Nutrition is the study of how foods and nutrients affect health, growth and the development of individuals. This is why it is important to understand how the foods we eat and the ingredients we cook with affect us. Fats and oils are made up of fatty acids, which are essential to all life forms.
In today’s society, fats have gotten a bad rap. Most people group all fats together as being “bad” or “unhealthy” but this is not the case. Foods like nuts, avocados and fish – which are high in fat – have all shown the ability to reduce cardiovascular disease, lower LDL and reduce total cholesterol. If this is the case, then why do so many individuals associate “low fat” and “no fat” as the key to health?
Healthy Fats – Benefits to Consider
- Good source of energy
- Rich in antioxidants
- Contain anti-inflammatory properties
- Can lower risk of cardiovascular disease
- Can support weight loss
- Can improve lipid panels, reduce insulin level and improve blood sugar control
- May decrease the risk of Type 2 diabetes
- May lower risk of strokes
- Can lower blood pressure
- Supports brain development and function
- Supports healthy hair and skin
The Different Types of Fats
- Saturated Fat – commonly comes from animal sources and is solid at room temperatures. This type of fat is usually associated with increasing cholesterol, LDL’s and lowering HDL. However, saturated fats can also come from plant-based sources like coconuts, which are known to have many healthy benefits.
- Monounsaturated fats – tend to be liquid at room temperature and are found mainly in vegetable oils. These oils make up the typical Mediterranean diet. Common sources of monounsaturated fats include olive oil, safflower oil, sunflower oil and avocados. Studies have shown that diets rich in monounsaturated fats can have numerous health benefits.
- Polyunsaturated fats – are found mainly in plant-based foods, seafood and fish. Omega-3 and Omega-6 are probably the most well known polyunsaturated fatty acids. These omega fatty acids are considered essential because the human body doesn’t make them and they must be obtained from our diets. It is important to have a healthy ratio of more omega-3 to omega-6 in your diet.
- Trans Fatty Acids – are considered by many to be the worst kind of fats on the market today. They are associated with many of the chronic health issues seen in Americans. Trans fat can be found in some meat products, but most comes from an industrial process that adds hydrogen to vegetable oil, hence the term “partially hydrogenated oils”. Trans fats are often found in margarine, processed foods, and fried foods.
What to Look For in Your Oils
Stick to olive oils that have just one country of origin and understand how your oil was made.
- Expeller pressed – May or may not be cold pressed. This is a chemical free mechanical process of extracting oils from nuts and seeds.
- Cold Pressed – Expeller pressed at temperatures less than 120 degrees Fahrenheit. This helps preserve the flavor of the oil.
- Unrefined – This is when the oil is pressed and then left as-is. They are richer in nutrients and fuller taste, and tend to have shorter shelf lives.
- Refined – This is when the oil is pressed and then altered to remove impurities. It allows for longer shelf life, higher cooking points but can bland the flavor of the oil. This process also may remove many of the nutrients that the oil once contained.
Choosing the Right Oil to Cook With
When it comes to cooking with oils you want to make sure to pay attention to the smoking point of the oil. Choose one that can withstand the heat of whatever you are preparing. Cooking at a temperature too high for the oil can lead to free radical formation and loss of nutritional integrity.
- For high heat cooking like frying or wok cooking, you want to make sure the oil has a high smoke point. Typically avocado oil, coconut oil, high oleic safflower oil, and almond oil can be used for high heat cooking.
- Medium heat oils typically have fuller flavors. This makes them ideal for salad dressing or sautéing. Consider using olive oil, high oleic unrefined safflower or sunflower oils, coconut oil, peanut oil, or toasted sesame oil.
- Low heat oils are not for cooking. They can be used in dressings, or poured onto a finished dish for added health benefits. Non-cooking oils include flax, fish, wheat germ, evening primrose and borage oil.
Foods with Healthy Fats
- Grass-fed/finished meats tend to have less saturated fat and more omega fatty acids
- Butter from grass-fed cows
- Pastured eggs
- Nuts and seeds, ideally raw or sprouted
- Fish: wild salmon, herring, sardines, halibut, mackerel, trout, cod