Monday, January 9, 2012

Pantry Raid # 5: Oils and Fats

Whew...just typing that title still sends pings of residual, paranoia through my body. I was one of those girls that jumped right on the fat-free band wagon in high school and stayed there through college and a few good years after that.  Basically, if it said fat-free, it was fine for me to eat...never mind how much sugar and other junk was fat equaled good food to me.  Somewhere along the line, I think I may have tricked myself into thinking it was working, but looking back, the truth was I would binge on fat-free, junk food, and then not eat anything else. Of course this eating style appeared to work.  My calorie consumption was practically at the point of starvation.  I would eat nutritiously void food, have no energy and consume loads of caffeine to make up for the overwhelming exhaustion.  As every good college student does, when I was unable to maintain the low calorie intake, I would go through spurts of eating whatever, gain 15 pounds, freak out and go back to my fat-free obsession. 

I wish someone would have helped me establish a healthy relationship with fat back would have saved me over a decade of yo-yo dieting and all the stress of having reprogram the way I looked at food.  I had a really hard time wrapping my brain around the good vs. bad fat, because I was programmed to think that fat (period) was bad.  For those of you that have daughters, share with them what you learn about will save them a lot of headache and heartache (and maybe even some couch time). 

With all that said, this is the change that took me the longest to implement in my pantry.  What makes it so important, is that fat is a major contributor in one way or another to almost all the major diseases Americans face today. At the same time, our body NEEDS it in order to function properly.  If that's not enough to make your head spin, let the good vs. bad  fat wars begin.  It took a refresher course in cellular biology for me to soak up the whole subject.  There's so much information out there about trans fats, saturated fats, unsaturated fats, monounsaturated fats, polyunsaturated fats...good Lord, it makes my brain numb!

Fats are used by our body for an interesting list of functions like energy, heart health, hormone production and cellular structure.  The function that really grabbed hold of me was fat's role in the formation of our cell walls.  I'm sure this being exciting to me has something to do with my nerdy college degree...I knew that thing would come in handy sometime...see Dad :)   Here's a very basic run down of what I am talking about...

Our bodies are made of all different types of cells.  But, the basic structure of these cells is essentially the same.  Each cell has an outer coating or plasma membrane, basically, it's walls.  This membrane's job is to allow (or not allow) stuff like water, nutrients and wastes to move in and out of the cell.  Think of the cell like a fort...good stuff can come in, waste can go out and bad stuff is kept out.  When I say "bad stuff", I mean disease causing agents like chemicals and pollution that intrude our body through our food, the air we breathe and by penetrating our skin.  Now, here's the kicker...if you build a fort wall out of cardboard, it's going to be really hard for the soldiers to keep the bad stuff out.  If you build it with stones and mortar, the walls work like they should.  The main ingredient, so to say, in the making of the plasma membrane is fat.  Whatever fat we give our body, it's going to use to make these walls.  Good fat = strong walls, bad fat = weak walls.  Basic here again, so I don't bore you to death with biology talk--weak walls let diseases happen. 

What's the solution?  Cut out the bad fats and start consuming good fats.  Majorly limit eating out, especially fast food.  Good oils cost more, so the odds you will get served a good oil in most restaurants in pretty much zip, zero.  Steer clear of anything that says hydrogenated.  For those that have been reading the Pantry Raids, that's another one of those scientifically manipulated foods conjured up to produce a longer shelf life.  Don't buy margarine or "spreads" unless you research them to death (or ask me...I'm obsessed, and I've probably already done that :) ).  These are pretty much man-made oils...that means bad, bad, bad.  There are a few organic spreads out there that are ok, but they still use refined oils and additives to hold them together.  Make your food yourself.  Packaged foods are loaded with bad fats.  Be careful when buying canola oil.  Canola is one of the big three GMO crops.  It has become almost impossible for organic farmers to grow canola without becoming contaminated by cross pollination of GMO crops.  Choose organic, not natural canola oil.  

When I say eat good fats, I don't mean start drinking a bottle of olive oil a day.  All good things can become bad things when we over-consume them and, not to mention, that would also become a REALLY expensive habit.  These oils are more expensive, which makes you want to use less of them, and that's a good thing.  Buy organic to limit exposure to chemicals that can invade your cells.  Use the least refined you can get your hands on.  The less refined it is, the less processed and the closer to God's intended form for our consumption.  Look for cold-pressed oils.  These are oils that are extracted without heat.  The less they are heated, the less nutrients and flavor are destroyed and the better they are for you.

Here's the fats we keep in our pantry:

Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil- my go-to for sauteing, roasting, baking, mayonnaise, dressings, finishing (I buy it by the gallon.  A gallon lasts us a few months)

Organic Palm Shortening-has a high heat tolerance, good for frying (yes, we do fry a few times a month), I also use it in soap making

Organic Unrefined Coconut Oil- tastes like coconut, fun to use in baking, makes yummy popcorn, also a good soap oil

Organic Butter- the old stand-by for flavoring and baking; yes, it's ok to eat butter (just not the whole stick)

Organic Unrefined Palm Oil- loaded with lycopene, good as a finish oil, can saute with it, use it in a vinaigrette

A quick side note:  Coconut oil and palm oil both contain saturated fat.  That's one of those words we usually go screaming and running the other way from, but if you consume these oils in their natural state, the body treats them differently than man-made hydrogenated oils (which are the ones you should scream and run the other way from).

I could go on and on forever on this subject.  There will be many more posts to come that will dig deeper, I promise.  In the mean time, I want to hear your questions.  I KNOW you have them, because there is no way I could have covered everything you want to know.  Use the comment section below.  If I don't have an answer, my favorite thing to do is research and get one...the right one :), so ask away!


  1. you were the first person who i KNEW would have the answer to this question:
    so i'm lightly frying some chicken tonight and the recipe calls for 1/4 cup of canola oil. what should i use in its place??? that i can find at Publix??

    1. Hey girl! Coconut oil or palm shortening will hold up to the high heat. You can get coconut oil at Publix.