Fats – get them right and you’ll help protect your heart, lower cholesterol and maintain good cognitive function. Get it wrong however and there could be trouble. ‘Bad’ fats are implicated…
Fats – get them right and you’ll help protect your heart, lower cholesterol and maintain good cognitive function. Get it wrong however and there could be trouble. ‘Bad’ fats are implicated in the development of everything from coronary heart disease to Alzheimer’s and depression.
WHY WE NEED FAT
Mediterranean eating is hailed as an example of the best in the world for longevity, partly due to consumption of good fats like olive oil. We need fat; it’s crucial to a number of bodily functions. It’s vital for our brains because it builds part of the myelin, the fatty sheath surrounding each nerve fibre which allows the brain to carry messages quickly. It also regulates the production of the sex hormones, helps the body use fat-soluble vitamins like A, D, E and K and keeps skin looking and feeling healthy. “It’s important to get a wide range of fats,” explains Louise Digby, nutritional therapist at the Nutri Clinic (the-nutriclinic.com). “Recent research suggests that having a mixture of oils in our diet is the most beneficial, as too much of any single fat can be detrimental to health.”
But there is no point having a cupboard full of healthy oils without knowing how to use them for maximum effect. Here are which ones to stock up on, and how to incorporate them into your culinary masterpieces…
BEST FOR COOKING AT MEDIUM TEMPERATUTES
1 Sesame oil
USE IT FOR: Cooking, stir-frying and salad dressings.
This oriental cupboard staple is bursting with nutrition and will impart a distinct nutty flavour to any dish. “This oil is not only high in cholesterol-lowering mono-unsaturated fatty acids, it also contains vitamin E, K and B6, plus the minerals magnesium, copper, calcium, iron and zinc,” says Louise.
2 Avocado oil
USE IT FOR: Cooking, frying and salads.
Avocado oil has similar anti-ageing properties to olive oil, but is slightly lower in saturated fat and milder in flavour. “Refined avocado oil is stable at high temperatures which makes it great for cooking,” explains Louise. “Plus it contains lots of mono-unsaturated fat which can reduce the build up of bad cholesterol.”
BEST FOR COOKING AT HIGH TEMPERATURES:
3 Coconut oil
USE IT FOR: Cooking, frying and baking.
This solidified substance has shot to fame in recent years and can count celebrities among its fans. Anecdotally it’s been said to benefit dementia sufferers – the fats in virgin coconut oil can be converted into ketone bodies which provide an energy source for the brain. Experts speculate this may provide alternative fuel to the brains of Alzheimer’s patients. But like any fat which is solid at room temperature, coconut oil is full of saturated fat, and that’s bad, isn’t it? “Although this oil is high in saturated fatty acids, they are shorter ones than are found in animal fats,” explains Louise. “They are taken to the liver and burnt for energy rather than to the cells where they could impair insulin function, like the saturated fat in animal products can.” So while experts still advise it’s only eaten in moderation, it seems this is one sat fat which isn’t all bad. Coconut is regarded as superior to olive oil due to its lower level of polyunsaturates and it’s twice as stable as its Mediterranean counterpart; olive oil will oxidise and produce rancid by-products when heated to very high temperatures, making it less suitable.
4 Macadamia nut oil
USE IT FOR: Cooking, baking, frying, roasting and salads.
Not one for nut allergy sufferers, this nutritious oil offers an explosion of antioxidants, boasting four to five times the vitamin E of olive oil. “It’s low in polyunsaturated fatty acids which tend to be very unstable and release rancid by-products when heated,” says Louise. “This oil is particularly good for cooking because it’s twice as stable as olive oil.”
BEST FOR DRIZZLING
5 Flax seed oil
USE IT FOR: Salads.
Great for drizzling, this oil should never be used for cooking as it is very unstable at high temperatures and will produce rancid by-products if heated. “Flaxseed oil provides a much-needed injection of omega 3 into your diet,” explains Louise. “Although the level is nowhere near as high as the omega 3 found in fish oil, flaxseed is the highest non-animal source available so is a great way for vegans and vegetarians to supplement their diets. Omega-type polyunsaturates such as those found in this oil have been discovered to be beneficial in more than 50 health conditions.”
6 Hemp seed oil
USE IT FOR: Low temperature cooking and salads.
Hemp has many a fan and this relatively recent addition to the health-oil cannon is reportedly beneficial for conditions such as eczema, asthma and arthritis. “Hemp seed oil is very high in poly-unsaturated fatty acids, which means it’s only suitable for really low temperature cooking as it will oxidise, but it’s great for drizzling and has a pleasant nutty flavour,” explains Louise. “Hemp’s fatty acids are mainly omega 6, but it does contain omega 3 too,” she says. There have also been promising results reported by parents of children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
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