making sense of oils

27 May

Oils and fats: we need them, at least some of them, but the news about which ones are best changes all the time! From the margarine craze of the middle of the twentieth century to the coconut oil fad that’s raging right now, the misinformation and research are mixed up, making it hard for the average person to tell what’s really a “healthy fat.”

I’m not an expert. Far from it. I read the same news that you do! But here’s my take on oils.

BEST CHOICE: Olive. This is not a recent craze, nor is it a source of contention, in most circles: this is a good fat. I use it for everything. I don’t deep-fry anything, so I don’t worry about it burning.

OTHER GOOD CHOICES: For flavoring things, I sometimes use a little sesame oil. Walnut and other nut oils are good too. For getting fat in your diet–not for cooking–avocados and nuts provide excellent, healthy fats. Fish oil supplements are also a good choice if you aren’t getting enough oils in your diet. Most of us, however, don’t have a problem with that!

TREATS: Butter is not evil. It’s not great for you–I don’t think the recent “traditional foods” craze, such as what’s set forth by Weston A. Price, holds up to scrutiny, nor does their canonization of butter and animal fats!–but a little bit now and then won’t kill you and is very satisfying. I also think that a little butter really improves many baked goods, and since those are occasional treats anyway, I use it.

THINGS I AVOID: With few exceptions, I avoid margarine, vegetable shortening, and animal fats (except those found in the animal products I’m cooking–for example, I wouldn’t use bacon grease).

THINGS I DON’T KNOW ABOUT: I have heard wildly conflicting things about coconut oil. Some people argue that it’s the best thing since sliced bread; others feel that it’s unhealthful. Canola oil is another that has been held up as healthful since the 90’s but has recently come into question. I don’t know the answers, so I stick to oils that I am fairly confident are good for me!

BOTTOM LINE: Olive oil is my staple. I also use small amounts of other flavorful fats–sesame oil, butter–when the flavor really improves a dish. One thing to remember, though, is that even a healthful oil like olive packs a lot of calories; many things don’t need oil at all, and we often use more than we need.

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