There is so much confusion about fats and oils. It’s the one subject I have blogged about most often largely because I find I am so frequently being asked to explain the pros and cons of various fats.
I am going to attempt to keep it super-short and super-simple and I will blog again about different aspects of dietary fats in the hope that I don’t confuse the matter by covering too much in one go. So, let’s start with the best fats for cooking. An important thing to consider is how hot is your fat going to get as different fats behave differently when heated.
Saturated fats are called such because all the chemical bonds are saturated with hydrogen. This makes this kind of fat very stable meaning it doesn’t change if exposed to heat, light or oxygen.
Animal fats contain saturated fats but not exclusively. I00% saturated fat would be really solid, similar to hard wax. The fat in beef, chicken, eggs, milk etc. is a mixture of poly unsaturated, mono unsaturated and saturated fats in varying amounts but generally animal fat has a majority of saturated fat. There are also a few non-animal saturated fats, coconut oil being the healthiest. The structure differs from animal fats making these saturated fats the lowest calorie of all fats and the most readily of all the dietary fats to be burnt for energy in the body.
Polyunsaturated fats are found in large amounts in seed, nut and vegetable oils. These oils are not stable as they are not fully saturated. This makes them very vulnerable to damage by heat, light and oxygen. Cooking with these fats is a bad idea; if you buy a seed or vegetable oil that is unrefined, cold pressed and in dark bottles it will damage very, very readily, becoming damaged and harmful as soon as it is exposed to heat. These good quality polyunsaturated fats can be used for salad dressings and non-heated dishes. If you use standard cooking oil like corn oil, vegetable oil, sunflower oil, rapeseed oil, soy oil, they will have been heated to high temperatures to extract the oils in the first place and then bleached and deodorized to disguise the fact that they have become damaged. So, whether you buy an expensive, cold pressed oil or a cheap, processed cooking oil neither should be used for cooking. Standard cooking oils should be avoided as much as possible whether cooking with it or not and it is important to consider that these cheap polyunsaturated fats are used in the vast majority of packaged goods, including bread, ready meals, take aways etc. See my previous blog on fats for more on this..
Monounsaturated fats are far more stable than polyunsaturated but can still be damaged at high temperatures so olive oil, by far the most frequently used monounsaturated fat, can be used for medium to low-heat cooking. Any high heat cooking should be done only using good quality saturated fat i.e. butter, ghee, coconut oil, free range goose or chicken fat, grass-fed beef fat.
Saturated fats are absolutely essential to health. This is so hard for many people to take on board because we have been brainwashed in to believing saturated fats are evil and cause all sorts of health problems. As you will see below, our bodies require saturated fat for many functions in the body. What the body has NO use for but gets seriously damaged by and will readily store in fat cells, are trans fats such as those found in abundance in cheap cooking oils.
The many functions of saturated fats in the body include:
- Saturated fats are critical for maintaining the structure and rigidity of our cells.
- Saturated fats act as enzyme and hormone regulators required for cell messaging.
- Saturated fats are necessary for calcium to be incorporated into our bones.
- Saturated fats are needed to boost immune function and to build a healthy nervous system and digestive tract.
- Saturated fats are the base material out of which the body makes cholesterol, which is the precursor to many critical hormones like vitamin D, cortisol, testosterone, estrogen and progesterone, as well as bile acids which are necessary for the digestion of fats.
Plus, they taste great and significantly improve levels of satiety, leaving you feeling full and satisfied more quickly and for longer. Seriously, embrace the butter, get out the ghee and stir fry those veggies in delicious coconut oil, your body and your taste buds will thank you.