Cooking oils and fats are probably one of the most confusing but important foundational pieces for optimal health. Fats are an essential part of a healthy diet and have many functions in the body. They provide the building blocks for cell membranes and are needed for the production of a variety of hormones and hormone like substances. Fats are also carriers for the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K, and are required for certain vitamin conversions (A), and mineral absorption, as well as being modulators of genetic regulation, cancer prevention (butyric acid), and more.
Choosing the right types of fats for cooking, dressing salads, and just generally adding flavor is essential. Avoiding processed fats and oils like margarine, hydrogenated oils, vegetable oils, and things like crisco, is also a huge piece of the puzzle.
Here are GBW’s top 5 picks:
Butter: (yup butter is on the list!) Butter is a great fat for cooking as well as adding flavor to foods, especially veggies. Butter, from pasture raised animals, is a great source of vitamin A – important for the immune system, skin health, and more. Butter is also a great source of lecithin, a substance that assists in the proper metabolism of cholesterol and other fat constituents – yes butter will help control cholesterol! Butter is also loaded with antioxidants like the already mentioned vitamin A, as well as vitamin E; both help protect the body from injury (aka free radical damage). Butter is also a very rich source of selenium, a vital antioxidant and metabolism booster. The fatty acids in butter are fuel to our intestinal cells, keeping them healthy as well as providing cancer protection. Look for “pasture raised” on the label.
Coconut Oil: it’s solid at room temperature, but melts at 76°F, therefore it will never stay solid in your body. Coconut oil boasts many benefits: first, it’s a great cooking and baking oil, it has a high smoke point and therefore risk of burning is low. Second, coconut oil has been shown to improve heart health, thyroid function, and even improve metabolism. Third, because of it’s anti-fungal, antibacterial, and antiviral properties, (lauric acid) coconut oil oil is great for the immune system. Last but not least, it is also rich in medium chain triglycerides (MCTs) which actually boost your metabolism and help your body use fat for energy, as opposed to storing it – so you’ll have a quick energy source and your body will be better at burning fat. Look for extra virgin, cold pressed organic coconut oil.
Ghee: has been used in Indian cooking for thousands of years. According to an article published in the journal Nature, traces of ghee and cheese were found in pottery from 6,500 BC. Ghee is prepared by melting and simmering unsalted butter until all the water evaporates and the milk solids settle at the bottom. The remaining butter oil is very stable, giving it a high smoke point (~485°F) which makes it an excellent choice to use for cooking. According to Ayurveda, ghee stimulates digestive fire (or Agni). Ghee from grass fed animals has similar health benefits to butter, as mentioned above. Conversely, because of the way ghee is prepared it is virtually casein and lactose free and therefore may be suitable for those who are sensitive. More about ghee here.
Extra Virgin Olive Oil (evoo): is great for dressing and finishing. Due to its chemical structure, heat makes olive oil susceptible to oxidative damage and thus cooking with evoo is not recommended. Starting with butter, coconut oil or ghee and then adding olive oil for flavor is an option for cooking, as the fats in the former help protect the precious compounds in the evoo.
Flax Seed Oil: is another stellar oil for dressing. Flax seed oil is a great source of the plant based omega-3 essential fatty acid, alpha-linolenic acid. Flax oil’s health benefits range from improving cholesterol levels (blood lipids) to improving insulin sensitivity and metabolism to promoting radiant skin and hair. Flax oil must be kept refrigerated and in a dark bottle, as it is very delicate, and if exposed to light or heat can deteriorate. It’s great to add to salads, in smoothies, or even in breakfast oatmeal or cottage cheese. It adds a nutty delicious flavor.
Now don’t let anyone tell you fat is bad!