By using healthy fats in your cooking, you can lower your family's blood cholesterol, provide them with a great source of long-lasting energy, and make foods taste great. Since healthy polyunsaturated fats, such as omega-3 fats, can go rancid from oxygen plus heat, you need to know how to choose the right fats for your recipes. The goal is to use a variety of healthy fats without damaging them.
- Use olive oil for frying at high temperatures. Olive oil contains mostly monounsaturated fat, which will lower your blood cholesterol, and is not very easily damaged by heat. Store olive oil at room temperature. Peanut oil and canola oil are also okay for frying, but since they have more of the polyunsaturated fats that are damaged by high heat, it’s probably best to use once and discard. (Don’t pour used oil down your drain or you might need a plumber!)
- Use olive oil, walnut oil, or any plant oil for salad dressing. Of course, extra virgin olive oil makes great-tasting salad dressing, but since you won’t be cooking your dressing, you can also use the most unsaturated oils. Try omega-3-rich walnut oil with a little lemon juice and salt for a simple, wonderful dressing for lettuce or endive topped with a few toasted walnut pieces. Omega-3 fats have all the benefits of other unsaturated fats, plus they help lower blood pressure and reduce blood fat. Make sure the walnut oil you buy is roasted or toasted to bring out the flavor.
- Use canola oil for baking. You can substitute oil for butter in banana bread, muffins, and some cakes. I use canola oil for baking, since its mellow flavor works well, it is rich in heart-healthy omega-3 fats, and baking won’t subject these valuable fats to the high temperatures of frying.
- Store the most unsaturated oils in the fridge, e.g. sesame oil and walnut oil. Toasted sesame oil is a good source of healthy polyunsaturated fats. Just be sure to store it in the fridge so it doesn’t go rancid. The strong smell of toasted sesame will keep you from noticing the smell that tells you when oil has gone bad. Other oils to store in the fridge are walnut, sunflower, safflower, corn, and for long storage, canola oil.
- Try free-range or grass-fed meats because of their healthier fats. When animals are free-range or grass-fed, their fat will be lower in total fat and saturated fat, and higher in omega-3 fats, compared to the usual grain-fed animals. Try free-range bacon, e.g. from Niman Ranch, and see how much softer (read "more unsaturated") the fat is than typical bacon fat.
- Save butter, cream, and coconut oil for when you really need them. As much as I hate to say this, dairy fat is not good for you. So save butter, cream cheese, and cream for those times you really need them, like freshly whipped cream with vanilla on your plum tart or butter on your corn. Keep use of coconut oil to a minimum, for instance when you need to make a yummy Thai dish.
- Read ingredient lists to avoid partially hydrogenated oils. Partially hydrogenated oils contain the evil trans fats, which increase your bad cholesterol (LDL) and lower your good cholesterol (HDL). Don’t believe claims on the front of a food package or on the Nutrition Facts Chart. If one of the ingredients is partially hydrogenated corn oil/peanut oil/soy oil, etc., it contains trans fat. Be particularly wary of margarines, spreads, non-dairy toppings, frosting, and cake mixes.
You can probably see by now that there is a spectrum of fats ranging from the very healthy plant oils to the intermediate animal fats to the worst--the fake-made in a factory--partially hydrogenated oils. Use as much olive oil as you like for sautéing and frying, and as much olive oil and walnut oil as you like for salads. Stay away from donuts and fried foods in restaurants and read labels to make sure your cookies and cereals are free of partially hydrogenated oils. If you do all this, studies have shown that you can eat meat without it adversely affecting your blood cholesterol. Even better, try to find free-range chicken, beef, and pork so that you can eat these incredibly nutrient-rich foods without feeling guilty about saturated fat.