Once upon a time, dietary fats got a bad reputation when they were blamed for increasing rates of obesity and heart disease.
Now, thanks to a renewed look at the science of fats and the increasing popularity of fat-focused diets, like high-fat/low-carb and keto, we know fat is an essential nutrient and a critical component of a metabolism-boosting diet. This is especially important when we’re fighting midlife weight gain.
Fat is your friend!
I discovered this late in life (but not too late!). After struggling with a mopey metabolism and a rapidly expanding waistline, one of the first things I did was get rid of the unhealthy fats (who knew?) I was consuming and switched to the best fats for good health and weight loss.
What’s so essential about fat for midlife? Dietary fat provides energy, supports cell maintenance (this is anti-aging stuff!), enhances nutrient absorption, and is essential for producing some hormones.
However, not all fats are created equal.
In general, oils that are highly processed should be avoided. These include vegetable oil blends, canola, corn, and soybean oils, and seed-derived oils like sunflower and safflower oils.
These oils undergo chemical and high heat processes during production, which often turns the oils rancid – aka full of oxidation, trans fat, and other inflammatory byproducts that aren’t best for your body.
Oils that have a low smoke point or contain a high percentage of polyunsaturated fatty acids, like walnut and flaxseed oil, shouldn’t be used for cooking. That’s because heat damages the flavor and nutrition profile of these oils and causes the formation of unhealthy free radicals.
There are a few tried and true oils that lend flavor and nutrition no matter what cooking method you’re using.
Here are the 4 healthiest oils/fats to cook with:
The monounsaturated fats found in olive oil are linked to reduced inflammation, decreased risk of heart disease, improved triglycerides and cholesterol levels, and many of the other health benefits associated with the Mediterranean diet.
Olive oil is best for low-heat cooking, such as a quick sauté or baking at 350 degrees and below. It has a low smoke point, which means high temperatures will cause olive oil to degrade, so it shouldn’t be used in high heat roasting or frying.
Extra virgin olive oil can also be used to “finish” a dish – drizzle on top of salads, soups, proteins, and vegetables.
Also rich in monounsaturated fatty acids, avocado oil may also help improve cholesterol levels.
Unlike olive oil, avocado oil has a high smoke point and can be used for frying and roasting. It has a mild neutral flavor that makes it a good choice for use in baked goods as well.
This is my favorite cooking oil.
Coconut oil is a solid at room temperatures below 76 degrees and liquid when heated. It has a medium smoke point, making it another good choice for everything from sautés to baking. Coconut oil is a great vegan alternative to butter in baked goods.
Coconut oil contains saturated fat and medium-chain triglycerides (MCT), both heart healthy and weight loss-friendly. The medium-chain triglycerides found in coconut oil are not metabolized like other fats. MCT's bypass the digestive tract and head to the liver where they’re immediately used for energy. MCT's are often used in keto diets. Do not cook with pure MCT oil. You won’t like the result.
One word of caution - virgin coconut oil will lend a coconut aroma and flavor to whatever you cook in it. Choose refined coconut oil if you’re not a fan of coconut flavor.
GRASS-FED BUTTER OR GHEE
You can’t beat the taste of butter - also my favorite to cook with.
Choose grass-fed butter and ghee (clarified butter) products for an extra dose of omega-3 fats.
Butter is best used for lower heat cooking and baking. Ghee can be used for higher heat cooking, since the milk solids that are prone to browning and burning have been removed.
Ghee is easy to find in Whole Foods, health food stores, and many supermarkets, but it’s really easy to make your own:
• 1 pound butter - unsalted, organic, and grass-fed (I use Kerry Gold unsalted - get it at Costco!)
Cut the butter into cubes and place in a medium-size saucepan.
Heat the butter over medium heat until completely melted.
Reduce to a simmer.
Cook for about 10-15 minutes. During this time, the butter will go through several stages. It will foam, then bubble, then seem to almost stop bubbling and then foam again. When the second foam occurs, the ghee is done. At this point, the melted butter should be bright gold in color and there should be reddish-brown pieces of milk solids at the bottom of the pan.
Let the ghee cool slightly for 2-3 minutes and then slowly pour through a wire mesh strainer lined with several layers of cheesecloth. Discard the small bits of milk protein.
Ghee will last up to a month at room temperature or even longer in the fridge.
The information provided on this website is for informational/educational purposes only. It is not intended to replace a one-on-one relationship with a qualified healthcare professional or be a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always consult your physician or other healthcare professional before making any changes to your diet, medical plan, or exercise routine.