Sunday, August 10, 2008

Oils - Good Fats & Bad Fats

Oils: the last true food category within the Pyramid. I love (truly love, not sarcastically love) how we have FINALLY clarified this category by it's title.

Oils are fats that are liquid at room temperature, and most of which are good for you - good fats! Fruit (olive, avocado), nut (almond, walnut), and seed (sunflower) oils, plus those from fish sources are all types of fat that are good for you, and virtually all are liquid at room temperature. Good fats include monounsaturated (MUFAs) and polyunsatured fats (PUFAs). And just how good are MUFAs and PUFAs? Well, first, the beter of the two are MUFAs, although MUFAs and PUFAs typically reside together in most oils, along with some saturated fats. MUFAs, have all the hydrogen they can hold on their chemical chains, and can actually increase your HDLs and decrease your LDLs, which as we learned in my "Congratulations hubby" blog, is a good thing! We want our HDLs high (H - for "we want it High"), and our LDLs low (L- for "lousy"). PUFA's are fatty acids that are missing two or more hydrogen pairs on their chemical chains. They can lower total cholesterol and LDLs, which is good, but they can also lower HDLs, and we want them to be higher. Types of oils that you can use that have a low percentage of saturated fat and a higher percentage of MUFAs to PUFAs are Canola Oil, Safflower Oil and Olive Oil.

The bad fats would be those that are solid at room temperature, such as Crisco or lard, and can come from animal sources as well as vegetable sources. Full fat and even low fat dairy, including cheese, are also sources of saturated fats.

Vegetable Oil that has hydrogen added under chemical preparation becomes a trans fat, which is solid at room temperature and considered a very bad saturated fat - worse than a naturally occurring saturated fat, such as those from animal sources*. And now that consumers are getting savvy about looking for trans fats on label by searching for those infamous words: "partially hydrogenated _____ oil", the food industry has "elevated" their game, and now has a new weapon in shelf preservation that doesn't carry the "partially-hydrogenated" label; rather, they are now using full hydrogenation of oils which is more like a saturated fat and is not a trans fat. Therefore, you should still avoid it, but trans fats (partially hydrogenated) remain the worst choice.

Science-based evidence proves that a diet high in saturated and trans fats (more than 35% of calories from these types of fat) increases risks for unhealthy levels of blood cholesterol, and therefore cardiovascular disease.

So, depending on your calorie intake, the government recommends between 20-35% of calories from fat/oil, which is 5-6 teaspoons, daily, with less than 10% of total calories from saturated fats. I just seriously wonder how many of us get most of our oil from good fat sources versus bad?

In my home, I actually have to add nut, seed, etc. oils to our diet to get us up to our average of 20-30% of our calories from oils. When you eat healthy, you "get to choose" where the sources come from, versus having to limit them from and within your diet - how fun! fun to get to choose! And honestly, we simply don't miss saturated fat. I use a good EVOO where many might use butter. The quality of the flavor of a good EVOO is unsurpassed - almost like a good wine. In salads, on wilted spinach and on some cruciferous vegetables, I'll drizzle a more potent nut or seed oil like Walnut, Avocado or Truffle Oil, respectively. I LOVE the flavor of Truffle Oils (specifically from O & Co. in San Francisco) on broccoli, brussel sprouts & cauliflower. It's 4 am as I write this - but it makes me salivate to think of that caramelized flavor of the vegetable and the smokey Truffle Oil! The one or two (maybe two) times per week that we include red meat in our diet, I select the leanest cut of fillet I can find, and in the correct portion size, and if at all possible, grass-fed and pasture raised. That's about as bad as it gets. We don't use mayonnaise (my husband hates that "white creamy stuff"), margarine, or eat fatty meats - and no, we don't miss it. It may have taken some period of adjustment, because we didn't always think this way and our taste buds didn't always have this preference, but we do think this way now - and actually get crinkly foreheads when we have to think of eating mayo, butter or anything that looks or sounds like lard. I remember hearing once that you can set a can of Crisco or lard out on a shelf in your garage and it can stay there for 100 years - it won't change, and not even the cockroaches will touch it. Ugh! Then, recently I learned a little mental trick or visual aid to further gross me out against saturated fats. This came from one of the instructors I work with from my local county extension office. One of the educators describes "fat", specifically how much saturated fat you take in, this way: "For each 4 grams of saturated fat, think about taking a teaspoon and scooping it out of a can of Crisco and eating it." Excuse me while I barf! Think about it - look at the saturated fat content in that bag of potato chips or jar of mayo, or the package of butter cookies - some may have 12+ grams of saturated fat in one serving - trade that teaspoon of lard for tablespoon and get ready! See, it doesn't take much more than a visual to turn you off of what's bad for you and onto what's good for you!

*There is a trend that has been emerging for several years now that is as refreshing as a meadow breeze - particularly a meadow that has cows grazing in it for the duration of their flesh-building lives. Grass-fed cows have lower levels of bad, saturated fats and higher levels of a good fat called conjugated linoleic acid, or CLA. Grass-fed beef used to be the only way cattle were raised and fed, much like how free-roaming western buffalo are still today. Now, however, cows may see grassy pasture for a tiny spec of their lives before they're herded into factory farms and grain fed the rest of their lives. I highly recommend Michael Pollan's book: The Omnivore's Dilemma - very good reading.

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