I’m so happy to hear that mainstream media is starting to report what people in the health sphere have known for awhile: fats don’t make us fat! Actually, it’s quite the opposite. Including a good amount of fats in our diet is actually linked to weight loss. It turns out that stored fat, say around the stomach, thighs or butt, can’t actually be burned without the addition of new dietary fat (1). Before you start scooping out the guac there is a lot to consider when picking the right type of fat.
You have so many options but beware of the heavily processed vegetable oils. These oils cause major inflammation in your body due to their highly refined/processed nature. Trans fats (those that have been hydrogenated to be unnaturally solid at room temperature) are also very unstable and can cause havoc in your body. This means you should definitely stay away from vegetable oils like corn, canola, peanut, soybean (a lot of these are used in salad dressings!) and margarine (2). They are commonly used because they have a very high smoke point which is why fried and processed foods will use them (it helps to ensure maximum shelf life and survival through the deep fryer).
Also, be careful relying too heavily on seed/nut oils even though they are natural. These oils have a high PUFA (polyunsaturated fatty acid) count which means they are predominately composed of omega-6s. This type of fatty acid is important in the diet, but not at levels exceeding omega-3s, which causes inflammation. But don’t worry. There are plenty of other fats and oils to choose from. The smoke point is a good place to start when it comes to choosing which fat you want to use.
I’ve talked before about how not all calories are the same, and the same principal applies to fats. Not all types of fats should be used for the same tasks. Some are more delicate and need to be kept at room temperature and others are ideal for cooking because they remain stable at higher heats. We can refer to the smoke point for help.
Smoke Point of Commonly Used Fats/Oils
- Extra-virgin olive oil: 325°F
- Coconut oil: 350°F
- Duck Fat 375°F
- Chicken Fat (Schmaltz) 375°F
- Beef Fat (Tallow) 400°F
- Ghee: 485°F
You’ll want to use fats with higher smoke points when searing, pan frying or stir frying like tallow and ghee. Basically sticking to any fats that can tolerate temperatures over 400°F. If you’re baking, you can use lower smoke level fats that coincide with the lower temperatures. However, i will say olive and other nut/seed oils are only suited for post-cooking use, by drizzling it over fresh vegetables or adding it to a nice tahini sauce for dipping, or a vinaigrette. That way you keep all of the enzymes and minerals intact (because they’re are highly susceptible to heat). Also, make sure that you are buying virgin, unrefined, cold pressed or unfiltered oils so these nutrients are actually there.
When you cook past the smoke point (when your food starts smoking) it starts to break down which releases free radicals (AGEs) into your food (3). Free radicals lead to inflammation, which triggers disease reactions and can even bring about early signs of aging. Which is counterproductive when you’re eating to improve your health. It’s best to slowly increase the heat when you cook until it reaches a comfortable temperature rather than being surprised when your oils start sending out smoke signals.
Non- Cooking Fats
There are plenty of other fat sources than just those used for cooking. My favorite is avocado which I have everyday, say for breakfast or even dessert. I’ll also turn to full-fat coconut milk at night when I want a nice relaxing latte. Olives are also a really great snack. A lot of people like nuts and seeds as well but I will caution you about those. As with their oils, they are majorly omega-6s (PUFAs) which cause inflammation in high amounts. As long as you’re not relying on them as main components of your meals then you should be fine. People with sensitive stomachs should also watch out because nuts/seeds in general have a protective coating that isn’t easily broken down. Make sure to soak them for at least 8 hours, or buy sprouted.
In general, I recommend cooking with saturated fats (those that are solid at room temp – coconut oil, ghee) and dress up foods with unsaturated fats (liquid at room temp – olive oil). When you buy more delicate oils look for the ones packaged in dark bottles (not clear). Then make sure you store them in a cabinet where they aren’t exposed to light or heat as they are very susceptible to both.
This is a lot to take in, especially if this is your first exposure to smoke points. If you have comments/questions/concerns shoot me an email or leave a comment. I’d love to hear what you think!