We call lipids (fats and oils) to the essential nutrients for the health of our cells, as they cover our cell membranes. They are the body’s largest energy reserve, they protect us from the cold and also protect our vital organs. Normally, they are classified into oils and fats, depending on whether they are in a liquid or solid state.

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The principal features of lipids are that cannot be dissolved in water, and they have a high caloric content (9 Kcal per gram).

The lipid part of food is largely responsible for the flavours (good or bad).

The myth is that fat (specially saturated) is bad. In reality, fat, derived both from the animal and plant kingdoms, is essential to human wellbeing. This nutrien-dense, nourishing food is an excellent source of energy that makes your meals satisfying and healthy.

They have these following functions:

  • Energy reserve material (triglycerides and others) that also protects us from the cold and specially our vital organs.
  • Some lipids have a structural function as part of the brain membranes (phospholipids, sphingolipids, cholesterol).
  • Other such as cholesterol and carotenes serve as a synthesis of vitamins and hormones, bile acids and pigments.
  • They act as transporters of lipo-soluble vitamins in the small intestine: A, D, E and K.
  • They offer greater taste to food.

BASIC GUIDE FOR A GOOD USE OF OILS

  • The fresh mono and polyunsaturated oils must be extracted in cold. So, if you buy organic oil, it must be labeled as “extra virgin” which guarantees that the oil has not been heat-treated.
  • Buy small glass bottles if you don’t use a large amount of oil in a period of time. The vegetable oils oxidise easily, and although they can be of optimum quality, can be harmful as well. Be sure you store them somewhere cool and not for a long period of time.
  • The polyunsaturated oils, especially Omega 3, are very unstable, they spoil easily, therefore, for proper use it is better to buy them in dark glass bottles, and ALWAYS keep them in the fridge.

WHAT ARE ESSENTIAL FATTY ACIDS? WHY IS OMEGA 3 SO IMPORTANT?

omega3

Fatty acids are lipid molecular structures that line our cell membranes. The non-essential ones can be processed by the body, but the essential ones can only be obtained from the diet, externally, which are omega 3 and omega 6. The body has to have these two essential fatty acids in balance. Omega 6 or linoleic acid can be found in mostly all seeds and dry fruits.

These essential fatty acids are very important for our cells, especially neurons and for our cardiovascular health.

When talking about omega 3, according to its sources, they can be classified into two groups:

  • The short-chain or ALA (Alpha Linolenic Acid) found in flax and chia seeds, the liver has to make a transformation to convert them into EPA and DHA, its active ingredients. For this you need an enzyme, called Delta 6 Desaturase, which is synthesized in the liver.
  • The long-chain or unsaturated EPA and DHA, which are found mainly in blue fish and some seaweeds. The liver practically does not have to make any transformation so that the body can metabolize them.

Omega 3 is essentially anti-inflammatory,  but also very unstable and delicate. Using carefully we can take advantage of it and absorb it easily. Small fish such as sardines, anchovies and mackerels have this essential oil, and we should cook them at a low temperature, or eat them marinated or in ceviche, being careful to freeze the fish so as not to have anisakis poisoning.

TRANS FATS

I have to mention vegetable margarines, as they have been used (and advertised) as healthy, but they are not. They became fashionable for not having saturated fats. Mono and polyunsaturated oils are liquid at room temperature, and putting hydrogen in their composition, they become solid. This process gives these fats a longer shelf life and makes foods less likely to spoil. These synthetic “fats” are very harmful to the body, to its immune system, and to cells, which find it difficult to identify this type of fat.

These margarines remain hidden in ingredients of other products such as biscuits, muffins … it’s important to check the components of a product, avoid from buying it if you read “hydrogenated oils” or “partially hydrogenated”.

Trans fats also arise when unsaturated fats are heated in high temperatures. A component that is called acrolein is formed in this process and the food fried in this oil can be carcinogenic.

Here below I mention some of the best lipids to add to our diet.

OILS

OLIVE OIL

It’s a real luck to have a product that has as many qualities as olive oil. I highly recommend organic olive oil, which has been extracted naturally and without suffering a process where the oil is take to high temperatures. The Extra Virgin Organic Oil has excellent features.

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It’s a monounsaturated oil, of the family of omega 9, but also has a good proportion of omega 6 and omega 3. It’s antioxidant and also cardiovascular diseases protector. I recommend you try the different varieties in which it’s presented (in Spain):

  • Hojiblanca: it has an intense, bitter taste. For those who like intense olive flavour, it’s the best. It’s resistant to high cooking temperatures, due to its high content of oleic acid. This oil is deep green colour.
  • Arbequina: it’s a sweeter type of oil. It’s extracted from a smaller type of olive, which gives it a more fruity flavour. It’s softer than the rest but it oxidates more easily when used for frying, so for this purpose, you better use other types of olive oil varieties.
  • Picual: it has an intense aroma of herbs, and it’s bitter. It’s more stable and resists higher temperatures, so it’s suitable for cooking.
  • Cornicabra: It has a velvet texture, and a fruity flavour that becomes slightly spicy at the end. It’s also a stable oil, with mostly oleic acid, therefore, it can be used both for cooking and for drizzling over salads.

