Picking Your Fat
If you have ever walked down the Cooking Oil aisle at your local grocery store, you have probably been struck by the abundance of selections. Bottles of olive oil, both extra virgin and light, vegetable oil, canola oil, peanut oil, corn oil, coconut oil, flavored oils, etc. fill rows up to the ceiling, not to mention the tubs of shortening and perhaps even some containers of lard. But what should you be putting in your shopping cart?
Despite its relative calorie density, fat does play an important role in our diets (see the article from our summer issue for more information: The Skinny on Fat). And while some recent studies have resulted in questions about whether some fats are as bad as previously thought, there is still a robust background of research showing that people eating diets that get most of their fat from extra virgin olive oil, fish, and nuts have fewer cases of heart
disease and stroke than those that don’t.
Health questions aside, different fats have different qualities and some are better suited for different culinary situations than others. Let’s look at how we should be using them:
Extra-virgin olive oil: As we mentioned earlier, EVOO (as celebrity chef Rachel Ray would say) is the safest bet when cooking at home. It’s the essential base to a great salad dressing, what you should be sautéing your foods in, and a drizzle of it on certain dishes can accentuate the flavors to change good to great. Recent studies have shown that some olive oil brands have been cut with less expensive oils, but Fit815 staff favorite California Olive Ranch has passed testing with flying colors.
Vegetable/canola oil: While great in savory dishes, the distinct flavor of high-quality extra virgin olive oil isn’t always what you want, especially in sweet dishes. Vegetable and canola oil are very neutral in flavor, so they are perfect for your baking needs. They also have a higher smoke point than olive oil, so they are good for deep frying and high-heat sears.
Butter: The high saturated fat content in dairy products makes butter a possible culprit in the increased incidence of heart disease. But unfortunately they haven’t been able to replace the tremendous flavor of high-quality butter. Use sparingly and be sure to savor it when you do!
Coconut oil: Coconut oil has seen its popularity increase dramatically as a variety of popular diets and alternative medicine proponents have touted it as a healthy fat. But coconut oil is high in saturated fat, and while there are differences in types of saturated fat, the saturated fat in coconut oil will still raise LDL cholesterol, the type that increases the risk for cardiovascular disease. So if you like the flavor, use it sparingly or in moderation, and be aware of the health risks.
Bacon fat/lard: Like butter and coconut oil, these are high in saturated fat. But they also taste delicious and are ideally suited for certain things, like a dressing for spinach salad or a pie crust. We’re all aware that too much pork is not good for us, so use a light hand when you use it.