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Cooking with Fats & Oils

Inspire Health Event Calendar January 15, 2014

Fat has become a scary word and many people feel they should be avoiding it at all costs. While highly processed or chemical-ladened fats and oils do increase the risk of disease, minimally processed and organically produced fats are beneficial and an essential component to a healthful diet. 

Every human cell is contained by a fat membrane, vitamin A, D, E, and K all require fat to be absorbed and assimilated, and our brain depends on fat to communicate with rest of our body – talk about essential! Healthy fats can reduce inflammation and cholesterol, increase energy, and improve cognitive function too.

However, it can be hard to determine which ones are the best to include and why. Fats and oils are extremely sensitive and will begin to oxidize when exposed to heat, oxygen, or light. Oxidation is the series of chemical reactions that degrades the quality of oil and eventually produces a harmful, rancid fat. To slow this breakdown, it’s best to keep fats and oils in sealed, dark glass bottles in a cool cupboard or fridge. 

What Fats are Beneficial?

Olive oil contains high amounts of antioxidants including vitamin E, which naturally protects the oil and the cardiovascular system from oxidative damage. A monounsaturated fat,  it is liquid at room temperature and very sensitive to heat. It’s best used to make salad dressing or to cook with on a low heat. 

Organic grass-fed butter is a wonderful fat to include in your kitchen. Grass-fed butter is higher in omega-3 fats than compared to conventionally raised butter. Omega-3 fatty acids are well-known for their anti-inflammatory action that can improve blood fluidity and prevent the occurrence of some cancers. Organic grass-fed butter is made up primarily of saturated fats, which are very heat tolerant and stable. This makes grass-fed butter a better fat to use when cooking at higher temperatures compared to unsaturated fats.

Coconut oil is also a saturated fat and made up of medium-chained triglycerides (MCTs). Unlike animal fats, which are long-chained, coconut oil can easily enter the energy producing organelles in cells. The body actually prefers to use MCTs as energy rather than store them as body fat. Coconut oil is a great option for cooking at higher heats too. 

Buying Oils

Look for these key words when shopping for oils:

Certified Organic – Toxins and chemicals bioaccumulate in fat, which is why it’s very important to buy organically-raised meats and oils. Many chemicals are used in commercial oil preparation. If you’re buying organic, then you know your oil has also avoided these added steps. 

  • Unrefined – When oils are refined, they are mixed with an extremely harmful base. Nutrients and minerals are lost during this step of processing. So stick with unrefined!
    • Cold Pressed – The temperature at which oil is extracted depends on the hardness of the nut or seed shell. The harder the nut, the more heat that is created through processing, which can cause further oxidative damage to the oil. Cold pressed oils have been extracted in cool, temperature-controlled environments so the oil preserves its beneficial properties.
  • Extra Virgin – If you’re not able to buy organic, look for the extra virgin labeling to find a higher quality product. Extra virgin olive oil must be produced by mechanical means and cannot reach temperatures higher than 30°C. The oil must also be below the chemical thresholds, which the International Olive Council tests before allowing the designation.

Steer clear of cheap, processed oils, shop for high quality products that you will use less often, stick to low heat while cooking, and use olive oil for dressings or to finish dishes after cooking. Bon appétit!

Amber Baker, CNP, RHNP
InspireHealth Nutritionist
Lower Mainland – Vancouver Centre

Photo courtesy US Dept. of Agriculture