Ultimate You Change Centre

Fat Factor: All about Fats and Oils

‘‘Ill have the low-fat muffin and a skinny latte’. Who hasn’t made this same order before? In our society we hear all too often of the detriments of excess fat consumption and about our nation growing larger. But is fat really that bad?

Well, it depends on the type of fat you are consuming. Dietary fats can be broken down into three groups; monounsaturated, polyunsaturated and saturated.

The first two are the good guys, think avocadoes, olives, nuts, seeds, and fish.  Loads of the oils we use everyday contain monoun- and polyun-saturated fats, the most common being olive oil and fish oil respectively. So is this what everyone is telling you to stay away from? Probably not. These guys reduce low-density lipoproteins (LDLs) aka ‘bad cholesterol’ and can even protect against cardiovascular disease. So what’s all the fuss about? That would be saturated fat.  This guy is on the hit list for almost every health organization in the world and plays a huge role in coronary heart disease and stroke. Why? It essentially clogs up our arteries which stops the blood returning to our heart in time to pick up more oxygen; think of saturated fat like a kink in a running hose – everything stops when the kink gets large enough. Let’s just stop eating it you say, but in a fast-food age where there’s a McDonald’s on every corner selling us a 4-course meal for $4.95, it’s an uphill battle for most to choose health and wellbeing over convenience and cost.  What to do now? Well, they say consistency is the key – so every time you reach for the butter, try a little avocado instead; every time you want chips, opt for baked instead of fried; and try to eat fish in place of meat once or twice a week. You want to eventually try to outweigh your saturated fat consumption with monoun- and polyun-saturated fats.

So that’s the low-down on fats, but what about oil? There are so many oils available at supermarkets and grocers these days and it can be overwhelming staring at all those choices when up until recently, all you knew existed were olive, vegetable and canola oils! Oils can be great for you; they supply us with plenty of the good fats, antioxidants as well as essential fatty acids; which are super important for cardiac cell health and because we can’t make them up in our bodies alone, we have to consume them from food to get them. But oils can also be bad for you – I like to think of oils as having a devil on one shoulder and an angel on the other. This is because the same oil that gives you all the good stuff, can give you all the bad stuff as well. Take olive oil for example; due to the oil’s chemical structure and stability, we know that it is healthiest to consume it cold like as a salad dressing or drizzled over eggs for breakfast, this is because it is in its most natural form, we have not manipulated it or changed it in any way that could compromise it’s naturally occurring chemical structure. However, when we throw it in a pan for frying, the story changes. The temperature begins to affect the structure of the oil and it begins to degrade and oxidize, causing rancidity and changing those good fats into harmful trans-fats – another fat which affects heart health. The same story goes for most vegetable oils. So what can I fry or sauté in? Your best bets are the oils that have high smoking points because they are the most stable; coconut, rice bran, ghee and peanut are great examples. However, these oils are the saturated fats. Now I know I just said to stay away from them but in terms of frying, these guys are the ones to stick with. Think of ‘saturated’ as ‘stable’, this means that under high temperatures, the structure won’t be disturbed and change into a nasty trans-fat. So in moderation, frying in saturated oils are a great choice, and choosing monoun- and polyun-saturated oils as cold additions to a dish are perfect.

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ABOUT THE WRITER:

Melanie Lionello is currently at university studying a Bachelor of Human Nutrition. She is passionate about enjoying healthy and wholesome food to nourish the body and soul. One day she hopes to open a food store to show people that healthy eating doesn’t have to be boring or bland. Recipes and ideas can be found on her blog and Instagram: foodiesdigestblog.com and @foodies_digest.

*** Article from Ultimate You Magazine, August 2013 issue ***