What Is Fat?

fats and oils

Do You Know What Fats Are?

Fats and oils are one of the three major classes of basic food substances, the others being protein and carbohydrate. Fats and oils are a major source of energy for the body. This class of food substances aids considerably in making both natural and prepared foods more palatable by improving both their texture and flavor. The fast food industry knows this very well, as sugar, salt and fats are the three key components of any take-away food. How can you have deep-fried or oven baked french fries for example without salt? A true marriage made in heaven.

The body cannot make essential fatty acids, so we must consume them as dietary fats (or oils) in the right balance. They allow for the storage of energy, the absorption of vital nutrients and vitamins, the production of numerous hormones, and the smooth function of the body.

Fats Come in Two Forms: Saturated and Unsaturated.

Sat­urated fats are found in meat, poultry, and whole-milk dairy products. Many people tend to eat too many of them, creating an increased risk for cardiovascular disease. These are the foods high in arachidonic acid, a fatty acid that triggers inflammation in the system and exerts toxic effects on the mitochondria, the energy-generating structures inside cells.

Saturated means the fat is solid at room temperature. Unsaturated fats are liquid, and they are found in two basic forms: monounsaturated (for example, olive oil) and polyunsaturated (for example, fish and vegetable oils). The polyunsaturates contain essential fatty acids, nutrients used by the body as raw materials to produce a huge array of subsidiary fatty sub­stances that perform countless basic functions. Among other roles, they are fundamental building blocks of cellular membranes and regulatory compounds that enhance or suppress disease processes.

Two Major Essential Fatty Acids – Alpha-Linolenic Acid and Linoleic Acid.

EFAs (Essential fatty Acids)  are classified into families according to their molecular structure. The families go by the names omega-3 and omega-6. For optimal health, we should be eating a proper balance of these fatty acids. But we don’t, and in fact, we haven’t been doing a good job at this for a hundred years or more, which may partly explain why we have so much heart disease and other chronic illnesses that were not common in earlier times. Over the years, we have been consuming increasing amounts of foods that have much more omega-6 content. This imbalance is the result of a steep rise in the use of certain vegetable oils such as canola, corn, safflower, and sunflower oil. These oils tend to be much high in omega-6 fatty acids compared to omega-3s. Safflower has a ratio of 77 parts omega 6 to to 1 part of omega 3. Con­tributing to the imbalance as well is a typically high intake of processed foods and margarine, foods which are loaded with omega-6 EFAs. A study conducted in Japan in 1997 revealed an unparallelled rise in heart disease, depression, allergies, and autoimmune conditions since Western-type food (high in omega-6s) became popular.

Experts say that the overall ratio of omega-6s to omega-3s in today’s Western diet ranges from 20 parts to 1 part right through to 3 parts to 1 part,  instead of an evolutionary ratio of 1 or 2n parts  to 1 part. This dietary shift has created an alarming imbalance that researchers believe may contribute to inflammation, blood clot forma­tion, and blood vessel constriction. A balanced ratio of essential fatty acids in the diet is essen­tial for normal growth and development.

Because the typical Western diet contains far too much omega-6 and its major component of linoleic acid, supplementation of omega-6 is not usually required. But omega-3 is an entirely different story. Many physicians are now recommending omega-3 supplements to their patients, and we have been recommending omega 3 in the form of fish oil, which is high in the beneficial eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) EFAs.

Fats – Grouped According to Source

  • Animal fats such as tallow and lard are made from the fatty tissues of pigs, cattle, sheep, and poultry.
  • Butter can be made from an animal’s milk such as cow, goat or sheep.
  • Vegetable oils are pressed or extracted from many different plant seeds such as soybean, cottonseed, corn, peanut, sunflower, safflower, olive, rapeseed, sesame, coconut, oil palm (pulp and kernel separately), and even cocoa beans.
  • Marine oils are fish oils obtained mostly from herring, sardine, and pilchard.

We trust that you find our website an enjoyable read. You will find information scattered across many pages. Here is a very hand page for you to download, keep it handy in your kitchen because it contains a list of fats and oils and their best applications of use. I give them a grading according to research I have done over many years. Eric’s clinic handout can be downloaded here: Cooking with Fats and Oils.

Oils and Fats – Their Uses and Eric’s Personal Rating

Buy only fats and oils that are certified as organic. Buy only cold-pressed oils. Do not buy oils in clear glass or plastic bottles (light destroys oils through oxidation). All fats and oils, including fish oils, should taste and smell “fresh”. If they do not, dispose of them. Rancid fats and oils are extremely toxic and may severely interfere with normal fatty acid metabolism. Eric’s rating – the more stars the better the oil.