Olive oil has many uses in the kitchen, in fact, it’s the best vegetable polyunsaturated oil for cooking, since it does not spoil as much as the rest of the polyunsaturated vegetable oils, which structure is much more delicate and oxidise more easily. In addition, it’s very suitable for marinating with different herbs (Herbs of Provence, oregan, thyme, lavender …). For desserts it’s also delicious: ice cream, cakes …

SESAME OIL

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It has to be used for raw preparations, but if it is used for cooking, it becomes a trans fat, which is harmful to the body. In many natural cookbooks it is recommended to use this oil for cooking, but it’s not correct, I recommend that you use olive oil for cooking, and sesame oil for drizziling over salads.

You must keep it in the fridge and use in a short period of time as it oxidises easily. For me it’s delicious when we add a little sesame oil to the hummus on top, because it enhances the taste of tahini. In preparations, vinaigrettes, dressings … combine with citrus flavours is great, because it’s balanced with the strength of lemon, orange …You can also find toasted sesame oil wich is much more strong and intense, but also delicious.

FLAXSEED OIL

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Contains a high Omega-3 to Omega-6 ratio. It’s very sensitive to heat so be sure to store it in the fridge for use in dressings. It has a distinct flavour that I love. It’s also a liver and gallbladder protector.

For salads mainly, you can use it in vinaigrettes, mayonnaises where you can add a dash of flax oil to give it a different touch. For me it combines well with aromatic herbs: Hebs de Provence, marjoram, Rosemary…

WHEAT GERM OIL

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Its use is mainly therapeutic because it has a particular flavour. It’s mainly high in vitamin E, and covers the daily needs of this vitamin. Vitamin E is a powerful antioxidant.

You can add wheat germ oil to your salads, dressings if you like its flavour, or take it as a medicine (a tablespoon) as soon as you wake up in the morning.

COCONUT OIL

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It has become very fashionable in the recent years. It’s an oil that contains saturated fat, even if it is not from animal origin. It becomes solid in cold environments. Buy it organic and unrefined, and so you will have all its benefits: for the immune system, it’s antibacterial, helps control the glycemic index and helps the body absorb minerals. Apart from cooking, it’s also used to have good oral health, since it has antibacterial properties, you can make daily rinses of coconut oil after brushing your teeth.

It has a characteristic coconut flavor, which gives it an exotic touch. It’s widely used in healthy pastry making, but also for frying vegetables in a wok, cooking basmati rice etc.

ADVOCADO OIL

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There are many benefits of avocado oil, from being beneficial for glycemic control, to its ocular protective action. It has a high content of vitamin E, lecithin and monounsaturated fatty acids. Recent studies show that it helps the synthesis of collagen and reduce inflammatory molecules in the blood. When added to salads increases the absorption of lycopene and beta-carotene (present in tomatoes and carrots).

It has a much less acidic flavour than olive oil, but it’s dense and has a particular taste. I love it in salads, combined in dressings with citrus fruits such as lime and lemon.

FATS

GHEE OR CLARIFIED BUTTER

ghee mantequilla clarificada

An unique feature of clarified butter or ghee is that it has certain healing properties that are not found in other saturated fats. This butter, free of lactic residues, contains butyric acid, a fatty acid with antiviral, anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer properties, which raise the level of interferon in the body. Butyric acid also has properties that help in the prevention and treatment of Alzheimer’s disease.

In Ayurvedic medicine, ghee is considered one of the finest oils, increases “digestive fire” and therefore improves assimilation and enhances the nutritional value of food.

To make clarified butter at home you have to follow these steps:

  1. Put an amount of butter in a pan.
  2. Let it melt slowly, let it simmer and when it’s completely liquid, remove from heat.
  3. You will see that at the top there will be enough foam that are dairy solids that you will have to remove with a spatula. Leave about 5 minutes to dissociate the fat part of the whey and casein, which will be fixed at the base of the pan.
  4. After five minutes, remove the foam again from the surface (until it’s completely clean) and carefully pour the fat that has been left up.

You can store it in a glass jar in the fridge before it solidifies.

You can use it in small amounts for frying, for soup seasoning, or even to make sauces, which will be delicious.

FISH FATS

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They are normally used to replace deficiencies in the form of supplements. They regulate blood pressure and improve circulation, especially fats from blue fish. They raise the “good” cholesterol or HDL, and are anti-inflammatory.

They are normally used to replace deficiencies in the form of supplements. They regulate blood pressure and improve circulation, especially fats from blue fish. They raise the “good” cholesterol or HDL, and are anti-inflammatory.