Oils and Fats

A friend of mine texted me over the holidays asking me what I used for butter and what I use for baking. I had talked to her at some point about unhealthy oils and fats. In our texting, she told me that I needed to blog more. Apparently this is a confusing topic that needs some clearing up. It’s confusing, because a lot of information has been given to us about what is and isn’t healthy, “scientifically” speaking, since the 1980s. Unfortunately, as more research and observation has been done, the views of health and unhealthy have changed. In the 80s, fats were made out to be the bad guys that made people fat and caused heart disease. And, until recently, this attitude continued. Research is finally coming out to say that all fats aren’t bad. So, I am going to share what I have learned in my reading and my thinking on the subject.

First and foremost, I am not a nutritionist or a doctor. I do a lot of reading on the internet about these things. I will share what I have learned and a few links to articles.

Not all oils and fats are created equally. You probably already know that. You’ve got oils that come from plant sources, like olive, coconut and sunflower to name a few. Then you have fats that come from animals, like butter, lard and tallow. You have surely heard that olive oil is really good for you. Well, yes, that’s true, but that comes with a caveat. You should not cook with olive oil, unless it is at the lowest heat setting that you have on your stove. It has something to do with the molecular structure of the oil. It’s not just olive oil. Any oil that is low in saturated fat is the same. All oils have their own temperature at which point they start to smoke and burn. When an oil gets heated to this point, or near it, the molecular structure changes. From what I understand, this causes a release of free-radicals. When we eat that, the free-radicals are released into our bodies to wreak havoc. Then we need to make sure we are consuming enough antioxidant-rich foods to combat them. So, by all means, put olive oil on your salads or your steamed veggies (after they have been steamed, of course).

To avoid this problem, you could go to the internet and find the smoke point of all of the oils and fats that you use and be sure not to get near that temperature when using them. But that sounds like a lot of hassle. So, here is an easy trick around that. Use fats and oils that are solid at room temperature. Fats and oils that are solid at room temperature have a much higher smoke point, because they are higher in saturated fat. I know you have heard that saturated fat is bad for you, but calm down. Decades of studies have not been able to pin heart disease on the normal consumption of saturated fats. Fats are necessary in our diet.

So which oils and fats are solid at room temperature? Coconut oil, butter, lard, tallow, palm oil and ghee. There may be others, but these are the ones that come to mind right off. In my house, we use mostly virgin organic coconut oil and organic butter. I use them interchangeably most of the time. If I don’t have butter for a recipe, I’ll try it with coconut oil. Usually, it works just fine. I have also spread coconut oil on my toast and then strawberry jam, which was delicious!  I have read a lot of negative articles on palm oil, nutritionally and environmentally, so it’s best to avoid that one. I have never seen an organic lard, but if you do find one, and you like pig fat, give it a whirl. And ghee! Ghee is a wonderful thing. Ghee is clarified butter, which means that it has had all of the milk solids removed, leaving only the oil or fat. You can make your own ghee from your own butter. Just Google “how to make ghee” and give it a try. Or you can try to make it the way I make it. I’m not sure this is real, honest-to-goodness ghee, but it smells and tastes like buttery heaven!

Here’s what I do to make Ghee:

  1. Get a small to medium, heavy-bottomed, stainless steel saucepot.
  2. Add one pound of butter, salted or unsalted, it’s up to you.
  3. Put it on the stove on medium to medium-high heat.
  4. When the butter is melted and starts to bubble and foam, turn down the heat medium or medium-low.
  5. This is going to take a while, but you don’t want it to burn, which happens very quickly when it gets to that point. That being said, set a timer for 5 minutes, and keep checking at 5 minute intervals. What you are looking for is that the foam on top goes away and starts to actually stick to the bottom and sides of the saucepot. Aside from the solids sticking to the pot, what you are left with is a beautiful golden oil.
  6. When it is finished, stop the cooking process by submerging the bottom of the pan in cold ice water in a large bowl. If you don’t do this, the oil will continue to cook, and possibly burn.
  7. Pour the oil through a fine mesh strainer or cheesecloth into a glass pint mason jar or other glass or ceramic/crock type container of your choice that has a lid. In a glass container, it will probably look like a urine sample or a flat beer until it cools, so just make sure that the other people in your house know that it isn’t.

When the ghee cools to room temperature, it will solidify. You can use it for cooking or for tossing with your steamed vegetables. Sometimes it’s just nice to go open the jar and take a big whiff of it. It smells heavenly!

Now, let me tell you the oils and fats that you should not be eating, and if they are in your house, please do yourself a favor and throw them away immediately!!

  1. Margarine or any type of margarine product. USE REAL ORGANIC BUTTER. Even non-organic butter is better for you than this stuff!!
  2. Canola oil. The refining process turns it rancid. In turn deodorizers are used to make it not smell rancid. Plus, about 90% of US canola is GMO (genetically modified).
  3. Soybean oil. 93% of soy is GMO.
  4. Corn oil. 88% of corn grown in the US is GMO.
  5. Cottonseed oil, which is used in vegetable oil, margarine and shortening. 94% of cottonseed in the US is GMO.
  6. Shortening, because it is probably made with some of the above mentioned oils.
  7. Vegetable oil, for the same reason as shortening.

There are tons of articles out there on the internet about oils and fats. I will add a few links here in case you would like to do some further reading. I hope this helps clear up some confusion. And I hope you find a lot more enjoyment in your food knowing that saturated fat is no longer the bad guy!

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