One confusing aspect of starting a Paleo diet is which oils are best for cooking, especially since health warnings about fats and oils are now so prevalent.
Part of the problem arises from the advice from the medical community. For years, doctors and dieticians have bleated about the dangers of saturated fats, while lauding the benefits of polyunsaturated fats.
Sadly, and to the detriment of many people who followed this advice, only now do we know that the use of polyunsaturated fats can lead to an increase in heart disease as well as the development of cancer and diabetes. Such fats can make you fat, too.
Rather than try to sort through monounsaturated, polyunsaturated, saturated and all the other long-name-oils and fats, you can keep yourself on the right track by sticking to the kinds of oils and fats that cooks of the Stone Age would have had available and by avoiding modern processed versions.
One of the fats you won’t be using for Paleo cooking is butter. Domestic animals, perhaps with the exception of dogs, were unknown to those living 20,000 years ago. No one was running around chasing goats or wild cows to make butter.
Likewise, canola, safflower and corn oils can be scratched off the list as well. These oils only began appearing on supermarket shelves in the past 100 years or so.
Olive trees have certainly provided numerous benefits to humanity from the earliest times. No one knows when olives began to be pressed for their oil, but since these plants were certainly available during the Paleolithic
Era, olive oil is a good choice for Paleo cooking.
Another oil that is acceptable for a Paleo diet is coconut oil, which is actually a solid at room temperature. Thanks to its light, delicate taste, coconut oil has become one of the most popular oils when preparing caveman foods.
While there are a number of oils and fats that are fine to use for Paleo cooking, the temperature at which they are used can make a big difference in how healthy they are. Just as people have become aware of the dangers of trans fats, it should be remembered that these are formed by subjecting oil to very high heat to force hydrogen into the oil’s molecules. This makes the oil less likely to spoil, but it also makes it harmful to use.
The reason why trans fats are considered so unhealthy is because while they raise the levels of LDL (bad) cholesterol, they also destroy the good cholesterol, HDL.
Because heat can change the molecular composition of any oil, perhaps for the worse, it’s important to use Paleo oils correctly. If you’re going to be doing some high heat cooking, stick to coconut oil or lard, which remain stable at all temperatures.
Medium heat cooking, such as when browning onions or sautéing fish, can be done with nut oils such as hazel or pistachio as well as olive oil.
If you’re preparing a salad, feel free to use coconut, olive or nut oils. These oils are not only healthy and Paleo-friendly, but they also taste good on fresh vegetables or fruits.
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