Even if you don’t consider yourself an expert in healthy cooking, you’re surely aware it wouldn’t hurt to boost your veggie intake, or maybe choose the least processed carbs possible to round out your dinner. And although fats used to be considered public enemy number 1, you probably know that research and anecdotal evidence proof that in many cases, fats our our friends.
You see, eating sufficient amounts of high quality fats are essential to a number of health functions, including but not limited to:
absorption of fat-soluble vitamins (A, E, D, K)
maintaining brain health
getting essential fatty acids like linoleic (Omega-6) and alpha-linolenic acid (Omega-3), which the body cannot produce on its own
pleasing our palate, which helps curb cravings + binge eating
providing energy for daily activities + exercise
Some fats, like extra virgin olive oil, are well-known “superfoods,” and even the mainstream medical community advocates abundant inclusion in our daily diets. But what many people fail to realize that not all fats are created equal – and I don’t mean just in health rewards.
Certain fats are more conducive to cooking, while others should be used only in room temperature or cold preparations. This is related to a particular fat’s smoke point, or the temperature at which it begins to create burn and create smoke.
Going above a fat’s smoke point is annoying, for sure; the color of the fat is often darkened and the flavor usually becomes unpleasant. But more important is what happens chemically to a fat when you blow past its smoke point: you not only negate some of the previously mentioned health benefits, but you might additionally be creating harmful carcinogenic substances.
In the video below, I detail my favorite health fats for cooking, as well as which ones to save for cold or room temperature preparations.
My advice is to keep a variety of healthy fats handy in your kitchen to use for different styles of cooking. Keep in mind they should be kept away from direct heat; the cabinet above your stove is not the right place to store your oils, although convenient for cooking. Some fats should even go in the fridge to preserve shelf live.
When deciding which fat to use, I love coconut oil in Asian, Latin, or Caribbean-inspired dishes, while ghee is my go-to for most others. I save olive oil for dressing vegetables, or if I know I won’t be heating a dish too high. Avocado oil and grass-fed butter are also great for cooking, which specialty oils like pumpkin seed should be saved as a finishing touch.
A slight digression: you might notice that I don’t mention vegetable or Canola oil as options; although technically suitable for high-heat cooking, the high level of processing and likely use of GMOs renders these oil off limits in my book. Vegetable oil is in fact, usually soy bean oil plus perhaps some other blends. And have you ever stopped for minute to consider what the heck Canola is? I’ll tell y0u this much – there certainly aren’t any Canola trees growing in the luscious Greek Isles next to the olives.
But again… I digress
If you stick to whole-foods sources of fat that have undergone as little processing as possible (read: unrefined vs. refined) and use them in their appropriate preparations (hot vs. cold), you will be well on your way to improving the quality of your diet and your overall health.