Even though there is always talk about fat reduction in our diets, fats remain an important element. We do need fat to dissolve many different vitamins and minerals so that our body can absorb them. So choosing the right cooking oils to maintain good health and add flavor and ease to cooking is key.
Oil is purified fat from animals or plants that is liquid at room temperature. The main difference between oils is the type of fat in it and its cholesterol level. Even when using a good oil such as olive oil, care should be taken to not use too much because it is still high in calories.
Oils are grouped into these categories: saturated, trans fats, polyunsaturated, and monounsaturated.
- Saturated fats are those that consist of triglycerides containing only saturated fatty acids. Products that contain higher saturated fats are more solid at room temperature like butter and coconut oil. Their high level of saturated fat make s them more stable to cook with and give them a longer shelf life. Saturated fats raise total blood cholesterol as well as LDL cholesterol (the bad cholesterol).
- Trans fats are monounsaturated or polyunsaturated fats that have been partially hydrogenated in an industrial process first commercialized as Crisco. Used for mass production because of their long shelf life, they raise LDL cholesterol and lower HDL cholesterol (the good cholesterol). Because trans fats are neither beneficial nor required for health, they should be avoided altogether for a healthier choice.
- Polyunsaturated fats are fatty acids that contain more than one double bond within the molecule. It has a lower melting point than saturated or trans fats, making them more liquid at room temperature. Found mostly in grain products, fish, and soybeans, polyunsaturated fats are healthy fats that should be in ones diet in moderate amounts. For instance, the omega -3 fatty acids in fish oil can lower that total amount of fat in the blood which can help reduce blood pressure and decrease the risk of cardiovascular disease.
- Monounsaturated fats are fatty acids with two double-bonded carbons in their molecules, with all others single-bonded carbons. Found in nuts, avocados and olive oil, among others, monounsaturated fats have the shortest shelf life and are regarded as being protective against cardiovascular disease.
Good cooking oils include olive oil, canola oil, corn oil, grape seed oil, peanut oil, safflower oil, sesame oil, soybean oil and sunflower oil.
The worst oils to use include coconut oil, hard margarine, palm oil and vegetable shortening.
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