Fat Practicalities

Fed up of hearing about fat yet? What about oil? The two are quite clearly synonymous, oil being the pure form of fat that has become favoured in the Western world in various different guises, some of which are a hell of a lot healthier than others, and some which actually have quite a negative impact on our health.

First off be sure to check out my previous two fat posts if you haven’t already Smile

The Fat Debate – why fat isn’t the enemy!

The Finer Details of Fat – A closer look at Omega’s 3 and 6

I want to reiterate the fact that I’m not against fat. Fat is good for you, it’s essential, our bodies need if for various different reasons discussed previously and without it we can’t function optimally. That said, the most recent weekend of class time provided quite an interesting insight in to oils, how they are sold to us, how they should be kept, and used as well as tips on how to uncover a seemingly healthy product which has actually been processed to within an inch of it’s life, disguised by cleaver marketer’s to be sold as something premium.

As consumers we buy two forms of “pure” fat…that which comes in solid form – saturated and that which comes in liquid form, polyunsaturated and monounsaturated. This is about as broad a categorisation as you can get!

Saturated Fats

From butter, to ghee, to coconut and palm oil, these solid saturated fats have come under much scrutiny over the past 20-30 years, touted as being the poorest, unhealthiest form of fat; in fairness it’s really butter that has gotten a bad rep but people generally still hear the word “saturated” and think they best generally avoid it.

In truth, these predominantly saturated fats (as each will contain a small amount of both polyunsaturated and monu-saturated as well) have their use and if used in moderation, particularly by those on a plant based diet, they are unlikely to have any negative effects on health. They’re ideal for cooking at high temperatures as they are more stable, less likely to become oxidised and rancid and therefore don’t impose any harsh effects upon the body.

Polyunsaturated Vegetable Oils

Once, and by some, still considered to be the healthier option when it comes to using fat/oil in cooking when in reality they are THE MOST DANGEROUS. In fact, people who consume polyunsaturated vegetable oils in quantity have been found to have a great risk of heart attack and cancer.

These oils which are highly susceptible to rancidity, are generally highly refined before they hit supermarket shelves. There are exceptions, such as flax oil which is sold as a supplement in it’s unrefined form, but generally the vegetable oils we purchase regularly to cook with are refined, free from colour, taste and smell and frankly highly toxic.

Clearly the above message is all WRONG!!!

All taste of rancidity is of course removed so that the oils past the consumer standards test (quite literally on the shop floor). The fact that they are refined is usually broadcast though a large number of people have to believe/assume that “refined” denotes a higher quality when quite the opposite is true.

Common polyunsaturated oils include canola, rapeseed, walnut, sesame, sunflower, flaxseed, corn and soy. These oils are best avoided for use in cooking though ideal in their unrefined form for dressing salads, or drizzling on already cooked food.

Trans Fatty Acids

The refining of the aforementioned polyunsaturated oils involves a hell of lot of heat which transforms these unsaturated fats in to trans fats. These trans fats raise cholesterol, prevent healthful transformation of fats in the body to immunity building fatty acids, as well as increasing the risk of arthritis, cancer and heart disease.

They are also known to interfere with pregnancy, promote miscarriage, lower the quality of breast milk as well as decreasing insulin sensitivity of body cells, particularly the liver which can lead to Type 2 diabetes (insulin resistant).

Companies don’t have to list the quantity of trans fat in their products though it’s worth checking your labels – not only of the oils you buy but of any processed/premade/pre-packaged foods. Where vegetable oil is used unless it states “free from hydrogenated vegetable oils” it more than likely will contain trans fatty acids.

Margarines, biscuits, crackers, cooking chocolate, cake mix, fried foods and snack foods are the biggest culprits.

Although they have quite noticeably been reduced in terms of the amount of them in products and the amount of products actually containing them at all in Ireland, I was quite surprised to hear that we hadn’t yet banned them seen as Denmark, Switzerland, Austria and New York have prohibited them entirely!

It is the process of hydrogenation which creates trans fats; the double carbon bonds found in unsaturated fats trans form when they are subjected to extreme heat causing the molecules to change shape. These misshapen molecules can’t be safely or effectively incorporated into the body. Anything which lists “hydrogenated” or “partially hydrogenated” vegetable oils on it’s ingredient list will contain trans fats.


Hydrogenation of oils occurs when the unsaturated carbon bonds become fully saturated, taking on more hydrogen. Once these mainly polyunsaturated oils have been hydrogenated they become more stable for cooking with. Margarines and baking shortenings are produced in this way.

Hydrogenation is usually stopped at a certain point in order to create softer textures of these “hard” fats…whether full or partially hydrogenated the by product is the preceding trans fats.

Why are oils refined?

Oils are refined to meet consumer demand/expectations. We’ve come to expect oils to be free from taste and colour. Of course manufacturers aim to please, they also want to line their pockets in the most effective way so they produce refined oils that can sit on shop shelves without going rancid for long periods of time.