  • Almond Oil –  Salad dressings, sauces, sautéing, body care. Refrigerate. **
  • Black Current Seed Oil – Nutritional supplement. Not used for cooking or dressings. Refrigerate.
  • Borage Oil Nutritional supplement. Not used for cooking or dressings. Contains toxic long-chain fatty acids. Not recommended.
  • Butter (salted) –  Baking and spread. Salted butter is much harder to digest than unsalted. Refrigerate.
  • Butter (unsalted) –  Baking and spread. Goes rancid quicker than salted butter. Refrigerate. **
  • Canola Oil –  Baking, sautéing, sauces, salad dressings. Chemically contaminated. Not rec. unless certified as organic.
  • Coconut Oil –  Baking, frying, body care. Tasteless. Does not need refrigeration but keep cool. ***
  • Corn Oil –  Baking, salad dressings. Often pesticide contaminated. Highly processed. Not recommended.
  • Cottonseed Oil – found in prepared and processed foods. Chemically contaminated. TOXIC – DO NOT INGEST.
  • Evening Primrose –  Oil Nutritional supplement. Not used for cooking or dressings. Refrigerate.
  • Fish Oils –  Nutritional supplement. Not used for cooking or dressings. Refrigerate.
  • Flax-seed Oil – Nutritional supplement. Can be used for salad dressings. Refrigerate.
  • Ghee (clarified butter) –  Baking and frying. Does not need refrigeration but keep cool.
  • Hemp Oil –  Nutritional supplement. Not used for cooking or dressings. Contaminated, only use certified organic.
  • Macademia Nut Oil – My favorite oil. Use for stir frying, salads, baking. Buy certified organic. One of the nicest tasting oils and very healthy too. *****
  • Margarine – Harmful synthetic substance; entirely false health claims. Not recommended unless you want to develop heart disease.
  • Olive Oil –  Salad dressings, marinades, wine sauces, sauteing. Does not need refrigeration but keep cool. *****
  • Palm Kenel Oil –  Baking and frying. Does not need refrigeration but keep cool.
  • Peanut Oil – Baking, frying, sauces, marinades. Contaminated. Not recommended unless certified organic.
  • Safflower Oil –  Baking, sauteing, salad dressings, sauces. Does not need refrigeration but keep cool. Buy “high oleic” variety.
  • Sesame Oil –  Baking, sauteing, salad dressings, sauces. Does not need refrigeration but keep cool. ***
  • Sunflower Oil – Salad dressings and sauces. Does not need refrigeration but keep cool. Buy “high oleic” organic variety.
  • Walnut Oil – One of my favorites. Fantastic for salad dressing. Keep refrigerated & buy organic (in a tin generally) Spanish or Italian are best. ***
  • Wheat Germ Oil –  Nutritional supplement. Not used for cooking or dressings. Refrigerate. ***

Fats and oils are important in the diet

Fats are possibly the most concentrated form of food energy you can have in your diet, contributing about 9 cal/g (38 joules/g), as compared to about 4 cal/g (17 joules/g) for proteins and carbohydrates. When you consume a meal containing fats, you feel more satisfied and the meal satisfies the appetite more than when eating a meal based solely on carbohydrates or protein.  Fats or the addition of oils will make a meal more satisfying by creating a feeling of fullness, delaying blood sugar “spiking” and delaying the onset of hunger.

Fats and oil misconceptions

A few misconceptions about fats are that “eating fat will make your fat” and that  “fats are highly indigestible”. In fact, many cultures around the world have with 94–98% of the ingested fat being absorbed from the intestinal tract.

The polyunsaturated fatty acids, primarily linoleic and arachidonic, are essential nutrients; that is, they are not synthesized by the body but are required for tissue development. Absence of these fatty acids from the diet results in an essential fatty acid syndrome and in a specific form of eczema in infants. Vegetable oils are an excellent source of linoleic acid, while meat fats provide arachidonic acid in small but significant amounts. Fats and oils are carriers of the oil-soluble vitamins A and D, and are the main source of vitamin E. They also have a sparing action on some of the B complex vitamins. See also Nutrition

Several forms of deterioration may occur in fats and oils

Flavor and odor issues

may develop after deodorization of a product to complete blandness. The flavor is generally characteristic of the oil source and is therefore usually acceptable. However, soybean oil can develop disagreeable flavors described as beany, grassy, painty, fishy, or like watermelon rind. Beef fat can become tallowy, which is also objectionable. Reversion is apparently caused by changes in substances which have been oxidized prior to, but not removed by, deodorization. My advice? if an oil smells or tastes funny – get rid of it! It’s as simple as that folks, use common sense.

Oxidative rancidity

is a serious flavor defect and highly objectionable. It starts with the formation of hydroperoxides which then decompose to form aldehydes which have a pungent, disagreeable flavor and odour. Slowing down oxidation is brought about by using opaque, airtight containers, or fill the bottles right to the top and store in a dark cool place if clear glass bottles are used. Antioxidants (like vitamin E) are required in meat fats, since lard, tallow, and so on contain no natural anti-oxidant material. Vegetable oils contain tocopherols.

Hydrolytic rancidity

results from the liberation of free fatty acids by the reaction of fats and oils with water. While most fats show no detectable off flavors, coconut and other lauric acid oils develop a soapy flavor, and butter develops the strong characteristic odor of butyric acid – it can really stink! Packaged coconut-oil products and lauric-type hard butters sometimes contain added lecithin, which acts as a moisture scavenger, thereby retarding hydrolytic rancidity development. If you want to avoid rancidity, make sure you don’t mix oils or fats with water UNTIL you use them, store them away from light and heat and use a lot of common sense.

deep fryingDeep fried fats and oils

We all love fries. I do, and I’ll bet you like them too, with plenty of salt and your favorite sauce. Salt and fat just seem to form this magic combination, have you noticed? But unfortunately, fats and oils used in deep fat frying can break down under adverse conditions, especially where frying is intermittent or the fryer capacity is not fully used. Deep fried foods may taste great, but believe me – they aren’t that great for your health! If you must deep fry, it can be quite expensive as I recommend that you change the oil very frequently. The more you heat up an oil, the more you break down the bonds of the oil and the more saturated it becomes – and the more destructive it can be to your heart and arteries. Oils which are damaged more likely to cause oxidative stress inside your body, a leading cause of chronic disease. The worst oils to use in your deep-fryer are canola oil, and those “blended” vegetable oils. While there are no “best” oils to use, I’d stick with rice bran oil.

Deterioration ultimately results in the oil becoming very dark in color, viscous, foul-odored, and foaming badly during frying. The oil becomes oxidized and then polymerized, requiring that it be discarded, since it imparts strong off flavors to the fried food. If the food tastes not so nice after deep-frying, throw the old oil out!

Page last update 17 November 2011

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