Right off the bat lets talk fat. Not all fats are created equal. Fats come in all shapes and sizes and are essential for optimum health. In addition, they are altered under various conditions of processing, storage and food preparation, to form potentially unhealthy fats. But first let’s consider the fats that our body needs and the availability of these fats in the food we eat.
To maintain optimal health we need to consume two essential fatty acids, essential meaning that our bodies do not synthesize them. These are linoleic acid (an omega-6 fatty acid) and alpha- linolenic acid (an omega-3 fatty acid). Both of these are polyunsaturated fatty acids and we must get them from our diet. Excellent sources of linoleic acid are safflower, sunflower, corn, soy and walnut oils and wild game, especially birds. Alpha-linolenic acid can be found in abundance in flax oil and in lesser amounts in pumpkin seed, canola, soy and walnut oil. Although not considered essential fatty acids by definition (ie. our bodies synthesize them) there are benefits to incorporating eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and gamma linolenic acid (GLA) into our diet. EPA is plentiful in cold water fish, rabbit and wild game while GLA sources include evening primrose, black currant and borage oil.
Since these oils are readily available in these food sources why should there be any problem in the optimum consumption of these oils? The problem is that we don’t consume enough of these foods in their raw unprocessed form. Rather, there is a trend to consume many of these foods in a processed form and as a result there is some loss of quality.
One important issue is the break- down products formed during processing, storage and use. The problem is not simply a loss of the original desired fat but the formation of some harmful byproducts. The danger is that the breakdown products that result from processing. refining, heating and frying remain similar enough to the original fats that they impair normal essential fat metabolism. This is true for both plant and animal fats. The remainder of the article will focus on vegetable oils as these are popular in so many types of food preparation.
What can we do to improve the quality of the vegetable oils we eat?
First of all try to consume a variety of nuts and seeds in their raw unsalted form and store these nuts in the fridge or freezer. When using oils choose ones that have been cold-pressed, preferably by the “Omegaflo” process, and come in dark containers that limit exposure to light. Avoid buying large volumes that will sit around for extended periods of time and be sure to store the oils in the refrigerator or a cool dark place.
Since most of the poly-unsaturated oils are not heat stable it is best to consume these in salad dressings or shakes. Oils in this category include flax, safflower, pumpkin, corn, sunflower, walnut and a host of others.
For sautéing use heat stable oils such as extra virgin olive oil and unrefined sesame oil and reduce the amount of oil you use by adding small amounts of tamari sauce or water for a steam-fry effect. Avoid letting the oil smoke or burn as this causes damage to the oil. Saut�ing should be an occasional treat and not the usual form of food preparation.
Although both peanut and canola oil are popular for stir-frys I would recommend that these be used sparingly or avoided entirely as there is evidence that both can contain harmful components. Also avoid the use of margarine and deep-fried foods. Lastly, don’t be afraid to use your imagination when incorporating these simple rules into your eating habits.
For an excellent discussion of this subject read : Optimal Wellness by Ralph Golan MD. Ballantine Books , New York, 1995.
The recipe that I have chosen for this issue is one of my biscuit recipes. These heavy biscuits are quick and simple to make and go well with a hearty home made soup or chili. The recipe follows along our discussion of oils and their use in cooking and baking and eliminates dairy and animal fat. There are two warnings regarding this recipe. First of all, depending on the portions of nuts used there will still be a substantial amount of fat in the recipe. Admittedly, much of it will be “good” fat, but try not to overdo the portions of nuts. Secondly, many people have allergies to various nuts and seeds so be sure to inform people that there are nuts/seeds in the biscuits before serving them as it will not be obvious from looking at them or eating them.
Instructions: Mix together the wet and dry ingredients. Add extra water (up to 1 cup) to achieve desired consistency. Lightly oil a cookie sheet using extra virgin olive oil and dust generously with corn meal. Drop biscuit mix onto cookie sheet in approximately ½ cup size scoops and bake for 12-15 minutes at 475°F. They are best when eaten fresh out of the oven.
Nutty Biscuits (14-16 biscuits)
Wet ingredients (blend well). Use raw unsalted nuts.
- 1/3 cup filberts
- 1/3 cup almonds
- 1/3 cup pecans
- 4 tbs. sesame seeds
- 3 tbs. honey
- add water to make total volume in blender 2 cups
- add ¾ cup soft tofu
- dry ingredients (mix completely)
- 2 cups kamut flour
- 2 cups whole wheat flour
- ½ cup wheat germ
- ½ cup oat bran
- 8 tsp. baking powder
- 2 ½ tsp. salt