The consumer is bombarded with the different types of fats and vegetable oils that are on the market today. We have saturated fats, polyunsaturated fats, monounsaturated fats trans fats, hydrogenated and partially hydrogenated oils, omega 3 and 6 essential oils. There is so much conflicting information that it is difficult to know which "expert" to believe and what to buy.
Confusing Arguments about What Fats to Use
Back in the 50s and 60’s there was a big push to remove saturated fat from our diets. Lard, butter, tallow, coconut oil and palm oil were demonized as artery clogging fats that should be avoided at all costs. That myth has since been debunked.
We were then introduced to substitutes like margarine and hydrogenated oils like Crisco, corn oil and a slew of vegetable oils for cooking. We have learned since, that the trans fats in these products cannot be assimilated by the body. This causes numerous health problems like heart disease and inflammation, which is the precursor to many diseases.
In recent years there has been a movement to ban these oils. Unfortunately, they are still found in many prepackaged items and grocery store baked goods. Be sure to check the labels before purchasing those tempting goodies.
Then came the 80’s. We were introduced to another waist trimming theory that recommended reducing or eliminating fat from our diet completely. Food choices expanded, as well. Now we had low fat, reduce fat or no fat yogurt, milk, even cookies, pastries and snacks. There were a variety of processed foods promoting the no fat or low-fat ideal.
In spite of the numerous studies and recommendations for fat reduction, the increase in diet related disease does not appear to be waning. Later, it was made known that fat is essential to our health for a variety of reasons. Considering that the brain is comprised of almost 60% fat, should have been some indication of its importance.
Don't be Fooled
Let me first of all make it clear: the fats we need for optimal health can be found in whole foods. With a well-balanced diet, no additional fats or oils are necessary.
Now, deciding which cooking fats to use is an area we need to look at carefully. Don’t be fooled into thinking that vegetable oils are more healthy than saturated fats such as lard, butter or coconut oil.
Vegetable oils vary, from canola, corn, soy, peanut, safflower, shortening, margarine, and any other butter substitutes. In order give them longer shelf life, these oils and fats are created through a complex process of heat, chemicals and deodorizers. This process makes the oil unrecognizable by our bodies. Also, it can lead to a variety of health problems.
It’s important to read the labels and find out exactly what it is we are eating. The fewer ingredients the better, and the least amount of processing is best. It is very interesting and revealing to see what the actual ingredients are in so many salad dressings and packaged food. There are so many additives, fillers stabilizers, emulsifiers that are used to enhance the shelf life and marketability of some products.
Depends on What You're Cooking
My findings are that coconut oil and lard are best for high heat cooking due to the high smoke point. Butter and olive oil are good for low to medium temperature cooking. Choose the cold pressed, unrefined products for best quality and flavor. Some people do not like the coconut flavor when using this oil. I find that if I sauté onions or garlic first, the coconut flavor is not noticeable.
Be sure to choose the cold pressed or expeller pressed oils which have the least amount of processing. For butters, I look for the brands that promote grass fed cows as the source. Lard in the grocery store is usually refined, bleached and deodorized. You may, however, be able to find the good stuff at your local farmers market.
I like to support our local growers and butchers and pay a weekly visit to the farmer’s market. I plan my meals around local and seasonal as much as possible.
Eat Fresh, Eat Local.