When it comes to fats and fatty acids, it can seem hard to tell the good guys from the bad guys. Should saturated fat always be avoided? Is monounsaturated fat the way to go?
Our bodies need fat to support a variety of functions, from regulating blood pressure to maintaining healthy skin. Fats and oils are made up of fatty acids, and foods containing fat have a mix of different types of fatty acids. So while you’re not going to completely rid your diet of any one type of fatty acid, you should limit intake of saturated fat, which can increase your risk of heart disease by raising your level of “bad” cholesterol. Saturated fat is mostly found in butter, red meat and whole-milk dairy products.
You should also try to limit trans-fatty acids. Trans fats are chemically processed vegetable oils used to boost the taste and texture of fried foods and processed snack products – look for “hydrogenated” and “partially hydrogenated” vegetable oils on labels.
Unsaturated fats can help you lower your risk of heart disease. There are monounsaturated fats – which you’ll find in nuts, seeds and plant oils – and polyunsaturated fats, found in seafood and vegetable oils. Omega-3 fatty acids, a type of polyunsaturated fat, are particularly smart heart-healthy choices.
getting started with healthy cooking oils.
Armed with the basics of fatty acids, it’s time to tackle the issue of oils.
Olive oils are steeped in monounsaturated fats. When selecting olive oils, the virgin and extra-virgin varieties are particularly good and versatile choices – they’re packed with a memorable, smooth flavor that’s ideal for sautéing, and they appear to deliver antioxidants too.
Try sesame oil, another good pick for antioxidant properties, for Asian stir-fries. Peanut oil, extracted from the shelled nuts, is also excellent for Asian-inspired dishes and a handy oil to keep on hand for deep-frying. For a mild taste that won’t steal the thunder from the main ingredients in your dish, use canola oil, made from canola seeds harvested from yellow-flowering plants. Canola oil contains omega-3 fatty acids and is rich in monounsaturated fat.
For something a little more adventurous, check your store shelves for avocado oil. Avocado oil is made from – you guessed it – avocados, and it’s got a nutty taste that makes it perfect for sautéing chicken and fish or for use in salad dressings.
Now that you’ve got the skinny on fats and oils, it’s time to start cooking your way to a healthier you.