When eating frugally don’t compromise on fat

It has just been brought to my attention by a reader (thanks Nina for pointing this out), that I only use butter and olive oil in my recipes despite vegetable oils, sunflower oils and margarines being cheaper. I just want to explain why….

Olive oilI know for decades that we’ve been told that saturated fat in butter, full fat dairy and meat will make us fat and contribute to high cholesterol and heart disease. Whilst the likes of vegetable margarines and other sunflower spreads have been touted as the healthier option. Well it seems that we have got this all wrong. Research is now showing that these man-made oils can cause harm.

The oils that I’m talking about, extracted from seeds like Sunflower, Flaxseed, Soybean, Cottonseed, and a few others, were never available to humans until the 20th Century, because we simply didn’t have the technology to extract them in large quantities.

When technological advancements allowed it, these vegetable and seeds oils were extracted using high temperatures, bleaching, deodorizing and a solvent called hexane. Sadly these methods damage the delicate polyunsaturated vegetable and seed oils causing them to become rancid.

Hydrogenation, the process that turns liquid oils in to solid margarine, was also discovered and it was thought that we could create a healthier ‘butter’ using polyunsaturated vegetable and sunflower oils. The process became useful to the food industry because it extends the shelf life of food. As a result, hydrogenated oils are now included in all sorts of processed foods including ‘low fat’ salad dressings, butter replicates, mayonnaise, biscuits, cakes pastries etc. etc.

ButterHowever, the hydrogenation process changes the structure of the polyunsaturated oils in order to make them solid, causing them to become a Trans Fat – a type of man-made cholesterol. Research now shows that consumption of Trans Fats increases the risk of heart disease, raises bad cholesterol and promotes systemic inflammation and obesity, and that is why I suggest avoid them when pursuing a healthy diet.

By all means sprinkle raw sunflower seeds on your porridge and salads, but don’t use refined vegetable or seed oils unless they are of the cold pressed variety – which are very expensive.

Saturated fats on the other hand including butter, lard, coconut oil and olive oil are best for cooking, because they are the most stable at high heat and unlike polyunsaturated oils do not become damaged or toxic.

But isn’t too much saturated fat bad for your heart? I hear you cry. Yes I’m sure that overeating anything is bad for you, and I certainly would not recommend eating bacon and steak fried in butter every night. However, consuming saturated fat is not a new thing for man – it has always been a part of the human diet, and in moderation it can play an important role in health.

Did you know that…

1. Fat helps you absorb more vitamins.
If you eat your vegetables with a knob of butter or drizzle of olive oil, or your fruit with a spoonful of full fat yoghurt, you absorb more of the fat soluble vitamins in the fruit and vegetables that would otherwise pass through the body unabsorbed.

2. Low fat foods contain more sugar and chemicals.
Removing the fat out of food makes it unpalatable, so sugar and other chemical flavourings are added to improve taste.

3. We have fat receptor on our tongue
People that eat a very low fat diet don’t feel satiated and tend to eat more. This makes it difficult to lose or maintain a healthy weight.

4. Obesity levels have doubled in the last 35 years.
Since the introduction of processed oils and the ‘low fat’ diet 35 years ago, obesity levels have doubled.

5. We need saturated fat for strong bones.
Saturated fat is required for calcium to be effectively incorporated into bone.

6. Your brain is mainly made of fat and cholesterol.
A diet that skimps on healthy saturated fats robs your brain of the raw materials it needs to function optimally.

7. Cholesterol is the building block for sex hormones (testosterone, oestrogen, progesterone).
The production of sex hormones is important through all stages of life, from puberty, to the fertile years through to menopause.

8. There is actually no concrete evidence that demonstrates that saturated fat and cholesterol cause harm – this myth was built on hypothesis alone.

Over the past 30-40 years it has been so ingrained in our culture that saturated fat is bad for us that it’s going to take another few decades to get this message across. If you’d like to read more on this I recommend these articles in particular the one in the British Medical Journal.

Further reading




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