Fats, oils and even butter have got a rap over the years and , no go away thing going on with us humans. And my guess is that the bad rap that of fat, that includes cooking or baking with oils, smashing avocado on your morning or lunchtime toast and slathering butter anything came from the “FAT-FREE” 80’s and that lead to our demise of this once revered staple being an essential part of our diet. Every cell in our body contains fat. And while you might feel like you’ve got too much padding or fat on your body, please don’t think that eating fat makes you fat. It doesn’t work that way. Well not exactly.
There are different names for fat thrown around like models of cars with the special edition and super healthy versions and that’s when confusion sets in. We now see highly processed and refined vegetable oils and spreads touting ‘helps lower cholesterol’ and you think, yep, that’s for me, the label says so. Then a friend shares an article from TIME magazine with a headline that reads: “When Vegetable Oil Isn’t As Healthy As You Think” and goes on to report that the almighty recommendation that vegetable oils that are better for you than animal fats, aka, margarine being better than butter, actually came from flawed reporting of a study where all results weren’t shared. Talk about a skewed and messed up situation. Sidebar: this happens all the time which is why a deep dive is often needed – or at least clicking through to read the study. So that corn oil, that vegetable oil that you have in your pantry cupboard, isn’t it the best to use in your cooking? To fry in? To add to baking? Choosing the best oils to cook with doesn’t need to be daunting as it really seems, and I’m going to break it down simply for you. So simply choosing what oil to cook with, the healthiest oil to drizzle over your salad or what to spread on your toast, can come down to a simple two-step approach.
Today on EAT THIS with Lianne, cooking with oils and fat, and what’s best to bake with and of course to smear on your toast.
I was once asked: “Aren’t all fats good for you” by someone who didn’t want to give up their favourite food in life, fried bread. Yes, that might have been my 90 year old dad who is still alive and kicking, and when I was a kid would love nothing more than bread dipped into bacon fat or the drippings from a Sunday roast like it was beaten up egg and French toast was on the menu. Oh and to top it off was all the saltness, I guess that’s called the drippings, that would fall to the bottom of the bowl with the fat in it. Yep, he did go on to have a heart attack and if I had to say what contributed to his blocked arteries, it would be the fried bread!
You know there is such a thing as omega-3 and omega-6, right? Well the monounsaturated, saturated, polyunsaturated fat terminology can get pretty damn confusing as you walk the aisle trying to find the best oil to make muffins with, or use in your deep fryer, or roast your veggies in. Why do you care really? Well it comes down to heat. Heating an oil past what’s called it’s smoke point can damage or degrade the molecular structure of any fatty acids and produce potentially harmful free radicals that damage your cells. The biggest worry here is your arteries, because as those cells get damaged, cholesterol comes along and patches them up just like a layering of Band-Aids, but then you end up with a blockage and that’s bad. Your body is trying to heal itself but isn’t allowing for blood to flow as it’s needed to. You can also see free radical damage when you look in the mirror and see those wrinkles. Yep, that’s damage too.
Oils can vary a lot in the makeup of their fat content, and basically, the more poly- and monounsaturated fats an oil has, the more healthy it’s considered, and the more saturated fats it has, the less healthy it’s considered.
Let’s talk about the oils to not cook:
Polyunsaturated fats that are used by the brain, should generally not be heated. Those are fats like flax, hemp, and your omega-3 fish oils that you take as a supplement. There is also walnut, maybe sesame, sunflower and soybean. They are on the edge here. Usually flax oil and hemp oil are taken off the spoon, added to smoothies or juice and used a bit to make salad dressing. They typically help decrease inflammation, nourish your brain and make your skin soft. I’m simplifying here because they do a lot more but those are my top three.
What can you use to cook with?
