The newly released Obesity in Canada report announces that one in four Canadians are obese. Now is the time to talk about fats.
Dietary fats are given a lot of bad press. It is true they have twice as many calories as proteins and carbohydrates but they carry and allow the absorption of essential nutrients such as Vitamins A, D, and E. Fats also provide a feeling of satisfying your hunger. You need fats in your diet but it is important to monitor the amount and quality. The amount of fat you require depends upon your age.
Fats are categorized as unsaturated, saturated and trans. Unsaturated are the healthiest and trans fats are the least desirable. The two main types of unsaturated fats are monounsaturated and polyunsaturated. Vegetable oil, nuts and seeds and avocados fall into the category of monounsaturated. Fish, fish oils, some nuts and seeds and some vegetable oils are polyunsaturated. These oils provide essential omega-3 and -6 fatty acids.
Saturated fat, which raises LDL or bad cholesterol, is found in animal foods like beef, chicken, lamb, pork and veal, coconut, palm and palm kernel oils, dairy products like butter, cheese and whole milk, lard and shortening.
Trans fat is made from a chemical process known as partial hydrogenation as liquid oil is made into a solid fat. Saturated and trans fats have been shown to raise LDL which increases your risk for heart disease. Unlike saturated fat, trans fat also lowers HDL or good cholesterol. A low level of HDL cholesterol is also a risk factor for heart disease.
According to Health Canada you can lower cholesterol levels and reduce the risk of heart disease by replacing saturated and trans fats with unsaturated fats.
Until recently, most of the trans fat found in a typical Canadian diet came from hard margarines, commercially fried foods, and bakery products. Our food supply is rapidly changing and the trans fat content of many of these products has now been reduced. It is still important to look at the Nutrition Facts label to make sure the food product you are buying has little or no trans fat.
The best way to watch your fat intake is to read labels. Read the Nutrition Facts label to choose and compare foods when shopping. Choose to cook leaner cuts of meat, skinless chicken and turkey. Buy fish every week. Choose low fat dairy products. Choose soft margarines that are low in saturated and trans fat. Buy fewer prepackaged foods and meals. Buy vegetables, fruit and whole grain products with no added fat. Serve meat alternatives like beans, lentils, nuts, seeds and tofu.
Use vegetable oils in small amounts for stir frying or sautéing. A teaspoon is usually enough. Heat oil before frying to prevent the food from soaking up the oil. Fill a spray bottle with vegetable oil to spray your pans instead of greasing. Make your own salad dressing. Add balsamic, rice wine or other vinegars. Flavour with lemon juice, dry or Dijon mustard, garlic and herbs.
When eating out, check the nutrition information of menu items before you order and ask for gravy, sauces and salad dressings on the side. Order smaller portions or share with someone. I often take my own container and remove excess food from my plate before I begin eating to ensure that I do not overeat.
Your two decisions in selecting a fat or oil for cooking are flavour and smoke point. Smoke point is the temperature at which fat breaks down into glycerol and fatty acids, smoke is produced and the nutrition and flavour deteriorate. The normal temperature of deep frying is 375F (190C).
Neutral flavoured oils like grapeseed, safflower, and canola have high smoke points and are ideal for pan and deep frying. Peanut oil has the highest smoke point but some people may have an allergy.
Flavoured fats for pan frying include olive oil, clarified butter, goose and duck fat. Rendered goose and duck fat are liquid at room temperature and are considered to be healthy choices.
In addition to frying and cooking, oils are used for drizzling. They are used in salad dressings, with roasted vegetables, cooked fish, grains or crusty bread. Nut and seed oils like walnut, hazelnut or sesame impart their distinctive flavours. Use sparingly. They are bursting with flavour and are expensive.
Flavoured oils fall into the same category as drizzling oils. An olive oil or a neutral tasting oil can be flavoured with truffles, lemons, herbs, and exotic mushrooms.
Less healthy fat choices include tallow or suet, lard and bacon fat. There is controversy with coconut oil. It is deemed to be the new healthiest fat but there is no solid scientific evidence to ascertain this. It is 86% saturated fat but devotees claim that the fatty acid chains are shorter and therefore healthier.
In my kitchen, extra virgin olive oil remains my favourite. It falls into both the drizzling and the cooking categories. I use it because it’s a healthy oil, high in monounsaturated fats and trace nutrients. I use it because it is the traditional oil used in the Mediterranean cuisines I love.
I also like duck fat. It is high in unsaturated fats and closer to olive oil than butter in composition. And I use butter.
In the end, moderation is always key. Limit your intake of fats, especially saturated and trans fats. You need to match the fat to the cooking method and flavour. Each type of fat has its own special qualities.
Fat Type Smoke Point
Butter Saturated 350F (177C)
Butter (Ghee), clarified Saturated 375-485F (190-250C)
Canola Oil Monounsaturated 400F (204C)
Coconut Oil Saturated 350F (170C)
Corn Oil Polyunsaturated 450F (232C)
Grapeseed Oil Polyunsaturated 392F (200C)
Hazelnut Oil Monounsaturated 430F (221C)
Lard Saturated 370F (182C)
Olive Oil Monounsaturated Extra Virgin 320F (160C)
Virgin 420F (216C)
Extra Light 468F (242C)
Peanut Oil Monounsaturated 450F (232C)
Safflower Oil Polyunsaturated 450F (232C)
Vegetable Shortening Saturated 360F (182C)
Sunflower Oil Polyunsaturated 450F (232C)
Vegetable Oil Polyunsaturated varies
Duck Fat 49% polyunsaturated 375F (190C)
How to Render Duck Fat
Take the skin and fat from duck, avoiding the tail and neck areas.
Cut skin and fat into medium sized pieces and put into heavy bottomed pot. Add water to cover and simmer over medium heat until water has evaporated and the skin pieces are crisp and have released their fat. That may take about 2 hours. Be careful not to burn.
Strain the clear golden fat through a sieve or coffee filter. Store fat in a sealed container in refrigerator or freezer.