Getting in a daily dose of healthy, nourishing fats is an important part of how I eat. I used to be so fat-phobic, claiming a dislike for avocado and being absolutely dismayed if my side-order of vegetables came with butter on them. Oh, how I have changed – and for the better! Once I started eating fats regularly again, I started to feel better inside (more energy, a good feeling of fullness from meals, not needing to snack as much or feeling jittery between meals) and I looked better on the outside too (my weight is healthy and stable, and my complexion is improved). So, I thought I would give you an overview of some of the fats I use most often in the kitchen when I’m cooking. This is a non-exhaustive list and there are quite a few more regulars, but these four are some of the most versatile and they all have quite a long shelf life in the pantry or fridge, so you can keep them in stock at all times.
Healthy Fat 1: Coconut Oil
This is a kitchen and beauty staple for me. As a body treatment, I use coconut oil to moisturise my lips, rough patches of skin and as an overnight hair treatment (simply rub through the mid-lengths to the ends, plait hair and sleep). In the kitchen, I use coconut oil:
- for pan frying sweet and savoury dishes,
- in many of my baked goods (see here and here for some examples),
- for oven roasting vegetables,
- for greasing baking trays and tins,
- in my coffee (try a small black coffee + teaspoon of coconut oil = heavenly),
- in smoothies to add a dose of healthy fats,
- in small amounts in raw desserts like chocolate, nut bars and raw cakes (like this one), and
- in small amounts to to thin out, add fragrance and flavour to homemade nut and seed pastes.
I like to use coconut oil because it’s high in helpful fatty acids including medium-chain triglycerides (the structure of this type of saturated fat means that it is metabolised efficiently by the body, boosting energy expenditure) and lauric acid (a type of fatty acid which has been shown to have beneficial effects against pathogens like bacteria, fungi and viruses). If you are still nervous about consuming saturated fat, read this excellent interview I did with The Natural Nutritionist which also links through to some research.
How much do I use? All up, I probably consume 1-2 tbsp per day. While I like coconut oil a lot and use it quite liberally at times, I don’t believe it’s going to cure all disease or that it should be elevated to a kind of cult status. Just use it where you need it and when it tastes good!
Healthy Fat 2: Olive Oil (virgin or extra virgin)
I like to get a nice bitey, peppery extra virgin olive oil. Olive oil is rich in healthy monounsaturated fatty acids (in particular oelic acid) as well as phenolic compounds, which are amazing antioxidants; these characteristics mean that virgin olive oil has great anti-inflammatory and positive cardiovascular effects. I use olive oil:
- for dressing salads and vegetables,
- for roasting vegetables, meat and fish in the oven,
- to marinate and flavour meats prior to cooking,
- occasionally in baking,
- to make sauces such as pesto (like this) and salsa verde, and in dips,
- to finish off dishes – a drizzle over a couple fried eggs plus a sprinkle of sesame seeds, parsley and pepper is super yum, and
- occasionally for pan frying on a moderate heat e.g. eggs or diced veggies like onions or capsicum (though mostly I’ll use coconut oil). I haven’t always used olive oil for this purpose but after reading a bit about whether you can fry with it (here, here and here) I’m comfortable using it in baking (under 200 C) and for light pan frying.
The quality I look for when choosing an oil is that it’s been only cold pressed and not extracted, refined or otherwise treated by chemical means. If it has been treated chemically it damages the oil and changes its structure, reducing the beneficial effects and potentially creating harmful chains of oxidised fats which aren’t good for us; they promote an inflammatory response by the body. Hence, I recommend only selecting a virgin or extra virgin olive oil. This is also why I won’t buy an olive oil spread, because it has been processed to turn it into that consistency! Just use the pure oil. Now, I’m not an expert when choosing a virgin olive oil; these two web pages discuss what to look out for when choosing one – see here and here.
Healthy Fat 3: Butter
I absolutely adore a good quality, organic butter produced from grass-fed cows. Oh yum. Butter carries a lot of healthy, important fats! Don’t be scared. It’s rich in Vitamins A, D, E and K. These vitamins are fat-soluble, meaning that in order for your body to absorb these micronutrients via your digestive tract, they need to come in with a fat molecule. Think of the fat molecule as the envelope that you pop your important letter in to. The far molecule allows the nutrient to slip through the selectively permeable barrier that is your gut lining. It ain’t getting delivered unless you package it up properly! I use butter for:
- frying eggs, or topping poached eggs (it’s heaven, what are you waiting for, do it),
- topping steamed vegetables,
- baked goods occasionally (I tend to use coconut oil more, but butter is so delicious in cakes and especially cookies),
- finishing off sautéed vegetables or pan fried fish – add a little just at the end of cooking,
- baking chicken or fish,
- topping my porridge – yes, it is good, really good, and a great way of adding some fats to this meal. Try balancing out the serve of porridge you make for yourself by using less oats (or buckwheat, millet etc) and adding in some grated veg (carrot or zucchini) and finishing with a dollop of butter stirred through. You’ll get a serve of vegetables in, plus you’ll get fat-soluble nutrients and slow the digestion of your meal (the fat slows the digestion). Bonus if you also add chia seeds, an egg, protein powder and/or a sprinkle of nuts for protein.
I also love this summary by Authority Nutrition which lists even more great stuff about butter.
Healthy Fat 4: Tahini
When people tell me they haven’t used tahini ever I feel like they must be living under an enormous (heavy, horrifically oppressive) rock. For me, tahini – hulled, unhulled and the black version – feature heavily in my cooking. I won’t labour on about its health benefits because I’ve conveniently already written a post on this, which you can access by clicking here. I use tahini:
- as a spread on bread or crackers – add a touch of rice malt and cinnamon for a sweet spread, or a touch of salt to enhance it as a savoury spread,
- drizzled over eggs, vegetables, grilled meats or even fruit. You can thin it out by whisking a small amount with water, which leaves you with a more appropriate consistency for dressing things,
- in baked goods and raw desserts (see my Sesame Scones here, they’re awesome),
- in dips like my Creamy Eggplant and Zucchini Dip,
- in porridge or in smoothies for a dose of healthy fats and extra nutrients (see my creamy porridge recipe here),
- in salad dressings for an amazing creamy, rich flavour. I’ve just posted this recipe for a delicious Tahini & Lime Dressing that works so well with everything.
So there you have it, four of my favourite, long-lasting, versatile healthy fats. What healthy fats do you always have on hand in your kitchen?