I know you have your white vegetable oil at home somewhere, or maybe it’s corn oil so it’s yellow. You won’t find these oils in my cupboard and I haven’t bought them for years. Just as I try and steer you off processed white, packaged foods, I’m going to do that same here. The term “vegetable oil” is used to refer to any oil that comes from plant sources, and the healthfulness of a vegetable oil depends on its source and what it’s used for. Most vegetable oils on the market are a blend of canola, corn, soybean, safflower, palm and sunflower oils. There is so much more benefit from olive oil, so that’s what I suggest to all my clients because there’s also that vegetable oils are refined and processed, which means they not only lack flavor, but also nutrients. It’s called ‘vegetable’ so that the manufacturers can substitute whatever commodity oil they want—soy, corn, cottonseed, canola—without having to print a new label. Many of those are also genetically modified too, so that’s a double strike.
Processed oils have been pushed past their heat tolerance and have become rancid in the processing. When these oils are made, they are damaged by processing to extend their shelf life, that rancidity that I just mentioned, so it has to be treated with a feast of harsh chemicals and then bleaches it. This ‘chemical feast’ produces a dirty, smelly mess. So next a second chemical feast to clean up the mess it made with the first chemical feast. Deodorizing, occurs and you end up with an oil that is a very far cry from healthy. Also, some of these oils, especially palm, are associated with more degradation of land for production, but that’s another topic. So the takeaway here is ditch the vegetable oil.
Moving onto the best fats…
Let’s circle back to that high smoke point, when you put some olive oil or butter in the pan, walk away (as I do too often), come back and see smoke rising? Yep, that’s the smoke point and you could have just made that a pan of free radicals that I mentioned earlier.
Let’s start with coconut oil
Coconut oil is one of the best additions to any wholefoods pantry (and can be found in my bathroom too as I often use it on my skin after a shower). The largest part of fat in coconut oil comes from a healthy saturated fat called lauric acid which has been proven to encourage your body to burn fat and also raise HDL or the good cholesterol in your blood, and that can help reduce your risk of heart disease. Bet you didn’t see that coming. And most importantly, when it comes to cooking, coconut oil is resistant to oxidation at high temperatures which makes it a great stable oil to cook with.
Have you ever made air popcorn? Tastes more like cardboard doesn’t it? I make coconut oil popcorn with 3 tbsp coconut oil and ⅓ to ½ cup popcorn. It’s epic. Especially when I add truffle salt. Deeeeeelish.
I use coconut oil for eggs in my cast iron frying pan, because it’s not non-stick. I use it in place of butter in my Go-Faster Granola bar recipe that’s in my award winning book Sprout Right Family Food.
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
It seems odd that you can take an olive, squeeze it and get oil out if it doesn’t it? Well this is one of the best known and likely found in just about every household in some form. Some say no kitchen is complete without cold-pressed extra virgin olive oil. If possible, only extra virgin olive oil. And go the extra mile to organic, is better, but could be too costly. What’s the difference between EVOO and your regular olive oil? It’s the first extraction from the olive, done without any heat or chemicals that destroy the integrity of this oil giving and amazing plant. So again, the less process the better for you. Depending on the brand, you’ll find more olive tasting or less oils, that’s a personal preference. Sure it’s yummy as a delicious dressing just on its own but is also praised for taking Mediterranean cooking to the next level. Extra virgin olive oil and the Mediterranean diet has widespread health benefits, like improving heart health, promoting brain function, and even has potential anti-cancer benefits. And like coconut oil, it can also handle moderately high temperatures without oxidizing, so it’s best for low and medium-heat cooking.
