Healthy Fats & Oils

For optimal health, or just good health, it is important to consume healthy fats.  Fats give the body energy and help the body to absorb vitamins A,D,E, and K and other nutrients.  Healthy Fats are essential for brain function, to help keep metabolism steady, help you feel satiated, nourish our skin, hair and nails and keep enough healthy “grease” in our engine to have the body’s functions work fluidly.  Organic coconut oil is particularly good for the immune system and thyroid function to manage weight.  Heavily processed fats and oils used in packaged foods are fats that our bodies do not recognize as food and so what happens is the body uses its resources to process and filter it, causing the body .

Some of the healthy fats include extra virgin olive oil, organic coconut oil, unrefined sesame oil, ghee (clarified butter), whole nuts and seeds or nut butter, the fats in whole foods such as avocados and coconuts and the high-quality fats in cold-water fish such as wild salmon and tuna.  Make sure the oil is from wild fish and not farmed as there is a big difference in the quality.  Just like people, fish are what they eat, so you want to consume fish products that came from fish that came from their natural environment and not a man made environment such as farm raised fish.

Usage

For sautéing and baking at high temperatures, use butter, ghee and coconut oil because they do not break down under extreme heat.  When sautéing and stovetop cooking at low to moderate temperatures, try an organic extra virgin olive oil.  Do not use high heat when cooking or baking with olive oil.  You will want to keep your oven set no higher than 325 when baking a dish that contains olive oil because the smoke point of olive oil is 350 and oven heat fluctuates.  A simple way to know when you have heated the oil to the right temperature when sauteing is to place the oil in your cooking pan, turn your stove on medium low (and no higher than medium) and heat it until you just begin to smell the aroma. Quickly add and sauté your ingredients. You do not want the oil to ripple or heat to the point of smoking or the healthy oil will begin degrading.

Nut and seed oils, such as toasted sesame oil, flax oil, walnut oil, pumpkin seed oil and almond oil are best used unheated. Drizzle them on salads, veggies or grains just before serving. Never heat flax seed oil or toasted sesame oil.

Selection

When selecting oil, buy the highest quality organic products you can afford, since they are the backbone of many dishes. Look for oils stored in dark bottles because oxygen, heat and light promote vitamin loss and rancidity. Good words to look for on the label are organic, first-pressed, cold-pressed because they are unprocessed (no heat used to extract the oil) and unrefined. Some oils list a date of manufacture and “best used by” date. Words to avoid are expeller-pressed (a process for extraction that is mechanical and involves heat), refined and solvent extracted/cold-processed (petroleum solvents are used to separate the oil from the food). If it doesn’t say “unrefined” on the label, it is most likely refined.

Benefits

Our bodies need fat to insulate us and keep us warm and to protect and hold our organs in place. Consuming fats helps us to feel grounded and gives us a sense of soothing comfort. When there is a healthy percentage of high-quality fat in a meal, it creates a lasting feeling of energy, fulfillment and warmth. Signs of not enough high-quality fats in the diet are brittle hair and nails, dry skin, always feeling hungry after a meal and feeling cold. When there is an excess amount of fats and oils in the diet, especially of the heavily processed and refined kind, a person can experience weight gain, skin breakouts, high blood pressure, liver strain and an overall feeling of mental, physical and emotional heaviness.

Storage

Keep oils in a cool, dark place—not out on the counter, next to your stove or above your refrigerator, where it tends to be warmer. In most cases, oils are best kept in the refrigerator (especially those that are not to be heated when consumed). Check the label for the ideal storage temperature.

Tips

  • Try a wet sauté. Start with a couple of tablespoons of water in the bottom of your pan, with the flavoring agents of your choice, such as garlic, ginger, chili flakes or spices. Bring to the point where the water starts to create steam, then add veggies of your choice, such as broccoli, carrots, dark leafy greens or thinly sliced beets, along with a bit of oil. Cover and allow the water to steam and the oil to create flavor. The water aids in preventing the oil from burning. Your stir-fry comes out with a wonderful balance of lightness and deep flavor!

Want to learn more about healthy fats?  Click here.

(The Institute of Integrative Nutrition helped with this article)

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