How many times has this happened to you:
- you watch a popular TV talk show (with or without a doctor as a host or a popular nutritionist or naturopath as the guest) or see a story on the nighttime news about how a food that you've been eating for years is the new lifesaver/will eventually kill you with a slow and painful death/isn't healthy unless it's harvested by catholic nuns on a remote mountaintop in South America
- you open up your kitchen cupboards and start reading food labels, only to discover that you have inadvertently been consuming or not consuming said food 3-5 times a day
- you add it as #11 on your daily to-do list to replace or buy that food the next time you go grocery shopping
- you spend 15 minutes in that aisle of the grocery store, reading food labels, trying to figure out if this particular package in your hand has been harvested by said nuns
- you eventually get frustrated by trying to figure this out, so leave the aisle in a panic, wondering why the hell it's so hard to eat healthy/why does buying groceries seem like a conspiracy theory against regular people and not scientists/why is it so damn expensive?
This is exactly what happened to a lady that I helped in the olive oil aisle last weekend after Dr. Oz told her that she should only be looking for olive oil that was bottled in the US. How the hell do you figure that out from the bottle? I was stumped. So I recommended the olive oil that I use, which turned out to be cheaper for a better product versus the one she had in her hand in the cheap plastic bottle.
At least once a month, I help someone at the grocery store, usually a man with a list from his wife, who is looking for the latest superfood. I try not to be the food nazi too much in public, but 99% of the time when I offer my help to a random stranger, a wave of relief washes over their face.
Seriously, I should be on contract with the grocery store I shop at, or at least have stock in their organic food section.
The one topic that is most confusing and most hyped by the media is healthy fats. And why not? There are millions of consumer and agricultural dollars riding on your choice of fats that you use to cook with 3-5 times each day, not to mention your long-term health.
What ARE healthy fats? Should we eat no fat, no saturated fat, or low fat? Some fat or a lot of fat? Only plant based fats? Only fats harvested by catholic nuns on a remote mountaintop in South America?
The answer is: eat what’s as close to nature as possible, and eat what human bodies have been eating for a long time. This means that your body will at least know how to identify the fat and what to do with it.
Everyone's body does best on a different amount of healthy fat. If you're eating enough, you shouldn't have dry skin, and your blood sugar should be level enough that you're not freaking out and getting hangry every hour of the day.
Before I give you my list of exactly what healthy fats to eat and cook with, here's what to avoid like the plague:
1. Foods with "hydrogenated" or "partially-hydrogenated" anywhere in the ingredient list: This means that the product DOES have trans fats in it, even if it says zero trans fat on the food label. How is that even possible? Well, with these fancy rules and complicated equations from the Canadian Food Inspection Agency that in no way protect the public (which is the same or worse in the US), you could have up to 0.2 grams of trans fats per serving that by law can be listed as zero. And here I thought that zero means zero. Silly Ashley. What's so bad about trans fats? They have been scientifically proven to increase your risk of a heart attack by 300%. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the US has estimated that reducing trans-fats consumption could prevent 10,000 to 20,000 heart attacks each year in the US alone.
2. Food with ANY trans-fats on the label: see above argument
3. Highly processed or genetically modified fats like canola oil, cottonseed oil, soy or soybean oil, corn oil, or safflower or sunflower oil: These oils promote inflammation in your body and go rancid very easily. When you consume rancid oils, you dip into your stores of anti-oxidants to neutralize them, which means they can’t be used to keep your skin glowing, your energy high, and to fight major diseases like cancer. That's right, canola oil is not healthy. Get rid it immediatley.
I recommend eating the following healthy fats and oil:
1. Real butter and ghee (i.e. clarified butter, which is best if you have milk allergies): from grass-fed, organic sources if you can find/afford it
2. Extra-virgin olive oil: This should be gently heated (never above a medium heat on a stovetop), or preferably not heated at all so you don't deplete the heart disease fighting vitamin E in the oil, which breaks down easily with heat and light. The real test to find out if you have extra-virgin olive oil that hasn't been cut with cheaper oils (because that does happen) is that it will turn solid when you put it in the fridge (which the one that I use and recommended to the random stranger does)
3. Coconut oil: Good quality coconut oil will smell like the beach. If it doesn't, it's been chemically deodorized, which reduces the healthy benefits. Coconut oil is one of the most stable oils to cook with at high temperatures, so use it for deep frying or baking (in place of butter if you are dairy free). It can be stored at room temp, and will most likely be a liquid in the summer (when it's above 24°C) and a solid in the winter (when it's colder).
4. Flax seed oil: NEVER cook with this, only use it to make salad dressing and to drizzle over finished dishes and steamed vegetables. The omega-3's in flax, which are the healthiest part, are very delicate and break down with heat and light. Make sure to refrigerate your open flax seed oil and use within 2-3 weeks.
For olive, coconut, and flaxseed oil, the healthiest are labelled as either extra-virgin and/or cold-pressed methods, where no chemicals like hexane are used, leaving no residue in the final product. The low temperature method ensures that the vitamin E isn’t destroyed and the oil doesn’t go rancid as quickly.
Good quality ones like olive oil and flax seed oil will come in dark glass containers, since these fats are less stable and some of their health benefits can be destroyed by light.
Here's mine and my sons most favourite way to eat lots of fat right now: popcorn.
This ain't your mama's popcorn that she unwrapped, unfolded in it's package, and cooked in the microwave. This is the real deal stovetop popcorn that tastes like it's from the movie theatre.
Eat it with some other healthy fats like real butter and some himalayan pink sea salt, or this way, which my son adores so much he walks around saying "I love popcorn".
I wanna know: what's YOUR favourite way to eat popcorn?
HONEY CINNAMON POPCORN
BY ASHLEY SROKOSZ, RHN
2 tbsp good-quality coconut oil
1/2 cup popcorn kernels
1 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
2 tsp honey
1 tbsp cinnamon
A few sprinkles of himalayan pink sea salt
1. In a large, heavy-bottom pot with a lid, heat over medium-high heat until smoking hot.
2. Add the coconut oil and let it melt and heat up just until a few wisps of smoke start forming.
3. Add the popcorn kernels, spread them evenly in the oil in one layer (if possible), and cover with the lid.
4. Leave until the kernels start to pop, about 1-2 minutes.
5. Once the popping kernels start to slow down, immediately turn off the heat and, using oven mitts, shake the pot with the lid on for about 30 seconds so the popcorn doesn't burn.
6. Remove the lid and let the steam escape.
7. Spread half of the olive oil, honey, and cinnamon, plus a few shakes of salt over the top of the popcorn, put the lid back on, and shake the pot.
8. Repeat step #7 with the remaining half of the olive oil, honey, and cinnamon, plus a little more salt.
9. Serve immediately.
Notes: Any extra can cool to room temperate and be saved for a few days in an air-tight container on the countertop.