Category Archives: processed food

Cooking Fats: Behind the Music

I didn’t realize I had so much to say on this subject but as it turns out I am quite passionate about cooking oils and fats. So passionate that I believe this is one of the longest posts I’ve ever written. Because of this epic of a blog post, I have included jump links so you can simply click on the oil you want to know more about to easily move around this article.

Recommended Oils

Coconut Oil

Coconut oil is extracted from the brown meat of a coconut. It contains, 92% saturated fats, 6% monounsaturated fats and 1.6% polyunsaturated fats. These saturated fats were once considered unhealthy, but recent studies show they are a safe source of energy. Additionally, previous studies were conducted on refined coconut oil that contained hydrogenated oils (which are bad!). This is why you should be sure to buy virgin (processed without chemicals or high heat) coconut oil that is high in the medium-chain fatty acids, which absorbs quickly into the body.

Coconut oil also has important health benefits. It is rich in a fatty acid called Lauric Acid, which can improve cholesterol and acts against bacteria and other pathogens. Additionally, coconut oil provides a slight boost in metabolism and, compared to other fats, increases the feeling of fullness.

This oil is semi-solid at room temperature therefore it won’t go rancid for months or even years. I recommend using coconut oil for frying, due its high heat tolerance, due to saturated fat content.

**Side Note** higher saturated fats means higher smoke point, the smoke point is the point at which the nutrients in an oil or fat begin to break down).

Coconut oil can be used as a replacement for other oils in a typical recipe by a ratio of 1:1. You need less coconut oil than you’d expect when sautéing (due to low water content).

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Butter

8 Health Benefits of Butter – Dr. Axe
Like coconut oil, butter was also demonized in the past due to its saturated fat content (68% saturated fat, 28% monounsaturated fat and 4% polyunsaturated fat), but there really is no reason to fear real butter. Real butter is good for you and actually fairly nutritious. It contains Vitamins A, E and K2. It also contains the fatty acids Conjugated Linoleic Acid (CLA), which may help decrease body fat percentage in humans, and Butyrate, which can prevent inflammation, improve digestive health and fight obesity. For butter rich in Vitamin K2, CLA and other nutrients, make sure it comes from organic, grass-fed, unpasteurized cows.

When cooking with butter, it tends to burn at high heat, like for frying. This is because regular butter contains trace amounts of sugars and proteins. To avoid burning your butter, you can cook with ghee, clarified butter from which sugars and proteins have been removed, leaving only pure butterfat. I recommend using butter for baking, and cream-sauces and ghee for frying.

There’s a quick tutorial for how to make butter yourself at the bottom of my recipe for buttermilk cake. Here is a tutorial for clarifying butter.

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Olive Oil

Olive Oil Excellence

Extracted from the fruit of the olive tree, olive oil is loved for its heart healthy effects and is believed to be a key reason for the health benefits of the mediterranean diet. It can raise HDL (the good) cholesterol and lower the amount of oxidized LDL cholesterol circulating in your bloodstream. The fatty acids in olive oil are mostly monounsaturated (75% monounsaturated, 14% saturated, 11% polyunsaturated).

When buying olive oil, make sure to look for quality Extra Virgin Olive Oil, that is cold-pressed and unfiltered. It has much more nutrients and antioxidants than the refined type. It should appear cloudy and be golden in color. The bottle should be green to slow oxidation ( a process which creates free-radicals that are damaging to cells in the body)

To keep it from going rancid, store olive oil in a cool, dry, dark place. While olive oil is inferior to coconut oil for cooking at high heat, studies show that you can still use it for cooking or sautéing at lower heats (under 320°F). Olive oil is best used to drizzle on salads or other dishes after they have been cooked.

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Animal Fats – Lard, Tallow, Bacon Drippings

The fatty acid content of an animal depends on the animal’s diet: A diet primarily composed of grains results in higher proportion of polyunsaturated fats; if the animal is pasture raised or grass-fed, saturated and monounsaturated fats will be higher. That said, animal fats from naturally-raised animals are superior for cooking.

You can save the drippings from meat to use later, or you can buy ready-made lard or tallow from the store (just be sure to check the label for no hydrogenated oils).

