Fats are not our enemy-we need them in our diet in reasonable amounts to maintain healthy bodily functions. However, man-made fats such as margarines and trans-fat laden shortenings, and those made from non-organic animal sources (conventional butter for example) are best to stay away from as they’ve been tampered with regard to their natural state. There’s a lot of jargon around fats these days in nutrition circles-monounsatured, omega 3, omega 6, medium chain fatty acids etc etc-all this can be quite dizzying so we just need to remember-if it’s been tampered with from its most natural state, then its best to stay away from.
When it comes to sauteing, frying, or pan-frying (anything requiring high heat), I like to use oils that have been made without chemical solvents and other harsh chemicals. These are usually labeled “cold-pressed” and/or “expeller-pressed”. Canola is the best option in this case as its neutral flavor lends itself to use in many types of ethnic cuisine. Coconut oil is great with South Indian and Southeast Asian dishes, peanut oil with Asian dishes, ghee for North Indian dishes and olive oil for Mediteranean if you’re willing to spend the extra buck. Otherwise, naturally extracted canola is best for higher-heat cooking and its generally the cheapest.
The virgin oils, such as extra virgin olive oil and unrefined coconut oil, are best reserved for dressings and lower-heat applications as their nutritive properties diminish upon heating-more on that in a future post!