Some cooking fats and oils are slightly lower in fat per tablespoon than others, but not by much! They include:
- Beef tallow 12.8 grams
- Chicken fat 12.8 grams
- Lard 12.8 grams
- Margarine 11.3 grams
- Shortening 12.8 grams
But just because they are lower in fat does not mean they are the right choice for your dietary needs. The best oils are not measured by their fat content but by the type of fat they contain, plus the other healthy compounds they have. Let’s look at what makes some lower in fat than others and which fats are the most beneficial.
What Makes Some Oils Lower in Fat?
Fats contain varying amounts of saturated, polyunsaturated, and monounsaturated fats. For example, comparing olive oil to butter, margarine, and other cooking oils, it has more monounsaturated fats per tablespoon.
The total fat column on nutrition labels may not add up to the sum of polyunsaturated, monounsaturated, saturated, and trans fat columns due to factors like rounding and the inclusion of glycerol, which is part of the fat molecule. Fat molecules consist of a glycerol part and a fatty acid part.
The properties of fat come from its fatty acids, while the glycerol part has minimal impact. Nutrition facts panels may further omit the weights of trans fatty acids. These acids and glycerols contribute to the discrepancy in total fat weight.
Are Some Fats Healthier Than Others?
Overall, monounsaturated fats are the best ones to get from your oils. Polyunsaturated fats offer health benefits but are better sourced from foods than refined vegetable oils. Saturated fats are not the devil and are fine in moderation but should be avoided for those on low cholesterol and heart health diets. Artificial trans fats should be limited as much as possible.
Monaturated fats (MUFAs) are found in plants and are characterized by one unsaturated carbon bond in the molecule. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends that MUFAs make up 15 to 20% of daily calorie intake. They serve as a good source of vitamin E and are beneficial for maintaining health.
Polyunsaturated fats (PUFAs) are another type of healthy fat found in plants and fish like salmon. They contain more than one unsaturated carbon bond and are rich in vitamin E, omega-3 and/or omega-6 fatty acids. These fatty acids are essential for brain function and cell growth.
Saturated fats are solid at room temperature and can contribute to the accumulation of fatty deposits in blood vessels. Foods with high levels of saturated fat include butter, shortening, lard, and hard-stick margarine. It is advisable to avoid consuming these fats if you are on a low-cholesterol diet.
Hydrogenated oils, commonly used to extend the shelf life of processed foods, are created by adding hydrogen to the oil’s chemical structure. This process increases the concentration of saturated fats and produces harmful trans fats, raising unhealthy LDL cholesterol and lowering healthy HDL cholesterol. Vegetable shortening is an example of a product that contains trans fats. Refined oils, such as canola, vegetable, soybean, safflower, and corn, should be avoided.
How Does the Fat in Cooking Oil Affect Food?
In baking, fat plays multiple important roles. It blends the flavors of ingredients and enhances the overall taste. It also contributes to the tenderness of baked goods by preventing flour from absorbing water. Muffins or biscuits with reduced fat tend to be tougher as the gluten in them becomes more developed. Fat acts as a barrier between the proteins and water, slowing down gluten development and shortening gluten strands. This is why pastries like cinnamon rolls, made with fat, are much more tender compared to fat-free bread like baguettes.
Fat also plays a role in leavening, as when solid fat is creamed with sugar, it supports the air beaten into the mixture, resulting in light and fluffy baked goods. Butter, for example, contains a percentage of water that evaporates during baking, creating lift and contributing to the leavening process.
Moving on to cooking, oil or fat is an efficient medium due to its ability to transfer heat effectively. It is utilized for various cooking methods such as shallow frying, deep frying, stir-frying, sautéing, and more. Fats also contribute to the attractive golden-brown color of fried or baked products, making them visually appealing.
In terms of texture, cooking with oil provides a crispy exterior while maintaining tenderness on the inside. This characteristic adds to the overall sensory experience of consuming a dish and helps you feel full and satisfied after eating a product that contains it.
Can Using the Right Cooking Oil Lower Your Cholesterol?
Heart-healthy oils, such as olive, are rich in monounsaturated fats. These fats can help with lowering harmful low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol and increasing healthy high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol levels.
Omega-3 fatty acids are another type of healthy fat known for their anti-inflammatory properties and ability to prevent plaque buildup in the arteries. Flaxseed, chia seed, and walnut oils are excellent sources of omega-3s but should be consumed without cooking.
Most oils combine monounsaturated fats, polyunsaturated fats, and saturated fats. When selecting oils, it’s important to choose those low in saturated fatty acids and high in unsaturated fats to help lower cholesterol levels.
Fatty acids are what build fat in our bodies. Examples of fatty acids include monounsaturated, polyunsaturated, and saturated fats. Fat itself is a mix of these fatty acids with glycerol as the backbone.
Yes, trans fats are banned in many countries due to their adverse effects on health. However, some fats and oils still contain trace amounts that do not need to be on the label! In the USA, products can be labeled as “trans-fat-free” if they have less than 0.5 grams of trans fats per serving. How does it get in there? Well, while trans fats are no longer permitted as an ingredient, they can still be formed in small quantities during the high-heat processing of oils and cooking.
Extra virgin olive oil is my favorite for the heart and cholesterol. Not only does it contain lots of healthy monounsaturated fats, but it also has a lot of antioxidant compounds called polyphenols that may help protect your heart.