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Rosemary Nardone, CHHP, RM

Certified Nutritional Health Counselor

When we think of fats, there often seems to be confusion surrounding types and amounts of fat that are beneficial to our health.  It’s even more confusing when we walk down the supermarket aisles and see packages feeding our fear of fats with the “No Fat” , “Low Fat”, claims.  Some say fats should be no more than 10% of one’s diet, but fats really are crucial for optimal human health so cutting back on fats does not make good sense.  Some of the areas where fat plays a crucial role are memory ,  brain health, preventing cardiovascular disease, creating healthy hormones and maintaining cellular membrane levels. 

We actually need a combination of all fats, including saturated, monosaturated and polysaturated fats.  These are further labeled  as Omega 3s, 6s and 9s.  When there is a healthy percentage and balance of these high quality fats in a meal, it creates a lasting feeling of energy, satiety and warmth.  Signs of not enough fats in our diet are brittle hair and nails, dry skin, feeling hungry and feeling cold.  When there is an excess of fats and oils in the diet, especially heavily processed and refined, a person experiences weight gain, skin breakouts, high blood pressure, liver strain and an overall feeling of mental and physical discomfort. 

Research shows that longevity and reduction of illnesses like cancer and heart disease come as a result of consuming plant based sources of fats such as nuts and seeds.  Saturated fats, which have been given a bad rap, come from sources such as meat and dairy, but in excess, can promote inflammation in the body.  Chronic inflammation is now associated with the above mentioned diseases.  A notable exception to saturated fats causing inflammation is coconut oil which has anti-inflammatory properties. 

Unsaturated fats, labeled Omega 6,  are broken down into several categories, Polyunsaturated such as sunflower, safflower, sesame oils, and Monosaturated fats, labeled as Omega 9s,  are olive oil, avocado, canola oil.  The Omega 3s, such as flax seeds, raw nuts and seeds, fish oils found in salmon and tuna are considered the truly healthy fats because of their known ability to reduce heart disease and stroke, reducing hypertension, depression and attention deficit disorder (ADD).   

When shopping for these wonderful oils, it is best to select the highest quality organic oils you can afford because they are the backbone of many dishes.  Look for oils stored in dark bottles because oxygen and heat promote rancidity which produces free radicals in the body.  Check on the “best used by”dates.  Also, for storage , keep oils in a cool dark place, not near the stove or above your refrigerator.    

Nuts and seed oils such as toasted sesame, flax oil, walnut, pumpkin seed and almond oil are best unheated.  Use them on salads, veggies or grains just before serving.  NEVER heat flax seed  or toasted sesame seed oils. 

For cooking with fats and baking at high temperatures, use butter, ghee (clarified butter that is prevalent in India, Asian cultures), and coconut oil because they do not break down under extreme heat.

When sautéing and stovetop cooking, use moderate temperatures.  I like to use Cooking Sprays to keep the calorie count down and prefer the organic, olive oil, grapeseed oil, coconut oil sprays.  I find many commercial brands use alcohol and highly refined oils like cottonseed oil, which are counter-productive to one’s health.  I notice Pam now offers organic spray and Mazola has not used alcohol for a long time.   

A simple way to know when you have heated oil to the right temperature is to place the oil in your cooking pan to medium heat until you just begin to smell the aroma.  Quickly add and sauté your ingredients.  You do not want the oil to ripple or heat to smoking. 

Feel free to enjoy these healthy fats – they will keep your metabolism steady, nourish our skin, hair and nails and keep enough healthy “grease” in our engine to have the body’s functions work fluidly.

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