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cooking with fats & oils

When it comes to avoiding unhealthy food, anything deep fried comes pretty high up on the list. Why? Well, applying high temperatures to fats and oils changes their molecular structure turning them into toxic substances that are very detrimental to the health of our cells, causing oxidation and free radicals that create potential for heart disease, cancer and other degenerative diseases.

So, choosing steamed or grilled foods over fried is certainly beneficial to health which we are all aware of, however what about the fats and oils that we use in cooking everyday, for sautéing onions, stir-frying, roasting and baking? Although these foods are no deep fried the fats and oils used are still brought to a high temperature and therefore become damaged in the same way.

Although frying and deep frying destroys all oils and is not recommended for health, there are some simple solutions when it comes to reducing the amount of damaged fats consumed through home cooking, that come down to technique and oils that are less damaged at temperature than others.

Water Frying
When a recipe calls for sautéing or frying with oil, try water frying instead. You don’t need a lot of water just enough to cover the base of the pan or pot and then once it’s bubbling away you can add a small amount of oil if you wish or leave it out all together, adding the fat or oil at the end of cooking so that the meal remains nutritionally balanced and flavourful.

Hot pot
Another tip when it comes to cooking with fats and oils is to add them to a heated pot or pan, never slosh them in to a cold pan an bring them up to heat that way as they will damage more easily which is not only unhealthy but can add a nasty flavour to your cooking.

Oils to avoid
Vegetable oils are bad news I’m afraid, the worst offenders being corn, soy, safflower, sunflower and canola. These omega 6 containing oils are responsible for many more health issues than saturated fats are highly damaged and refined, with the oils being heat extracted and hydrogenated leading to trans fat content. Like margarine which is treated in a similar fashion, these products are best left on the shelf.

Saturated fats in cooking
Despite the negativity and fear surrounding saturated fats, they are in fact the safest fats to cook with as there chemical make up is not broken down and altered at temperature as easily as there mono and polyunsaturated cousins. The French had it right all along when they used butter in their cooking and I would encourage you to feel confident when using butter in cooking, after all mushrooms, leeks and butter are a marriage made in heaven!

Pure Virgin Coconut oil contains saturated fat and is the very best fat to cook with as it does not change it’s molecular structure at temperature at all, therefore does not cause damage to either the food or the cell. Not only that coconut oil has anti-viral and bacterial properties, can help support the thyroid and ironically promote weight loss and heart health. You can use coconut oil in place of any oil, fat or margarine in a recipe, I’ve found coconut oil to work particularly well in baking and Asian cookery and gives a really clean finish to food without a strong coconut flavour,

Olive oil
Over the last 10 years or so, we have become serious lovers of olive oil, not only for it’s health benefits but also for the delicious flavour and versatility. The very best olive oil to buy is the cold pressed virgin oil, as the extraction process means that the beneficial properties are intact due to no overheating. This oil is the one you want to slather on your salads, dress soups and stews with and dip crusty bread. You do not want to cook with it and another tip is to buy smaller bottles of oil, replace the cap after each use and store at cool temperature to avoid oxidation which happens very easily with this sensitive oil.
If you wish to cook with olive oil, save the expensive stuff for using cold and choose a cheaper refined olive oil for cooking as it will be more stable at temperature and will not damage as easily as the delicate cold pressed variety.

Other oils for cooking
Peanut and sesame oil also produce lower levels of toxic molecules when heated, so are a good choice when it comes to dishes that would be complemented by such flavours.

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