I was recently asked what I thought was the healthiest fat to cook with and it reminded me that there is a lot of confusion and misinformation about whether fats are good or bad for you and what types were healthiest.
I think it is a common mistake of people dieting or trying to eat healthily to dramatically cut their fat intake. Whilst saturated fats (fats from meat and dairy) and trans or hydrogenated fats (fats found commonly in processed, baked goods and processed oils/margarine) should be limited, you should make sure you have a regular intake of the essential fats. These are called 'essential' as they are necessary for the body to functions properly. They support brain function, energy production/fat burning, healthy skin, cardiovascular health and hormone balance.
So which fats are essential and which foods contain them?
Omega 3 fats, found in oily fish and sunflower and flax seeds. The omega 3 fats in fish are easier for the body to use than the plant sources which is why you should eat oily fish 2-3 times a week. But flax seeds are still beneficial and a valuable source for vegetarians. I add powdered flax seeds to muesli or blend it into smoothies.
Omega 6 fats are found in safflower, sunflower and other seeds and nuts and I try and have at least a tablespoon of nuts or seeds daily. The standard british diet generally contains more omega 6 fats than omega 3 fats due to the high use of sunflower oil in cooking and processed foods.
It is important to have a balance of these fats as they compete for use in the body so if you eat a lot more of one than the other try and redress the balance.
Omega 9 fats, found in olive oil, are not essential like omega 3 and omega 6 fats but are still better for you than saturated fats.
And in answer to the cooking question - olive oil, coconut fat and butter are more stable at higher temperatures so better to use in cooking than other fats or oils when cooking.
Hope you have a great weekend.