By now cooking at home has become routine. Fresh organic vegetables grace the table, proteins herald from a healthy source and grains are unrefined and complex – but what about fat? Fats warrant discussion, both the fats that are essential to the body’s function and the ones we use for cooking.
Fats, proteins, and carbohydrates are three macronutrients we need most, but all within reason. If sedentary, fat should be the one to curb.
Fats and oils are either saturated, polyunsaturated or monounsaturated fatty acids or a combination of these depending on the number of hydrogen atoms in the fatty acid molecule.
Saturated Fats and Oils
Saturated fats are a major source of energy. These are found mainly in animal products such as meats, eggs and dairy products. Tropical oils like coconut and palm oils are also saturated fats. For many years these fats have been avoided because they were thought to be the source of heart disease. Tropical oils are often found in processed foods. Regardless what oil is used in manufacturing, processed foods are a significant cause of ill health.
Contrary to what has been promoted for years and is still commonly believed, saturated fats and oils are important. Recent studies show no correlation between heart disease and saturated fats or cholesterol. Along with sugar, sodas and refined carbohydrates, the root of obesity is unhealthy quantities of highly refined fats.
Cholesterol and saturated fats are always mentioned together, but they are two different chemicals. Cholesterol is a sterol, produced in the liver from saturated fats and indispensable for the body.
It is a chief component in hormones; it strengthens cell walls, brain and nervous system, forms vitamin D and bile salts. The body does not rely on diet for cholesterol. It synthesizes what it needs and even more than is taken in through food.
Oxidized cholesterol is the villain. Oxidation occurs when fats are altered either through chemicals, air and light.
Damaged cholesterol is sticky and adheres to receptor sites in blood vessels. Fried foods and foods prepared over high heat contain oxidized oil that can clog arteries. In addition to oxidized fat, elements like calcium and other debris sticks to arterial walls contributing to the damage.
Since cholesterol is the stabilizing agent in cell walls but requires a special carrier to get to the site of the damage, LDL – ”the villain” – is doing that job. The “bad”, low-density protein (LDL) works as a shuttle to move cholesterol to sites where cellular repair is needed. There is no “bad cholesterol”. LDL has a purpose.
Nothing is bad in our bodies. All body functions are designed for success, not failure. We do the damage.
Safflower, sunflower, sesame, walnuts and soybeans are polyunsaturated fatty acids. Polyunsaturated oils are combinations of essential omega 6 and omega 3 fatty acids. Essential means that these must come from the diet. The body cannot construct them. Fish oils like krill, wild salmon, mackerel, herring, sardines, anchovies, trout and black cod are the only polyunsaturated oils high in omega 3 EPA and DHA.
Omega 3 EPA (eicosapentaenoic) and DHA (docasahexaenoic) are critical for health. They are especially important during pregnancy to assure proper development of the baby. Due to our modern diet we often don’t get enough omega 3s of any kind, but we get plenty of omega 6s. Vegetable oils used for cooking and commercial food processing are saturated with omega 6. Oil processing is fairly new. Before vegetable oils were processed, we ate fish containing EPA and DHA omega 3 fatty acids.
Getting a constant flow of omega 6 from our diet causes dangerous imbalances in the body.
Omega 6 produces hormones that cause inflammation in the body whereas all omega 3s are anti-inflammatory. This raises the need for more omega 3 to offset inflammatory conditions.
The ratio for a proper balance is 4:1. Ideally it should be 2:1. It used to be 1:1 compared to the present day ratio of 30:1.
Monounsaturated fats are in olive, avocado, vegetable oils and nut oils. Unrefined, these are considered very healthy.
All oils found in super markets are considered unhealthy fats because of processing. These oils are expressed with high heat, chemical solvents, and bleached. After this is done, the oils are deodorized under high temperatures again and filled into light colored bottles to further cause oxidation. The reason for this is to ensure a long shelf life to benefit the manufacturer and store! All vitamins inherent in seeds like vitamin E, lecithin and beta-carotenes have been burned bleached and deodorized away.
Oils nutritionally good to use are produced by expeller process, cold pressed, with only as much heat produced through friction of the press without light or air to ensure that vitamins and fatty acids are not destroyed. The oils are filled into dark bottles for the protection from light and air.
Delicate, cold-pressed oils can be used for cooking but only with low to medium heat. Butter and coconut oil have a high burning point and are better for that purpose.
Nutritional oils such as flax seed oil should never be heated and must remain refrigerated. Check the bottle for expeller and expiration dates containing delicate oils. These should only be a few months apart.
Trans-fats are hydrogenated oils. They are produced to enhance flavor, retain shape of food and are made to last. Trans-fats are synthetic and unhealthy.
Hydrogenated oils are used in deep-frying. This is not a preferred way of cooking. An occasional deep-fried fish or chicken, even French fries once in a while, can be fried in coconut oil or ghee, which is clarified butter.
Steaming food or braising in a broth are healthier methods to get food cooked. Adding unrefined oil at the end is best.
With obesity running rampant, we should limit our fat intake, but still keep in mind that fats and oils are needed to prevent many degenerative diseases. The body can only be well if the right raw material is present.