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Avocado Oil

Avocado oil has a similar composition to olive oil: it contains primarily monounsaturated fats, with few saturated and polyunsaturated as well. Therefore, I recommend using it in similar ways to olive oil.

Recent studies show that avocados are a powerhouse of nutrients and healthy fats your body craves. Keep your eyes peeled for a post all about this wonderful superfood.

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Fish Oil

Fish Oil – Dr. Vlada Korol
Omega-3 fatty acids are DHA and EPA. This is old hat if you read my post about hemp, flax and chia seeds. Another way to satisfy your need for omega-3s can be found in a tablespoon of fish oil. The best source is cod fish liver oil, because it is also rich in Vitamin D3, a nutrient many people are deficient of. Due to its high concentration of polyunsaturated fats, fish oil shouldn’t be used for cooking. To unlock these health benefits, take it as a supplement, one tablespoon per day. Store it in a cool, dry and dark place.
Just check with the manufacturer to see where the fish came from and how it was caught and find it on you’re sustainable fish guide.

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Flax Oil

Flax oil contains lots of the plant form of Omega-3, Alpha Linolenic Acid (ALA), which I discussed in my post about hemp, flax and chia seeds. Due to the high content of polyunsaturated fats, this oil is also best used as a supplement: added to salads, smoothies and other cold foods. However, unless you’re vegan, fish oil is probably a better option. Some studies show that ALA is not efficiently converted to the active forms, EPA and DHA (both of which are readily available in fish oil) in the human body. Therefore, it is absorbed slowly into the body and should be used in small quantities.

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Nut Oils and Peanut Oil

There are many nut oils available and they are generally rich in polyunsaturated fats. They can be used as parts of recipes, but are a poor choice for high heat cooking or frying.

One exception is macadamia nut oil, which like olive oil contains monounsaturated for the majority. The taste may just make up for the step price if you’re willing to shell out the dough (that was a pun). Macadamia oil can be used for low- or medium-heat cooking.

Peanut oil is derived from peanuts, which aren’t technically nuts (they’re legumes). Peanut oil is popular in Asian cooking and some fast-food restaurants use it for deep-frying.

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Sesame Oil

Despite this oil’s high proportion of polyunsaturated fats (41%), it is stable enough for cooking at high heats. It also adds flavor when drizzled over a stir-fry. Sesame oil is a great source of Vitamin E and other nutrients, and is beneficially for maintaining blood pressure. Sesame oil keeps very well at room temperature but storing it in the refrigerator keeps it from going rancid for even longer. Make sure you buy the unrefined variety.

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Avoid These

The following oils are created from genetically modified plants or must be highly processed before hitting the shelves at your local grocery store. This processing increases the shelf life but involves very high heats removing most of the natural flavor. It also causes oxidation, creating free radicals that can damage the cells of our bodies. The processing also creates a huge imbalance in Omega-6 to Omega-3, making them far too rich in Omega-6 fatty acids.

Many of these oils have been wrongly labeled as “heart-healthy,” but new research has linked them to heart disease and cancer. One study looked at vegetable oils commonly found in U.S. grocery stores and found that they contain between 0.56 to 4.2% trans fats. That’s why I continually strew the importance of reading labels. Trans fats are bad!

Trans fats increase levels of LDL or “bad” cholesterol and lowers levels of HDL or “good” cholesterol. It is found in hydrogenated, or partially-hydrogenated fat products like margarines and vegetable shortenings. It is also used in packaged snack foods and by fast-food and other restaurants.

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Canola Oil

Canola oil, best used in baking and frying, is derived from rapeseeds. Fun fact: its name comes from the phrase “Canadian oil, low acid” referring to the first canola plants. These were bred in Canada to have lower levels of erucic acid, which was believed to have adverse affect on the heart, at the time.

The fatty acid breakdown of canola oil is fairly good, with a perfect Omega-6 to Omega-3 ratio of 2:1. That’s before the heavy processing, the final product is completely devoid of this natural ratio. Watch this youtube video to see the whole disgusting operation.

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Palm Oil

Palm oil is derived from the fruit of oil palms. It consists mostly of saturated and monounsaturated fats, with small amounts of polyunsaturates. Which is why I would recommend using it for frying. Red Palm Oil (the unrefined variety) is best. It is rich in Vitamins E, Coenzyme Q10 and other nutrients.

