What fats or oils should you use, and in what application? Let’s find out the difference between saturated and unsaturated fats, and when you should use each one.
When you are looking to live a healthier lifestyle, the choice of oil you use is sure to come up. Whether it’s for baking, sauteeing, or making homemade salad dressings, the choice of oil or fat DOES matter.
You have most likely heard that you need to use an unsaturated fat for “heart health”. If you are like me, you wondered how our ancestors didn’t have the heart problems they had, consuming all the saturated fats they did.
So, what exactly are saturated or unsaturated fats?
There are two main groups of fats, saturated and unsaturated. Unsaturated fats are normally liquid at room temperature, and are plant based. This would include olive, corn, soybean, peanut, safflower, and cottonseed oils.
An unsaturated fat is a fat or fatty acid in which there is at least one double bond within the fatty acid chain. A fat molecule is monounsaturated if it contains one double bond, and polyunsaturated if it contains more than one double bond. Where double bonds are formed, hydrogen atoms are eliminated.
Saturated fats are solid at room temperature, and are normally animal based. A saturated fat has no double bonds, has the maximum number of hydrogens bonded to the carbons, and therefore is “saturated” with hydrogen atoms.
In cellular metabolism, unsaturated fat molecules contain somewhat less energy (i.e., fewer calories) than an equivalent amount of saturated fat. Saturated, traditional fats also have a high smoking point, which means they are less likely to burn when using them at high heat for extended periods of time, such as frying.
When you are cooking, what kind of oil you use is important. If the oil is mostly saturated or fully saturated, it’s often more stable. The oil will not break down as fast in the heat and go rancid.
The unsaturated fats can be anyone’s guess as to how high the heat can go before it breaks down. Heating unsaturated fats at high temperatures can create trans-fatty acids, which produce toxic free radicals in the body and are very dangerous to our health. When oils are repeatedly reheated, trans-fatty acids are created. Trans-fatty acids can be very harmful to your health, and it’s been suggested they lead to cancer or premature aging.
Of course, not all oils should be used in every single occasion. Some are great for hot purposes, such as sauteing and frying, and some should only be used in cold purposes, such as salad dressings.
So, what oils should you use, and in what application?
Sauteing or other high heat applications like making deep fried foods, you want to stick with saturated fats such as:
- Coconut oil
- Tallow (beef fat-see here how to make your own)
- Schmaltz (chicken fat)
- Butter (on medium heat, due to the propensity to burn on high heat)
Thinking ahead and sauteeing your veggies lightly with just a bit of butter and finishing it off with a high quality olive oil is a great way to add flavor with a true heart healthy touch.
The shelf life of saturated fats is a lot longer, due to their stability. Most people believe it’s nearly indefinite, when stored under the right conditions. That would be cool, dry places. However, since it IS a “living” food, it can mold if appropriate conditions are met, such as bacteria being introduced into it, or even water.
For salad dressings, finishing oil, dipping sauces and making hummus, choosing a cold oil or fat is the best option.
Some good choices:
- Extra virgin olive oil-has been linked to numerous health benefits, and many suggest it may reduce cholesterol, aid in weight loss and more. This also contains the highest levels of oleic acid, making it the most healthy vegetable oil. (source)
- Sesame seed oil-great for Asian cuisine or as a finishing oil on roasted vegetables. Made from sesame seeds, it also contains manganese, copper, iron, zinc, and calcium.
- Walnut oil-has a rich, nutty flavor perfect for salad dressings, finishing oil, and adding to homemade sauces. It also is a good source of selenium, magnesium, phosphorus, zinc and Vitamins E and B12. Walnut oil is also one of the monounsaturated fats that help reduce inflammation and support healing from heart disease. (source)
- Avocado oil-has a light, more neutral flavor. Gives great body to homemade mayo (get that recipe here) and salad dressings. It’s full of oleic acid, which is a monounsaturated Omega 9 fatty acid. It also contains a good amount of lutein, which aids in eye health. (source)
The shelf life of vegetable oils are up for debate. There are some sites that suggest they have as little as 6 months, unopened. (source) Others say that vegetable oil can have a shelf life of up to 2-3 years beyond the production date, when stored properly. (source)
One thing is certain, that oils that have spoiled or gone rancid, are not healthy to consume for you. Besides smelling foul, they can cause oxidation in your cells and increase inflammation, making your body more susceptible to disease. (source)
One of the best ways to use rancid oil without wastes is to add to your home soap making. Get those directions on soap making here.
What are some of your favorite cooking oils? How do you currently use them? Be sure to pin this for later, too!