It seems today that every time we turn on our T.V. or read the newspaper, there’s a warning about the health implications of eating ‘the wrong diet’. Too much red meat is really bad for you; as is too much salt, too much sugar and the list goes on and on. One old favourite that has stood the test of time is the ‘too much fat’ warning. Some so-called experts would have us eat no fat at all, while others suggest consuming only ‘healthy’ fats and oils. It’s very confusing!
One thing that’s true about all fat is that it is very calorie-dense which means that it’s really easy to overdo your fat consumption, even if it’s healthy fats that you’re eating. Fat has nine calories per gram compared to just four calories per gram for proteins and carbohydrates. This is something worth remembering if you’re trying to lose a few pounds. So, what about the different types of fat? Which are the ones to avoid and where do they occur?
Saturated fat is the real villain of the fat world. It is public enemy number one in the diet as it raises cholesterol levels which may lead to increased risk of heart disease and can also predispose to type two diabetes. Luckily for us vegans, saturated fats are mainly found in animal products with the notable exception of coconut.
Never heard of them? Well listen up! Trans fats (partially-hydrogenated unsaturated fat) are even more deadly than saturated fat and exist aplenty in the vegan diet. Products such as margarine; dips, crisps, processed foods, veggie burgers, spreads and bakery goods are all awash with trans fats. High cholesterol levels and clogged arteries are a direct result of eating a diet which is naturally high in trans fats.
Natural, necessary fats
We do need some fat in our diets in order to remain healthy and the best source for these is from foodstuffs in which fats occur naturally; nuts, olives, seeds and avocado for example. It’s important to note that as soon as we begin to refine these fats by converting them into oils, their health-promoting qualities reduce and their calorific potential increases dramatically.
When oils are heated they form free radicals. These nasties cause cell damage which manifests itself as skin damage leading to premature ageing and irregular cell growth. Stick to eating oils unheated and not cooked or better still, not at all.
If you really must use oil to cook with, here’s a list of oils with their ‘smoke-point’, i.e. the temperature at which they begin to convert to unhealthy substances:
· High heat for frying: avocado oil, raw sesame oil, sunflower oil, almond oil.
· Medium heat for sautéing, stir frying and baking: grapeseed oil, high oleic safflower oil, coconut oil.
· Low heat for stir frying or for use unheated in sauces or dressings: peanut oil, walnut oil, olive oil.
· Oils which should be used cold and kept refrigerated: flaxseed oil and toasted sesame oil.