Palm oil is a tricky one for me to classify because there are many beneficial qualities associated with this oil. Unfortunately, harvesting palm oil is terribly unsustainable: in areas where palm trees are farmed specifically for the production of oil Orangutans, an endangered species, are losing their native habitat. So if you are very attached to using palm oil check with the manufacturer to find out about their farming practices and whether they are sensitive to the habitat of orangutans.

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Avoid these too:

  • Cottonseed Oil
  • Rapeseed Oil
  • Grapeseed Oil
  • Soybean Oil
  • Corn Oil
  • Sunflower Oil
  • Safflower Oil
  • Rice Brain Oil
  • Hydrogenated Oil
  • Any oil labeled refined, hydrogenated, or partially-hydrogenated

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What is your favorite oil or fat to use for cooking?

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Fruit by the (almost) Foot

As a kid I was a huge fan of fruit gummies like Fruit by the Foot, Fruit Roll-Ups and Fruit Gushers (though I very rarely received them at home). Now, that I’m an adult (sorta) I have had a few cravings for them.

If you take a look at a box of strawberry flavored Fruit By the Foot by Betty Crocker you might see these ingredients:


From the name you would assume there’d be a lot of fruit in it but actually you find it’s just sugar and preservatives. It’s number four on a list of 9 Kid Foods to Avoid created by Time.

Here is a recipe for fruit leather from Out of the Box Food. Tastes delicious, not too difficult to make, and you can adjust the amount of sweetener, the flavor, and the size to suit your fancy. I am seriously in love with homemade stuff!

I got mixed berries because… berries. Other fruit combinations can be found at the end of this post. I used agave nectar because it doesn’t add much flavor but honey or maple syrup can be used as well (or none of the above).

Start by cutting the two sheets of parchment paper to fit the cookie sheets. Rub some butter on the paper so the rolls will peel off easily and set them aside. I’m not sure how necessary the greasing step is but I am afraid to test these without it.

Add all ingredients to the blender (not the butter, like I said it’s for greasing).

Then blend the heck outta those fruits!

At this point you could strain the puree to remove the seeds (there are soooo many seeds). I didn’t because I like to keep things simple and don’t like washing dishes… These are life-changing decisions, my friends. Divide the puree evenly between the two cookie sheets and spread thin with a rubber spatula.

This is my third time making these and I elected to use the sun to dry them in order to save energy. I was worried about bugs and stuff but then I decided to not worry about bugs and stuff. If you do worry about bugs, heat the oven to 150 °F (or as low as yours goes) and place the two cookie sheets in the oven as it is heating up. If your oven has a convection setting this would be an excellent occasion to use it. If you’re lucky enough to have one this recipe is perfect for a dehydrator. My oven only goes to 170 °F so the first time I made these I let the oven heat up all the way gave it five minutes and turned it off. After 20 minutes I’d turn it on again. It was very tedious but it worked. The second time I made these I forgot to alternate heating times and the rolls got super crispy around the edges, and pretty much all over, which made me angry.

When the rolls aren’t wet any longer take them out of the oven (or bring them inside). Wait for them to cool, which doesn’t take long, and cut into whatever size and shape you want. I leave the parchment paper on the rolls as I roll them up so it’s on the outside (like a real fruit by the foot). Store in an airtight container. As far as I can tell they last forever if you don’t eat them all at once.

Somewhat of a high maintenance recipe since you really have to be around the whole time they are drying (unless you use the sun and are not worried about bugs or wind, then you can just leave them out all day). One idea is to make these and refrigerate the puree until just after dinner. Turn the oven on until bedtime and turn it off when you go to sleep.

MORE FRUIT COMBINATION IDEAS:
Yellow: 1 fresh mango, 7 oz dried apricots, the juice of one orange
Purple:  20 oz frozen mixed berries and 1 fresh banana
Green: Kiwi, mango and mint leaves
Blue: Blueberries and grape juice
Red: Strawberries and banana

Spices to try: Allspice, cinnamon, cloves, coriander, ginger, mace, mint, basil, extracts, citrus juices and peels, nutmeg or pumpkin pie spice. Use sparingly, start with 1/8 teaspoon for each 2 cups of pureé.

