans-fat is cheap to make, so the food industry takes advantage of this – and takes advantage of you by poisoning your body with free radicals and toxins!

Hydrogenated fats and highly processed oils

These fats are the so-called vegetable oils, though they actually come from grains and beans. Unlike trans-fats that are solid, they are man-made fats that are liquid. They go rancid easily and break down into free radicals when heated (all vegetable oils have been processed by heat). Worse, most of these fats have gone through a hydrogenation process to make them last as long as saturated fats, but this process makes them basically unusable to the body, causing all kinds of health problems similar to those mentioned above in relation to trans-fats.

Hydrogenated oils are cheap and nasty. Because of this, they are also used in lots of processed products, such as salad dressings, rice milk, marinades, sauces, and canned fish (be wary of canned fish in ‘olive oil blend’ as the blend is made up of a mix of olive oil and hydrogenated oils such as canola oil, sunflower oil or vegetable oil). All unfermented soy products should be avoided as well, as processing damages the soy bean’s membranes, releasing PUFAs which are rapidly oxidised to harmful mega trans-fats.

Something scary about trans and hydrogenated fats is that it doesn’t matter how little of this stuff you consume – after you eat even the smallest portion of these distorted, mutated fatty acids, they can reproduce inside you, damaging almost any part of your body: cell membranes, chromosomes, other fats – you name it. So please, please, if you take only one thing away from our nutrition advice, we would recommend it be a life-long avoidance of all man-made fats!

Bad fats are hidden in a lot of processed and canned foods, so you need to begin reading the ingredients labels on all packaged foods that you buy (if you are still purchasing them!).

~ Filipa Bellette

Clinical Nutritionist

Functional Medicine Practitioner