During the month of October, I will be participating in the Write 31 Days hosted by Crystal Stine. My category is Food, Health & Wellness and my theme is "Into The Kitchen".
Oil? Is it good, bad or a necessary evil? Back in the 1990s everything was coming up fat-free and that was a big selling point. Just prior to the onslaught of fat-free everything, I read in Prevention Magazine that you could lose weight by cutting fat. They gave a chart that listed your (desired) weight and how many grams of fat you were allowed in a day to reach your goal. I followed it, faithfully, and it worked.
Do you know why? By reducing the fat in my diet, I was also reducing the calories. There are many diets that claim success if you cut fat or carbs or sweets (yes, I know sugar is a carb, but I'm differentiating between a candy bar and a plate of pasta).
So just how good or bad is fat? Our bodies need a certain amount of fat to function properly. The good fats, polyunsaturated and monounsaturated, are healthy and required by our bodies. They build cell membranes and are needed for blood clotting and muscle movement. They also give us energy, protect our organs and help keep us warm, too. Since our bodies don't manufacture them, it is essential we get them from our diet. Below is a list of good fat sources.
Peanut oil and butter
Flax seed/flax oil
Fish, such as salmon, mackerel, herring, albacore tuna, and trout
Then there are the less good and really bad fats. The less good fat, which is probably more controversial than the rest, is saturated fat. Long thought to be linked with heart disease, saturated fats are found in dairy products like whole milk and cheese, coconut oil and red meat and bacon fat. Research continues into saturated fat debate and what is good one day is bad the next and vice versa, and you can find data to back up whichever side of the fence you're on.
Trans fat, which many of us grew up eating, is deemed to be the worst fat and is not considered safe in any amount. Trans fat is formed when hydrogen is added to vegetable oil to make it more solid. Look for the words "partially hydrogenated oil" on the label.
I freely admit that I eat, within moderation, from three of the four fat groups and I'm sure a tiny bit of trans fat creeps in unnoticed. I do not offer any advice, health-wise, on which fats you should eat or avoid, except the evil trans fat.
However, I can help with the cooking part. Not all oils or fats are equal when heat is applied. Smoke point is a term that refers to the temperature at which an oil begins to smoke. Interestingly, butter has the lowest smoke point of 200°-250°F, while Ghee, which is a product of butter, has the highest at around 485°F. That is because Ghee is butter that has had the proteins and sugars removed.
It is important to remember that there is a difference between frying (also known as deep-frying) and sauteing. When frying foods you should choose an oil that has a smoke point of 400° or higher. For pan sautéing, fats such as butter and olive oil will be fine.
*Common cooking oils and their smoke points Fahrenheit:
Coconut (extra virgin) 350°
Olive (extra virgin) 375°
*This information will vary by information source.
What do I use?
For baking I use either vegetable oil or butter, depending on the recipe. I usually sauté with olive oil or butter, but sometimes use coconut oil or bacon fat, again depending on what I am cooking. Unless you are deep frying or cooking over very high heat, it is a matter of personal taste and/or dietary needs.
The bottom line is we need some fat in our diets, and let's face it folks, fat tastes good. So choose your fats, get into the kitchen and cook up something tasty.
If you enjoyed this post, please leave a comment. I would love to hear your thoughts.