Food Is Not Your Enemy

Don’t Fear the Fat
November 12, 2010, 9:59 am
Filed under: Chronic Disease, Meat, Oils | Tags: , , ,

Not all oils and fats are created equal. Heavily processed, hydrogenated, trans-fats and oils that are used in prepared, packaged foods can be extremely damaging to the body. However, fats and oils from whole foods and other high-quality sources can steady our metabolism, keep hormone levels even, nourish our skin, hair, and nails and provide lubrication to keep the body functioning properly. Our bodies also need fat for insulation and to protect and hold our organs in place.

A healthy percentage of high-quality fat in a meal satisfies and leaves feelings of energy, satiety, and warmth. When there are excess fats and oils in the diet, however, especially heavily processed fats, symptoms can include weight gain, skin breakouts, high blood pressure, liver strain, and an overall feeling of mental, physical, and emotional heaviness. Signs of insufficient high-quality fats are brittle hair and nails, dry skin, hunger after meals, and feeling cold.

There are many sources of healthy fats and oils. For sautéing and baking, try butter (organic is best), ghee (clarified butter), or coconut oil because they do not break down when used at high temperatures. When sautéing foods at moderate temperatures, try organic extra virgin olive oil. Oils like flaxseed, sesame, toasted sesame, walnut, and pumpkin seed are best used unheated in sauces or dressings on top of salads, veggies, or grains. Other healthy fats are found in whole nuts and seeds and in their butters like almond butter or tahini. Whole foods such as avocados, olives, and coconuts are great sources of healthy fat, along with wild salmon and other small, non-predatory fish like sardines, sole, cod, black cod, and herring. Experiment with these healthy fat sources and see which work best for you and leave you satisfied.

When selecting oils, buy the highest-quality organic products you can afford, since cooking oils are the backbone of so many dishes. Good words to look for on the label are organic, first-pressed, cold-pressed, extra-virgin, and unrefined. Products to avoid are ones called “refined” and “solvent extracted.” And definitely pass by anything containing trans-fats, which are called “partially hydrogenated oil” on ingredient labels. Trans-fats will raise your risk of heart disease way more (about 30% more, according to the Harvard School of Public Health) than lard and other animal fats. Speaking of which, you should feel okay about including some animal fat in your diet, especially if it’s coming from organic and/or pasture-raised meat that isn’t shot up with hormones or antibiotics.

So don’t fear the fat. Total fear of fat led to the production of a spate of bogus, low-fat and no-fat junk foods over the past couple of decades, foods that were high in sugar and calories and ended up actually causing weight gain rather than preventing it. As far as healthy foods go, no-fat cookies are no match for a nice fatty, filling, and nutrient-dense avocado.

Mayor Mike Doesn’t Always Live By His Own Health Rules

The New York Times ran a piece detailing how New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg, pusher of smoking bans, banner of trans-fats, and advocate of calorie information in fast-food joints, himself has a bit of a heavy hand with the salt shaker. He drinks too much coffee. He eats too much sometimes. And did I mention the salt, that substance he’s pushing New Yorkers to consume less of?

Some would charge all this makes Mayor Bloomberg a hypocrite. Me? I’m more forgiving. I understand how hard it can be to eat the right things, and that there’s always a time and place for fried chicken and biscuits. Because Bloomberg eats less than optimally sometimes doesn’t mean that trans-fats are okay. Trans-fats do not make fries or doughnuts taste better, they are simply cheaper and more convenient for the restaurants to use. But that cost savings is dangerous to our health–it has been proven that these lab-concocted fats lead to heart disease. And calorie counts? It’s good for people to know that the meal they are about to order has a full day’s supply of calories. Some people may not change their order because of it, but some will. And the restaurants, fearing sales could slip when people realize how calorie-packed some of their offerings are, will hopefully make changes, both to how they prepare their food and what their menus contain. Is it really necessary for chain restaurants to deep-fry their chicken at a central plant once before it is distributed to each restaurant location, and then again at the restaurant before it’s sent out to the patrons? This is a routine practice, according to David Kessler’s important new book “The End of Overeating,” and a big reason why 1600 calories for a chicken entrée is not unusual at places like the Cheesecake Factory.

So yes, I’m all for Bloomberg’s health initiatives. And if he salts his Saltines, or packs on a few pounds, I’m not going to be the one to point a finger.

Lard Is Not the Devil
May 11, 2009, 11:18 am
Filed under: Meat, Oils | Tags: , , , , ,

If there’s one food you should absolutely avoid, it would be lard, right? Straight-up animal fat–what could be worse?

But research (from such institutions as the Harvard School of Public Health) has now shown that saturated animal fats are not nearly as bad as trans-fats (partially hydrogenated oils) when it comes to raising your risk of heart disease. In fact, some researchers, such as Sally Fallon Morell of the Weston A. Price Foundation, have concluded that animal fats are actually critical to good health.

All of which means I can now enjoy things like my husband’s homemade pork enchiladas, the recipe for which calls for something like a half a cup of lard, without much worry. One caveat: we bought leaf lard (a.k.a. kidney suet, the fat surrounding a cow’s kidneys, and the stuff that helps make Peter Luger’s steak so unbelievably good) from Dickson’s Farmstand Meats (which we rendered ourselves), and not the box of cheap lard from the supermarket. If you’re going to cook with lard, go for the quality stuff that doesn’t have chemical additives or partially hydrogenated oils added.