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MAKES: 12, 2” x 14” rolls
TIME: Preparation – 10 minutes, Drying – 5 to 7 hours with convection oven; 8 to 10 hours with standard oven; more if drying by sun. Also depends on thickness of puree.

INGREDIENTS:

  • 20 oz. frozen fruit
  • ¼ cup agave nectar, honey, or maple syrup (can use less or omit completely)
  • Butter for greasing

DIRECTIONS:

Cut parchment paper to fit on two cookie sheets with raised edges. Grease parchment paper with butter. Defrost berries and add to blender with sweetener. Blend until smooth. Divide puree between cookie sheets, spread thin with a spatula. Heat oven to 150 °F (my oven only goes down to 170 °F so I watch them carefully so they don’t burn). Another option is to leave rolls out in the sun to dry. Or better yet, use a dehydrator. When fruit is dry remove the cookie sheets from the oven. When cool cut into 2” strips, roll tightly and store in air-tight container.

What flavor combinations have you tried?

Eating Real Food

It was June, it was HOT and I needed something with the word ice in it desperately to cool me down. I pulled into the local grocery store, headed for the frozen food section, relished in the cold air, and searched for that special treat. It came down to three things for me: price, flavor and whether or not my boyfriend would want to eat it too (he has a Who-sized sweet-tooth gene). I grabbed a 12-pack of Weight-Watchers dark-chocolate-dipped raspberry ice cream bars. They sounded heavenly, they were the cheapest for the number of bars and I thought Reid would at least not cringe at the thought of eating one or two.

I will not lie; I got to the car and dug in. The chocolate bar was steaming with sublimation in the hot car and I enjoyed the heck out of every bite of it. When I returned home I put them in the freezer and left it at that. When Reid came home he was having a fit about having to watch TV commercials that day at work. We don’t have cable so we have forgotten about commercials (and I’m pretty sure they’ve gotten dumber since the last time they were forced on me, but that’s a story for another day). He described one commercial he had seen to me through gritted teeth. It was a commercial for some kind of metabolism booster that allows you to eat whatever you want regardless of calories or nutrition. You shake this substance on hamburgers or ice cream and it makes you look like the skinny girls in the commercial, dancing around in their bikinis.


Then he saw Weight Watchers ice cream bars in the freezer. “I bet these aren’t even ice cream, they’re probably completely synthetic,” says he. When we looked at the label, he wasn’t ALL wrong.


That’s when we, here at the Miller/Haseman Estate (HA!) decided that while something may be edible it might not be digestible. He learned in microbiology and passed his knowledge on to me that there are many “food” items we ingest every day that our bodies look at and say “dafuq?” then stores in fatty tissue if it ever has need of the foreign substance. Our culture in America tends to guide us toward the quick fix, the fast, and the easy, which leaves the wholesome and nutritious forgotten in the dusty cobwebs of our minds. Our society has become dependent on processed foods. They are an illusion of nutrition that lists claims such as, low-carb, no added sugar, high-protein, high-fiber, vitamin fortified etc. But when you take a look at the label you see words like “Polydextrose,” “Azodicarbonamide,” and “Natamycin.”


 


Now, this has turned into a project that I have taken on: making EVERYTHING from scratch (almost). When we go to the grocery store we pick up items, look at them and I say, “I could make that.” And then… get this… I actually DO make it.

I will admit that it definitely helps that I have an open schedule (especially this summer) in which to lull away the day. It has been nice to have something to fill my time that will benefit my creativity, deductive reasoning skills and my body all in one shot. (Side note: What’s that saying? Kill two birds with one stone. My mom always found this barbaric and changed it to feed two birds with one seed. End side note).

Regardless of your schedule I believe it is possible to cut out most of this junk from our diets.

Why cut out processed foods:

  1. Like I said before, processed foods are an illusion of nutrition.
  2. Healthier body, mind and soul… and a foundation for continued health in later life.
  3. Michael Pollan says it best when he explains food should be the product of nature, not the product of industry.
  4. Variety: 90% of processed food is estimated to be a derivative of corn or soy (Food, Inc.)
  5. Plain and simple, common sense: I’d like to know (and have the ability to pronounce) what I’m putting in to fuel my body, wouldn’t you?


I would love to hear from you. What do you do to cut back on processed foods?