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Wednesday, April 2, 2014

The best oils to stock in your kitchen.

It seems we've officially ended the era of  Fatphobia. Saturated fats have been proven innocent from causing heart disease, and since our brain is 60% fat, we need to rethink our approach to it, so we can think better. This is a tremendous shift of the whole nutritional belief system of the last 30 decades, I know. And it's really hard to let go of all the non-fat, low-fat concepts we grew up with. With the exceptions of the "crazies," that will soon be turned into "visionaries" in the filed, the experts had told us that healthy eating meant skipping or minimizing many fatty animal products. The consequences on the way we eat and how we'll be eating in the time to come are just getting started, so expect to see many changes...

Saturated fats have been redeemed, but trans-fats (aka partially hydrogenated oils) are still and will be nasty and should be avoided at all costs! Trans fats are, as Harvard's Dr. Walter Willet calls them, "metabolic poison." They lower levels of good cholesterol and raise levels of bad cholesterol. Even if by now trans fats have such a bad rap and are not as abundant, they still hide in products, including many kosher foods such as macaroni 'n cheese and some packaged snacks. Make sure to read ingredient lists carefully, looking for --and avoiding-- "partially hydrogenated oil," even if a container states "trans-fat free."

Another change that I expect to see soon in the mainstream, is (besides the comeback of butter) processed seed and grain oils (often used in processed foods) to be found to be not really that great for us, but that will still take a couple of years...

In the meanwhile, since I don't mean to make things more confusing, I will stop telling you what to avoid and will recommend to stock your pantry with what I consider the foolproof oils, no matter if you are vegan or have joined the Paleo lifestyle, if you keep kosher or hallal. The four of them are decently available (in health food stores for sure), have many benefits, and are great for cooking and/or baking. Please note that these are my "multipurpose oils," and I will post about other specialty, "finishing oils" in another post. The quality of the oils you eat is very important, because our cell membranes are made mainly out of fat, so choose carefully. You don't want your cells to become stiff! Go the extra mile to ensure the quality of your oils! 

Another quick note: yes, we do need good quality fats, but please be aware that everything should be done in moderation, and usually a drizzle of the following oils is enough at every meal. I'm not advising you to just go crazy and finish a bar of Plugra butter during breakfast!

To avoid oils processed with chemical nastiness, always look for oils that are "EXPELLER PRESSED," which means they were obtained through mechanical methods.The best way of storing oils is away from the light, and preferably in tinted glass bottles. 

These are my fave oils:

  • Olive: Extra virgin olive oil (evoo) is full of health benefits, especially for the heart and cardiovascular system, and it contains plenty of antioxidants. It’s best for finishing dishes or making dressings and sauces that won’t be cooked, as it has a low smoke point (burns at a lower temperature, and when oils burn, they produce harmful compounds that should not be eaten nor smelled). Have fun tasting different extra virgin olive oils. They are a bit like wine, as they pick up different flavors, colors, scents and degrees of astringency depending on the terroir where the olives grew. Cold pressed virgin or filtered olive oil  (without any heating involved) is a better option for cooking than evoo, as it has a higher smoke point . Although I need to confess: I do use extra virgin for roasting and even baking at lower temperatures (below 300 F). Don't use evoo for frying!

  • Extra virgin (or virgin) coconut oil: a great substitute for butter or margarine. It’s the richest source of medium-chain fatty acids, which aid in the assimilation of fats. It’s also been found to promote brain health, boost immunity and help thyroid function. It is a powerful antifungal, antibacterial, and anti-viral food and one of the only food sources of lauric acid, which is a fat found in human breast milk. It’s solid at room temperature, doesn’t need refrigeration, and due to its high smoke point, it can be used for cooking, frying and baking. For a flavorless (but also less health benefits, than the unrefined form), use expeller pressed "refined" coconut oil (I like Spectrum brand refined coconut oil when I want a clean flavor).

  • Red Palm Oil: this might be the one you are not familiar with. It has a deep orange color (and will turn your food that hue) and it's a great cooking oil with very high concentrations of vitamins E and A (in the form of beta-carotene and tocotrienols and tocopherols). It has a slight peppery taste and it's been used traditionally in the cuisines of Africa and South America. It makes a great butter substitute, and has a very high smoke point, making it a very stable oil, even at high temperatures. Make sure you purchase red palm oil, which is extracted from the fruit of the palm, not from the kernel, which doesn't have the same health benefits.

  • Avocado oil: With free-radical fighting capabilities and a high content of phytonutrients, and a high smoke point, this is an amazing oil for cooking (or just eating raw). It helps fight heart disease and aging, and has a neutral taste. So this can be your new all-purpose oil. Costco just started carrying a really good one that is expeller pressed and way less expensive than the ones sold in other stores.
This recipe is a twist on the classic pesto, which uses pine nuts or other nuts. I substituted them for hemp seeds to add some variety, extra protein and good fats (as I just mentioned the importance of the quality of our fats!). Plus, people with nut allergies tend to be OK with these seeds (although always consult your doctor, if in doubt). You can use any of the oils mentioned above. The flavor will be different depending on which one you pick, but they are all deilcious! You can use this pesto to dress pasta, salad, as a dip, or to top chicken or fish, just as I did when roasting wild Alaskan salmon the other night. 
1 bunch fresh basil, washed and patted dry
2 cloves of garlic
1/4 cup hulled hemp seeds (also called hemp hearts) 
1/4 teaspoon unrefined salt
1/4 cup extra virgin olive (or coconut, red palm or avocado) oil

Optional: add fresh lemon juice and zest, a pinch of cayenne, grated Parmesan cheese, or switch basil for parsley, arugula, Swiss chard, kale, etc. Anything green would go!

In a food processor or a power blender, grind basil, garlic, hemp seeds and salt. 
Drizzle oil in and process or blend again until a paste is formed. You can make it coarser or more pureed depending on your taste.
Use, serve or store for up to 5 days covered in the fridge.

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