Grass fed butter
Let’s talk butter… butter isn’t all created equal and if I had my choice I’d always buy grass fed and organic. But you know it’s not cheap if you’ve ever seen it. Some people avoid butter if they don’t do so well with dairy and milk. But different to milk, butter has very low amounts of lactose, the milk sugar that doesn’t agree with so many people. Butter has low amounts of protein too, so I have many clients who can tolerate butter but no other dairy. Butter is incredibly delicious, I just think about the shortbread that I buy weekly from the French baker at the Brickworks market, and my mouth waters. The butter fat can be seen on the paper bag that he loads up my shortbread into. Yep that’s what makes it taste so damn good! But I just have one every now and then and fully enjoy it! The grass fed piece can be a simple switch and have a big impact. What dairy cows eat greatly impacts the nutritional value of the milk they produce – and the butter that is made from that milk. Studies have shown that grass-fed is a richer source of Vitamin A, omega-3 fatty acids, and up to 500% more conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) – linked to promising anti-cancer effects, and Vitamin K2. I use butter in my frying pan when I make French toast, or use coconut oil. I also occasionally use both butter and olive oil when cooking as this can help to avoid the butter from burning. Butter does have a high smoke point, but it can easily turn to brown butter, great for quickly cooking a nice white fish like sole for instance but not so great as it moves closer to smoke point and turns into not-so-healthy butter.
Organic Grass-Fed Ghee
To some ghee is the holy grail of dairy products. It is a form of highly-clarified butter that has traditionally been used in Asian cooking and comes from the eastern, Ayurvedic medicine’s healing roots. The process of making ghee looks like melting the butter to remove the milk solids – meaning the final result has significantly fewer dairy sugars and proteins, so it’s really tolerable by even those most sensitive to dairy. Unlike butter, ghee won’t turn rancid when you leave it out at room temperature and still has its original flavor and tastes the same for up to a year. I once fed my eldest daughter spoonfuls of ghee when she was younger and somehow very mineral deficient. We tried a bunch of supplements and a naturopath that I took her to said that she would absorb the minerals better when it was in grass fed ghee, so that’s what we did. I put it on everything, in everything and eventually she would have it by the spoonful. Not something I could do but she did!
Other fats and oils can slow down the body’s digestive process and give us that heavy feeling in our stomach, ghee actually stimulates the digestive system by encouraging the secretion of stomach acids to break down food. And with all the heartburn out there and what we’ve talked about in the past in episode 37 about deficiencies and actually needing more stomach acid in many cases, ghee could be your new go-to. It actually has a very high smoke point or burning temp, so give this one a go for sure and pick some up in your next shop. I’ve tried Lee’s Ghee in the past and I think there was a flavoured one called noisette, which was incredible. Now I remember why my daughter would take it off the spoon. It was that one. Soooo good.
Now I know that you still want to know what to deep fry your donuts in, don’t you? Well the first thing I’m going to say is ease up on deep frying anything. I once did a sponsored media tour for one of the first air fryers and man did it ever make crispy sweet potato fries! With a teeny tiny amount of oil compared to deep frying. If you have to use oil at high heat, rice bran oil and canola are good. But they can’t be refined, so you won’t find that in the usual grocery aisle. You can use peanut or coconut too. A side mention of duck fat here and duck fat fries being off the charts tasty, but not so healthy are at least worth the experience! That’s what life is about, right?
So in a nutshell – use coconut oil for most of your frying. Olive oil for some light frying and on salads. Try olive oil and butter together to keep your butter from burning and grab some of that ghee and try that out too.
The benefits to be enjoyed from eating fat, mostly taste and keeping you feeling full for longer, are important. But also fats for your brain function and heart health, there’s a strong case to include more of the right fat sources in your diet and in cooking. Sometimes that begins with the absolute basics. So by doing something as simple as switching out your go-to cooking oil, you could be making a long-term investment in your health and not compromise on taste and enjoyment of your meals.
Pass this episode onto someone who you’ve talked with about your latest baking or cooking games in the kitchen. It might help them more than you know. Thanks for being here, thanks for constantly tuning in and being one our over 65K downloads! And of course thank you to Chris for the incredible work he does, and how turns this into a national radio show on the iHeart Radio Talk Radio network that you can tune into on Saturdays at 7pm EST on your radio or in the app when you search for NewsTalk1010.
Alright, go forth and enjoy that fat, that oil and you know it but I’m going to say it anyway, remember to… EAT THIS one mouthful at a time.