You may be asking yourself if we really need fat in our diets, and the answer is definitely yes! Our bodies need some fat in order to store vitamins A, D, E, and K. We need some fat to act as a layer of insulation. A layer of fat is needed to protect your internal organs from damage if they “bump” into each other. Fat is a concentrated source of energy. As a young child fat is important in brain development. As with most of the foods we eat, our problem with fat intake is in the area of moderation. Fat is flavor. It is what makes our food taste good. We tend to eat too much fat because we like our food to have lots of flavor.
Fats come in two basic forms—saturated, and unsaturated. Saturated fats are solid at room temperature and unsaturated fats are liquid at room temperature. Saturated fats are made up of molecules containing hydrogen atoms. When these molecules hold all the hydrogen atoms they possibly can, they are called saturated. Saturated fats come from animal products such as meat, milk, and eggs, and are also present in tropical plant oils such as coconut and palm oil. Excessive intake of saturated fat leads to an increase in LDL cholesterol, which is a major cause of cardiovascular disease.
Unsaturated fats are missing one or more hydrogen atoms. If the fat is missing one hydrogen atom it is considered a monounsaturated fat. If it is missing more than one, it is a polyunsaturated fat. Safflower, corn, and vegetable oils are examples of polyunsaturated fats. Canola, olive, and peanut oils are examples of monounsaturated fat. These oils are considered the “good” oils. The higher the percentage of monounsaturated fat in the oil, the more it contributes to the body’s production of HDL cholesterol which has been show to improve cardiovascular health. Olive oil and canola oil are two oils that are considered heart healthy.
So where do shortening and margarine fit into all of this? They are solid like the saturated fats, but made from plants like the unsaturated fats. In an effort to create a more healthy solid fat, manufacturers developed the process of hydrogenation to add hydrogen molecules back to unsaturated fats, transforming them from a liquid to a solid. This is where the term “trans fat:” comes from. You can find trans fats in all sorts of bakery and processed foods. In recent years, it has been shown that trans fats may be a bigger culprit in causing cardiovascular disease than even true saturated fats, so we are seeing a decrease in their use. Manufacturers are finding different ways to produce shortening and margarine by using less partially hydrogenated cottonseed and soybean oils and more fully hydrogenated cottonseed oil — which contains no trans fat.
When deciding what kind of oil you are going to buy, consider three things: 1) what it will be used for, 2) how much it costs, and 3) nutrition. Canola and vegetable oils are the most reasonably priced oils and can be used for frying and sautéing and for baking. Olive oil is more expensive than canola or vegetable oil, but keep in mind that typically recipes call for small amounts of olive oil so a bottle lasts a long time. Olive oil is not commonly used in baking. Peanut oil and sesame oil are both heart healthy oils. Peanut oil costs less than olive oil, but more expensive than vegetable and canola oils. It works well for frying because it doesn’t hold on to the flavors of the foods cooked in it, but you do have to be concerned about possible reactions if you have a peanut allergy. Specialty oils such as grape seed, walnut, almond, and hazelnut are the most expensive to purchase, but they add great flavor to salad dressings, and are usually used sparingly in recipes.
Coconut oil is being touted by many as a new miracle food. It has been said to do everything from curing Alzheimer’s to making a great pie crust. What should we believe? It is still too early to say anything definitive about coconut oil. Even though it is a plant product, coconut oil is the most saturated fat known to man, containing 92% saturated fat. Compare that to lard that is only 50% saturated fat and butter that is 63% saturated fat. Right now research is showing that the benefits of coconut oil are minimal at best, lagging behind canola and olive oils.
I hope you have more information so that you can make better choices about fats and oils. Fats are important, but moderation is the key.
For more information, contact Cecelia Hostilo at the Trigg County Extension Office by calling 522-3269.
Information for this article was obtained from bulletins published by the University of Kentucky and Michigan State University Cooperative Extension Services.
Educational programs of the Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service serve all people regardless of race, color, age, sex, religion, disability, or national origin.
4 cups mixed vegetables such as zucchini, summer squash, tomatoes, and corn
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1 1⁄2 teaspoons fresh oregano, chopped
Slice vegetables and steam in a small amount of water. Drain and place in a bowl to cool. Mix lime juice, oil, and oregano. Pour over cool vegetables and mix well.
Yield: 4 servings
Nutrition Facts Per Serving: 140 calories; 2 g total fat; 0 mg cholesterol; 65 mg sodium; 24 g total carbohydrate; 8 g dietary fiber; 6 g sugar; 5 g protein; 160% Daily Value of vitamin A; 15% Daily Value of vitamin C; 4% Daily Value of calcium; 8% Daily Value of iron
Source: National Cancer Institute, 5-A-Day website
Green Bean and Mushroom Medley
1 1⁄2 pounds fresh green beans, cut
2 carrots, peeled and sliced
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, sliced
1 pound fresh sliced mushrooms
1 teaspoon lemon pepper seasoning
1⁄2 teaspoon garlic salt
1⁄4 cup slivered almonds, toasted
Place green beans and carrots in 1-inch of boiling water. Cover and cook until tender but firm. Drain. Add the oil to a heated skillet. Sauté onions and mushrooms until almost tender. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer for 3 minutes. Stir in green beans, carrots, lemon pepper and garlic salt. Cover and cook for 5 minutes over medium heat. Stir in almonds before serving.
Yield: 8 servings
Nutrition Facts Per Serving: 100 calories; 5 g total fat; 0 mg cholesterol; 70 mg sodium; 10 g total carbohydrate; 4 g dietary fiber; 3 g sugar; 4 g protein; 50% Daily Value of vitamin A; 15% Daily Value of vitamin C; 4% Daily Value of calcium; 6% Daily Value of iron
Source: North Carolina Cooperative Extension, Wayne County
French Salad Dressing
2 tablespoons canola oil
1⁄4 cup ketchup
1 teaspoon sugar
1 tablespoon vinegar
1⁄2 teaspoon paprika
1 tablespoon grated onion
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
Put all ingredients in a bottle or jar with lid. Put on the lid. Shake until well mixed. Chill in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour before serving. Shake again before serving.
Yield: 5 (2-tablespoon) servings
Nutrition Facts Per Serving: 70 calories; 8 g total fat; 135 mg sodium; 135 mg sodium; 4 g total carbohydrate; 4 g sugar; 4% Daily Value of vitamin A; 5% Daily Value of vitamin C
Source: Pennsylvania Nutrition Education Program and Network