I grew up in a home where "low-fat", "light" and "diet" everything was acceptable. Things like Margarine, Diet Frozen Meals and Diet Soda were considered "healthy". I continued that same mindset for a very long time, and couldn't figure out why I wasn't losing weight and why I didn't feel well all the time.
The hardest part for me of converting to a paleo lifestyle was accepting the fact that certain fats were actually GOOD for my body. Using animal fats like lard or tallow was so far from the "norm" for me that it took a lot of researching AND using myself as a human guinea pig before I actually accepted that these were better options than things like margarine, vegetable oil and cooking spray. I have many people tell me they struggle with the very same issues, so this article will examine the different types of fats available for cooking, and why the fats we traditionally consider to be "healthy" might not actually be the best options.
"GOOD" OL' VEGETABLE OIL
Vegetable oil is made up of oil from vegetables...right? The answer is...not really. Vegetable oil is made up mostly of seeds, grains and beans. Let's take a look at the different types of oils most people consider to be vegetable oil (some common oils are combinations of the following):
- Canola Oil (See below)
- Corn Oil (this is a grain)
- Peanut Oil (this is a legume)
- Grapeseed Oil
- Sunflower Oil
- Safflower Oil
CANOLA OIL. ...(WHAT THE HECK IS A CANOLA?!?)
One of the most popularly used oils is Canola Oil. However, there is actually no such thing as a "Canola". Canola is an acronym that stands for Canada Oil, Low Acid. It is produced when a hybrid version of the rape seed, specially bred to reduce the amount of naturally toxic erucic acid in the rape seed, which is then crushed to produce the canola oil. As a side note, diesel fuel made from canola oil is frequently used by the trucking industry. I will leave the decision up to you, but I am going to put this oil on the "do not use" list for me and my family.
GUESS WHAT, I DO BELIEVE IT'S NOT BUTTER!
Oh margarine....how did I ever think you were a good idea? Was it Fabio and his luscious locks that tricked me? Perhaps....But let's take a look at the ingredient list for one popular brand of margarine:
Liquid and Partially Hydrogenated Soybean Oil, Water, Buttermilk, Contains less than 2% of Salt, Soy Lecithin, Potassium Sorbate (Preservative), Mono and Diglycerides (Emulsifier), Lactic Acid, Natural and Artificial Flavor, Vitamin A Palmitate, Beta Carotene (Color). CONTAINS: Milk and Soy.
I am usually of them mindset that if a product has ingredients that I can't pronounce, or more than 5 ingredients, I shouldn't consume it. As you can see from the above, margarine clearly falls into that category. If you want butter....eat butter. Real butter. The grass fed kind.
TO OLIVE, OR NOT TO OLIVE....THAT IS THE QUESTION
Olive Oil is a controversial little bugger. Some believe it is safe when used at high temperatures, but the majority of the research seems to be to the contrary. The basic facts seem to be that olive oil has a lower smoke point than other fats and oils and when you heat olive oil to its smoke point, the beneficial compounds start to degrade, and potentially health-harming compounds form. The majority of folks believe that olive oil is best to include in your diet in a non-heated form, such as in a salad dressings and marinades. And it just so happens that I love to use it in both!
SO WHAT THE HECK CAN I USE?!?
If you take a step back (a big step back for some of us) and think about what REALLY makes sense to consume...what comes from nature and is the in its purest form....the answer is - Animal Fats and REAL Vegetable Oils. Make sure to choose fats from animals that were raised in healthy conditions and fed what they are supposed to eat. Most animal fats are highly saturated and are heat stable, so they are perfect for cooking. You can even render your own fat if you want to. Some examples of these fats are:
- Pastured Lard
- Duck Fat
- Coconut Oil
- Avocado Oil
- Olive Oil (see specific uses listed above)
I prefer to use animal fats for most of my savory cooking, coconut oil for most of my baking, and olive and avocado oils for dressing and marinades. This is just a personal preference and you should play around and find what works best for you and your body.
OK ENOUGH RAMBLING....
So in summary, select pure fats and oils which are minimally processed for cooking and baking. Choose to cook with ingredients such as tallow, pastured lard or coconut oil in moderation, not industrial products like ‘margarine’ or ‘vegetable oil’. And when in doubt, do some research and find out what you think will work best for you!