Cooking Fat Basics

Hello there!  I hope you’re having a wonderful week so far. I’m currently preparing for my midterm and workshop #2 which are both in just a couple days. I’ll be leaving tomorrow afternoon for that exciting weekend!

About two weekends ago, I headed up to PA for my sister’s bridal shower.
It was a short visit but while I was there, my mom and I headed to one of their larger grocery stores that has a pretty good health food section. (This is enough for another post in itself, but don’t you find it odd that stores feel the need to HAVE a “health food” section? What does that tell you about the rest of the store?) So anyway, one of the things I’ve been waiting and waiting for at my local Whole Foods in VA is this Epic animal cooking fat.  After telling me months ago that they are expecting it very soon, it’s still not there.  Come on WF.  Get it together.  Thankfully I found these at the store in PA!

I’m excited to give these a whirl. Potatoes, roasted chicken, any veggies, etc. I admittedly didn’t know much about the topic of cooking fats before starting at Nutritional Therapy Association. They opened my eyes to it though!

Fats, in general, are broken down into saturated, monounsaturated, and polyunsaturated fats. They are in those categories based on the molecules that make them up. A saturated fat molecule is completely “saturated” with hydrogen, meaning all the carbon atoms are connected by single bonds. Unsaturated fats are not completely saturated, and can have one (as is the case with MONOunsaturated fats) or more (as in POLYunsaturated fats) double bonds among the carbon atoms. These bonds affect the stability of the molecules when exposed to things like heat and light. That is the part that’s overlooked when it comes to deciding on healthy cooking fats. A lot of the information out there refers simply to the category type the fat is found in, or even the smoke point of an oil. It goes deeper than that though.

Let’s start with the polyunsaturated fats. These are fats that come from mostly nuts and seeds, as well as fish oil. These are your omega 3s and omega 6s. Think fish oil, flaxseed oil, hemp oil, sunflower oil, etc. These oils are relatively unstable and easily damaged by heat. They can be really healthful when used as additions to salads or smoothies, for example, but should never be used for cooking. When these fats are damaged by heat, it’s the molecules that are damaged and can now create free radicals. No good. Be sure to keep these oils in the fridge to help them stay fresh as they can also go rancid easily. When purchasing oils like these, they should be in dark glass bottles in the fridge so they are protected from heat and light. **Please keep this in mind when thinking about using something like canola (made from rapeseed). Oils like this, found in clear plastic bottles, are already rancid and damaged. They are industrially processed and exposed to high heat, and then sit on grocery store shelves for weeks under that fluorescent lighting. They are damaged before you even bring them home to cook with.

Onto monounsaturated fats. These are things like extra virgin olive oil and avocado oil. They are relatively stable and safe at low heat. You’ll still want it to be cold pressed though and in dark bottles, preferably glass.

And that leaves us with saturated fats. Saturated fats for cooking are things like butter, coconut oil, a sustainably sourced palm oil, ghee, and animal fats. These are the oils you want to use for high heat cooking as they are the most stable. My only hang up here is that it is still important to find a good quality animal fat. So for butter, try to get one from grass fed cows, as an example. (There are a few brands out there for this, but I find Kerrygold most widely available so that’s what we use.) This is why I like Epic brand. They source their fats from properly raised animals and that’s important to me because it means a healthier/cleaner product (as well as a happier animal).

Please avoid the trans fats, highly processed vegetable oils, and hydrogenated fats. Think margarine.

Fat is beginning to come to light in its necessity in the body, but I think there is still a lot of apprehension about including more of them, particularly saturated fats, because of past portrayals. I also understand that categorizing fats as “good” or “bad” simplifies things in this complicated topic of “What do I eat?” Unfortunately it’s not as simple as good vs bad. All fats, saturated and unsaturated, have important roles in the body so it’s important to choose a fat based on the quality. Think about the source of the oil/fat. Then think about the processing of it. Your body will thank you.

I’m off to finish my food prep and packing for my workshop weekend!

Happy cooking,

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