My mum recently went through all the labels of the olive oils available in our supermarket and there wasn’t one unrefined oil to be found amongst them!!!!

Olive oil and it’s monu-unsaturated counterparts

Monounsaturated oils sit somewhere between the two; they are more stable for cooking with. Sesame and olive oil are the two most recommended.

In terms of extracting the oils, sesame and olive oil can be pressed at low temperatures meaning they are least likely to become victim to damage during processing. They should be sought out in their unrefined forms.

One of the most interesting facts I cam across in my readings was regarding sesame oil. Although almost equal parts monu-unsaturated to polyunsaturated it is kept from going rancid by a naturally occurring antioxidant called “sesamol”. It is actually seen to be one of the most stable oils as well as adding a unique flavour; any fans of tahini are sure to love it! Smile

All of the above said, we don’t necessarily need to include oils in our diet. We can quite easily acquire the Essentials fats from other substances and free up our calorie intake for more nutritionally rich foods. Although I do use coconut oil here and there, the odd drizzle of olive oil, it’s purely for cooking purposes. I don’t feel the need to use oil on salads or baking for the most part and always make an effort to reduce the quantity when they are necessary.

For sautéing / wok frying

  • Try simply adding a drop of water to the ban
  • Peanut oil; it’s balanced in terms of monu-unsaturated and polyunsaturated levels of fat with more 3 times the former and about 20% saturated fat in the mix making it stable for quick cooking. Unrefined peanut oil is also rich in biotin and niacin, two B vitamins that help with fat metabolism and circulatory problems respectively.
  • Coconut or olive oil if needs must Smile
  • Sesame oil is also a good option – as mentioned above

For baking

  • Mashed Banana – works well in sweet breads, muffins and pancakes; always my preferred choice
  • Applesauce
  • Almond milk – sometimes a little extra liquid in another form works a treat in muffins rather than using oil
  • Coconut oil – my preferred option when it comes to making the likes of pastry, a crumble topping or cookies

For Roasting

  • Vast majority of veggies don’t need any oil! Invest in a good non stick baking tray
  • Coconut oil if you feel the need!

Deep fat frying

  • My tummy doesn’t thank me for it so it’s a no go
  • If you can tolerate the taste and expense use unrefined olive oil
  • Oleic Sunflower and Oleic Safflower oil which are unrefined monu-unsaturated oils are good options – I am yet to come across either other than in my reading

Oil Storage

The number one rule to remember is the more saturated and the more solid, the less susceptible the oil or fat is to becoming rancid.

Oils in general in their liquid form should be kept in a cool dark place; the likes of flax oil and other unrefined polyunsaturated oils should be kept refrigerated. The effect of light is actually far worse than air so be sure to keep it in dark containers to prevent unsaturated fatty acids altering into free radical chains; the hydrogenated and trans fats which have detrimental effects on the body.

What are your thoughts on oils? Learn anything new or have anything to share? [/donotprint]

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  1. after reading the forks over knives book, i learned to water saute everything! i read somewhere online that seed oils are bad for inflammation, but in other places, flax and hemp oil are said to be good for it. for a while i wondered if all the nut butter i eat contributes to it. what’s your take?

    1. If you over eat Omega 6, which is quite high in most seed oils it can promote inflammation. You need the right balance of omega 3’s so that prostaglandin 2 isn’t over produced – which also prevents omega 3 absorption especially when consumed from plant foods as it has to be converted.
      Flax and hemp are higher in omega 3 so hence they would help reduce inflammation 🙂

      1. thank you! i love to coat my popcorn with flax oil instead of butter x) and i use hemp for salad dressings.

  2. Really didn’t know all that Michelle really appreciate the facts and figures, as most blogs are one sided or personal preference-pushed! Always a pleasure to read!

  3. I just wanted to let you know , being a nutrition nut myself , how much I enjoy and appreciate you putting these informative posts together- as well as all your delicious recipes, & foodie posts. Obviously:).

    Coconut, hemp, flaxseed & sesame are the oils I have at home. But coconut is the only one I use with any frequency- mostly in baking, & spread on toast with a sprinkling of truvia , salt & cinnamon, my favourite!

  4. I use flax oil on a daily basis as a salad dressing and I always keep it in the fridge. I think so many people have been completely misled over the whole olive oil is healthy myth, like you said the olive oils in supermarket are highly processed and refined, and even in its unrefined form I would never heat it. I only use coconut oil for cooking as it’s structure is the most stable heatwise. It’s also great for the skin and hair, good for lowering cholestrol, and it’s an ideal choice for anybody doing lots of exercise because of it’s MCT’s it is actually used for energy rather than stored.

  5. I found this post incredibly interesting and informative.

    I generally use olive oil these days, but I will definately be searching for the unrefined versions in the future. I like sesame oil for stirfries and Chinese cooking.

    What I am glad I ditched is the one calorie sprays, that are full of rubbish.

    And I’ve realised proper butter, the organic stuff is probably better than processed vegetable spreads.