Chef Tim Says...

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Dr. Tim Says....

Unsaturated Fats

The best part of all of the controversy over fats in the last two decades has been that the research has proven just how good for you fat is. As with everything it is the quality of the fats that's key. We've come to know that unsaturated fats, especially monounsaturated fats like Omega 3 fats, prevent disease.

There's been so much research about fats and I could write a whole book. One of my favorite studies came from Martha Morris and her colleagues. They studied 815 senior citizens to evaluate the role diet might play in Alzheimer's Disease. They found a clear correlation between diets high in saturated fat and trans fats and the risk of Alzheimer's Disease. The results showed almost double the risk of Alzheimer's dementia in those eating the most of these types of fats.

Interestingly, total fat didn't matter nor did whether the saturated fat was of animal origin. But eating more fats from vegetable sources was protective against those in the study having Alzheimer's. Also eating a higher proportion of polyunsaturated to saturated fats was key to prevention. The research showed that consuming more unsaturated fats even blunts the risks of eating a higher percentage of trans fats.

One of the best sources we have for unsaturated fats are nuts, seeds or their oils. While these ingredients do have a lot of calories, this may not be as much of an issue (good quality calories = good quality health). Even when using all the oil or nuts as they wanted those in another study didn't gain any weight. During the research two groups received either as much extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) or nuts as they wished. Interestingly, there was no weight gain with the users of nuts and EVOO.

The studies on fish alone are so compelling for prevention and even treatment of disease and those with the highest levels of monounsaturated fats have been shown to be protective.

So this is the good stuff and the best part is that there are a lot of great foods to choose from.


Here are the approximate amounts of Omega-3 fats per 120g serving (120 g of fish/meat is about the size of a deck of cards and is just over four ounces).

Atlantic salmon 2,400 mg
smoked salmon 2000 mg
canned salmon 1,000 mg
sardines 3,000 mg
snapper 550 mg
rainbow trout 600 mg
tuna 1,200 mg
canned tuna 290 mg
shark 500 mg
orange roughy 140 mg
crayfish 300 mg
oysters (12) 1,000 mg
shrimp 200 mg
blue mussel 500 mg
squid/scallops/calamari 400 mg
halibut 2,000 mg
grouper 280 mg

Oils / Fats

Olive oil - This is the granddaddy of "healthy" fats and well established as being really good for you. 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. It 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 temp cooking.

Canola oil - I don't use canola oil as much as I used to because I like grapeseed oil so much. It is, however, a great choice for cooking and baking (and it's less expensive).

Nuts / Seeds

Take your pick here. There is a mountain of research on almost every kind of nut or seed now. While a lot of the studies have been funded by the growers, the conclusions are particularly compelling. Everything from walnuts to almonds to pistachios. I keep small amounts of nuts on hand for use in a lot of recipes. I generally purchase raw, unsalted nuts and seeds and keep them in plastic bags tightly closed.


Avocados are full of monounsaturated fat. While they are technically a fruit, these lovely guys are a great source of really healthy and great quality calories.

Olives, like avocados, are also a fruit and chock full of not just flavor but great quality monounsaturated fats.

Eat well, eat healthy, enjoy life!

Timothy S. Harlan, M.D.
Dr. Gourmet
November 10, 2008

Last updated: 11/10/08