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Chef Tim Says....

In Your Pantry: Fats

What should I have in my kitchen?

This is another in a series I have been writing about the healthiest choices for you to make at the grocery store. So far I have discussed different ideas for proteins like meat, poultry and fish and last week got to the pantry, listing items you should keep on hand for baking (also useful for a lot of other recipes).

This week I get to talk a little about fats. I like to keep this simple. There’s a lot of choices, and you could fill your house with bottles of different oils, but the following are the basic items that you should always have on hand and ones that you will use regularly for healthy cooking.

Butter: I love butter but use it in sparing amounts. Because it’s so high in saturated fat, I generally use it to finish a sauce and measure out about a teaspoon or so to help tighten up the sauce, add flavor and a rich taste in the mouth.

I always purchase unsalted butter, and because I believe in using the best of ingredients, I generally buy the premium European style butters (you’re not going to use that much after all). Keep it tightly sealed in the fridge because it will pick up flavors from almost anything else that it is stored nearby.

Olive oil: This is the granddaddy of “healthy” fats and well established as being really good for you. It is chock full of all kinds of great stuff, the most important being monounsaturated fat (the type that helps prevent you from getting heart disease). There are some research studies that even show that you can use as much olive oil as you want and not gain weight, but you will still significantly improve your cholesterol profile. Even so, I generally measure all my fats and oils and use them carefully (especially because a lot of folks using Dr. Gourmet recipes are working at losing weight).

Get yourself a good quality extra virgin olive oil for making salads, dressings, sauces and the like. Use less expensive olive oils for cooking if you are on a budget. I like using an oil sprayer because it lets me easily coat a pan or food without using a lot of oil.

Grapeseed oil: This is as good as and may actually be better for you than olive oil. In some studies it has been shown to improve cholesterol profiles better than olive oil. Not quite the same range of flavors that you might find in all of the different olive oils on the market, but I love it because of this. I use it when I don’t want a lot of bright fruity flavors in a recipe, but also it has a very high “smoke point.” This is the temperature where oil burns and this makes grapeseed oil a great choice for searing and other high temperature cooking.

Canola oil: I don’t use canola oil much any more because of my favoring grapeseed oil. It does, however, have a place because it works great in baked goods so I keep it around.

Mayonnaise: You probably don’t think of mayo as a fat, but you should. Regular mayonnaise is pretty high in fat and calories, but there’s great low-fat and non-fat ones on the market. I will generally use the reduced-fat versions for making salads, like potato and pasta salad, and the non-fat for dressings. I am very much partial to Hellman’s Mayonnaise (Best Foods in the Western United States). Their reduced-fat products are simply the best.

Cream cheese: Like mayo, you might not really have put cream cheese in the fat category, but it’s got almost as much as butter. The great thing is that reduced-fat cream cheese or Neufchatel is a perfect alternative, and there’s never much reason for the full-fat version. That’s not true for the non-fat cream cheese, however. I almost never have this in my fridge and only use it for some specific baked goods recipes.

Spreads: I don’t buy margarine because most solid and even a lot of the tub margarines still have trans-fats in them. The good news in all of this is that “spreads” are trans-fat free and a good choice in a number of recipes.

What is a spread? Regular margarine has 80% or more fat, while spreads are between 40% and 79%. So spreads are lower in fat, and products like Smart Balance, Promise Buttery Spread, and Take Control do quite well in a lot of recipes (I have even fooled professional chefs). The light versions have about 1/3 the fat of butter, and unlike margarine, no trans-fats.

Nuts and seeds: Yep, these are considered fats. I don’t eat a lot of peanut butter, but I keep some on hand for making sauces and such. I do have a lot of nuts also and keep them sealed in ziplock bags. I buy the nuts at the health food store where I can purchase them raw and get only a handful or so at a time so that they don’t go bad (they will last about 2 months sealed in plastic).

I keep at least the following on hand:

Almonds (whole, slivered and sliced)
Sesame seeds (white and black)
Poppy seeds
Sunflower seeds
Pumpkin seeds

Eat well, eat healthy, enjoy life!

Dr. Gourmet
June 11, 2007