Just say yes to fats! If you’re a little skeptical about adding calorie-rich fats to your food, you’re not alone. After decades of being told to cut it from our diets, most Americans are still warming up to the idea that certain fats can actually be good for you.
A study published last year in The Journal of the American Medicine Association revealed that decades of research linking sugar to heart disease and weight gain was quietly downplayed, shifting the blame to dietary fat instead. Despite a surge in the popularity of low-fat versions of cookies, crackers, dairy products and the like, our waistlines refused to budge. In fact, we saw an alarming rise in obesity.
Thanks to researchers at the University of Bergen, a new study is challenging the notion that all saturated fats are unhealthy. We’re ready to rediscover our love for satisfying, flavorful foods that have the added bonuses of heart healthy fats, antioxidants, and nutrients.
Fats play a vital role in the body, from helping to carry the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K through the bloodstream, to insulating and providing protective padding to internal organs, to helping build brain tissue. Without an adequate fat supply, your body and brain simply couldn’t keep up (and ain’t nobody got time for that). But as with anything else, moderation is key. Use these fats mindfully to be able to reap their benefits!
Read on to learn about five of our favorite fats to add to your diet.
Possibly the most popular and widely recognized “healthy” kitchen oil, olive oil is a diet staple in many cultures along the Mediterranean Sea. It is rich in monounsaturated fats (MUFAs) which are said to help lower “bad” (LDL) cholesterol. Olive oil also contains high amounts of polyphenols, a type of antioxidant that helps prevent cell damage. Depending on the grade of olive oil, it can be mild to very flavorful, making it a great pick for salad dressings and pesto. Its moderately high smoke point (the temperature at which it starts to smoke, break down and taste burned) of 320–420°F makes it ideal for all-purpose cooking.
Avocado oil contains an abundant amount heart-healthy monounsaturated fats and vitamin E. And while avocados contain saturated fat, studies have shown that they may contribute to lowering LDL cholesterol and triglycerides while raising “good” (HDL) cholesterol. This oil is neutral in flavor, so it can be used in virtually any cuisine. With its high smoke point of 520°F, it can be used for searing, sautéing and other high-temperature cooking.
In recent years, coconut oil has been appearing on supermarket shelves across the country, but it has been a long-time staple of tropical cultures across the globe. While coconut oil is 92% saturated fats, most of those fats are medium-chain fatty acids used directly in the body to produce energy. And while too much saturated fat usually raises LDL cholesterol, coconut oil seems to be especially effective at boosting HDL cholesterol levels. Since coconut oil is solid at room temperature, you can experiment with using it in place of butter or shortening in baking. It has a medium smoke point of 350°F, so it is not suitable for high-temperature cooking but can also be melted and used as a base for sauces and confections.
GHEE (CLARIFIED BUTTER)
Ghee has been used for thousands of years in Ayurvedic medicine, and it has been the cooking oil of choice in India since ancient times. Regular butter is heated until the milk solids separate, leaving the clarified butter fat (ghee), making it suitable for those with sensitivity to casein and lactose. It also allows storage at room temperature for an extended period of time. Ghee contains butyrate, an essential short-chain fatty acid, and it is rich in vitamin A. With a relatively high smoke point of 485°F, ghee is great for sautéing or can be used to add a rich, buttery flavor to steamed vegetables, sauces and popcorn.
Also known as linseed oil, this fat contains high amounts of the omega-3 fatty acids, in the form of alpha-linolenic acid, a compound linked to a reduction in the incidence of heart disease. It oxidizes fairly quickly, so it should be kept under refrigeration, and it should be purchased only when packaged in opaque containers that are kept in refrigerated sections at the market. (It should have a pleasant, nutty flavor). Its extremely low smoke point of 225°F makes it unsuitable for cooking, but you can add this to cold foods, like as the base oil for a vinaigrette, or drizzle on food after cooking to get the most out of it.