Gone are the days when fat-free or even low-fat diets are synonymous with a trimmer waist or healthier life. What really matters is the quality of the fats and oils that you consume—not the quantity.
Regardless of what you think you might know about fats and oils, plant oils are actually vital to your health, and they are also important for flavor development. Gone are the days when fat-free or even low-fat diets are synonymous with a trimmer waist or healthier life. All fats and oils have the same number of calories, but the way that they differ is how they affect your health, so it is important to focus on healthy fats: the quality of fats and oils as opposed to the quantity.
Healthy Fats and Oils
Healthy plant oils may actually be the best prescription to a happier and healthier mind. Your brain is more than 60 percent fat, so it shouldn’t surprise you that choosing healthy oils like omega-3 fatty acids can actually boost your mood and health. Research has shown that plant oils contain antioxidants, which are key components that decrease inflammation, one of the most common triggers of many diseases, such as diabetes, certain types of cancers, and possibly Alzheimer’s disease.
This is a transcript from the video series The Everyday Gourmet: Making Healthy Food Taste Great. Watch it now, on The Great Courses Plus.
Choose your oils carefully, and you may even find that they help you keep a slimmer and trimmer waist. People tend to be afraid of fat, but it is a great ingredient. Healthy fats help bring heat to food in an even, controlled way, but more importantly, it tastes good. In fact, there are a few very flavorful oils that are healthy, such as olive oil, walnut oil, and toasted sesame oil.
Olive oil is one of the healthy fats, but in addition to being healthy, it has a lot of flavor. When you sip some olive oils, they may make you cough a few times—whether you want to or not—and that’s not a bad thing. That peppery, vegetal, bitter quality is something that people try to create in an olive oil. The flavors of olive oils run the gamut from very buttery, soft, and nutty to green, bitter, pungent, and peppery.
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There is a regional style to olive oil, so if you like soft oils, try an olive oil from the south of France. Typically, in France, the olives are allowed to ripen a little bit more, resulting in a softer, rounder, more buttery oil. Spanish oils tend to be a little bit soft and fruity but not quite as peppery and aggressive as olive oils. If you like a peppery quality in your olive oil, look for olive oils from Tuscany, where the olives are harvested early in the season, resulting in a green, peppery, aggressive, and often bitter oil.
When you are shopping for olive oil, you will find that there are many different choices. Look for oils that don’t stay on the shelf for an extremely long time. When you check the label, note that the “extra-virgin” designation is an indicator of quality. Make sure to also check the back label for a vintage date. Typically, oils will last for one or two years. After that, they begin to decline in flavor, and ultimately, they will go rancid. A vintage date is a good indicator that the producer is interested in quality.
Other Healthy Oils
Walnut oil is also very healthy for you. The walnuts are toasted before the oil is extracted, and if you smell it, it has a delicious aroma. Walnut oil is a powerful oil that has a lot of flavor. Typically, you will find that blending walnut oil with an oil that is more neutral, such as canola oil, will help tone it down. Be very careful with walnut oils because they spoil quickly. They oxidize and go rancid; for that reason, it’s a great idea to buy small quantities of it and keep it refrigerated, which will guarantee that it stays fresh for as long as possible.
Toasted sesame oil is a very dark oil that is usually reserved for Asian food—specifically Chinese stir-fries, but sometimes it is used in Japan as well. Not surprisingly, toasted sesame oil smells just like toasted sesame seeds. Because it is such an aromatic oil, it is most often reserved as a garnishing oil.
Types of Healthy Fats and Oils
Saturated fats include the solid fats, such as butter, cream, lard, and even coconut and palm oil. Saturated fats are the fats that you want to limit because they are solid at room temperature, and they promote the aggressive steps toward heart disease and maybe even diabetes.
Partially hydrogenated oils are non-naturally-occurring fats and should be avoided entirely. They are found in margarines, shortenings, and many processed foods. Partially hydrogenated oils are associated with just about every negative health condition imaginable. The food industry has made great strides in trying to eliminate these from processed foods and snack foods, but you should still look for the words “partially hydrogenated oils” on ingredients lists and know to avoid those foods.
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Polyunsaturated oils are the most common type of fat that many people eat. They are referred to as seed oils or omega-6 fatty acids. Seed oils are very common and are obtained from sunflower seeds and pumpkin seeds, for example. Soybean oil and corn oil are also seed oils. Another type of polyunsaturated oil is omega-3, and omega-3 fatty acids are highly
Another type of polyunsaturated oil is omega-3, and omega-3 fatty acids are highly recognized for their anti-inflammatory properties, which means that omega-3 fatty acids help reduce the risk of heart disease and maybe even diabetes. They definitely help boost your mood. Recent studies are looking at the role of omega-3 fatty acids in helping to boost your immune system. Omega-3 fatty acids are typically found in marine sources, such as salmon, mackerel, tuna, and herring. These are also the most powerful forms of omega-3 fatty acids. If you don’t like or don’t eat seafood, then you can also get omega-3 fatty acids from plant sources, such as walnuts, which are a very rich source of omega-3 fatty acids. In modern times, eggs are a popular source of omega-3 fatty acids. Both brown and white eggs are available with omega-3 fatty acids. Flaxseed also contains omega-3 fatty acids, but in addition, it is filled with vital nutrients and
If you don’t like or don’t eat seafood, then you can also get omega-3 fatty acids from plant sources, such as walnuts, which are a very rich source of omega-3 fatty acids. In modern times, eggs are a popular source of omega-3 fatty acids. Both brown and white eggs are available with omega-3 fatty acids. Flaxseed also contains omega-3 fatty acids, but in addition, it is filled with vital nutrients and fiber.
If you eat flaxseed whole, it will go through your entire system and will not break down. To get the benefit of it, it needs to be ground up. However, once it’s ground, it will oxidize and turn rancid very quickly. If you buy it ground, keep it in the freezer and just take it out when you need it. If you buy it whole, grind it only when you are going to use it.
Monounsaturated fats are the most flavorful of all the fats, and monounsaturated oils are the everyday oils that you might cook with. For example, canola oil is very popular and rich in monounsaturated oils—as are avocado and peanut oils. Extra-virgin olive oil is a unique oil because it is made directly from the fruit through a cold-press process, which means that you get all of the benefits of a monounsaturated oil but also the additional health benefits that are contained within the fruit of the olive. Many of these benefits are related to anti-inflammatory compounds. Extra-virgin olive oil is delicious and very healthy.
Another category of monounsaturated oils that are popular is nuts. All nuts offer health benefits, but because nuts are high in calories—even though they are nutrient-rich sources of calories—learning how to balance your portions of nuts with the health benefits they offer is key. One ounce of nuts eaten every day has been associated with a 50 percent reduction of heart disease. In the Mediterranean, Asia, and Latin America, nuts are associated with healthier body weight.
Current studies are taking a closer look at why nuts are not found to be related to obesity, even though they are calorically rich. For example, studies of almonds are finding that nuts may be related to satiety, which means that they satisfy hunger. Perhaps they curb your appetite to help you get through a weight-loss plan. Research is also looking at the possibility that not all of the calories from nuts are absorbed.
There are health benefits in all nuts—from omega-3 fatty acids found in walnuts to rich antioxidant sources found in pistachios and powerful amino acids, such as arginine, found in peanuts. If you like peanuts, peanut butter, almond butter, tahini, or even almond milk, the benefits and flavor are just waiting for you.
Common Questions About Healthy Fats
The healthiest fats come from avocados, which can be purchased as an oil, while olives and seeds in the form of olive oil and seed oils such as sesame, sunflower and pumpkin are equally as good for you.