Tag Archives: butter

The skinny on fats

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Earlier this year, a study challenged the long-held belief that eating a diet low in saturated fats was bad. Combining the results of many previous studies, it concluded that low consumption of saturated fats and high consumption of polyunsaturated fats (the current diet recommended by the American Heart Association) did not actually lower risk of heart disease. How can that be?

First, the article was not done very well and has drawn a lot of criticism. The details are very technical and beyond the purpose of this blog. We will just leave it with the opinion that their conclusions may not be the most accurate.

But the results do remind us to look more closely at individual food choices when replacing saturated fat. Research has documented that replacing saturated fats with carbohydrates is not beneficial to health, but replacing them with mono- or polyunsaturated fats is. So, we don’t necessarily need to eat a diet lower in total fat. We need to eat a diet with a different mix of fats.

How do we do that?

-Replace butter or margarine with oils when possible. Olive oil, canola oil, and other vegetable oils are a better choice.

-Nuts can be a good choice of healthy fats. Walnuts, almonds, pecans, macadamia nuts, and hazelnuts all seem to be heart healthy.

-Avocados are a great source of monounsaturated fats. They also are great sources of fiber, antioxidants, and plant sterols which can also be beneficial for heart health.

-While eating carbohydrates is ok, try to keep it in control. I like to think of dividing the plate into quarters and keeping carbohydrates to one quarter of the plate.

The bottom line is fat in general is not as bad as we used to think. The most important thing is keeping the proportion of types of fats in balance.

Have any nutrition questions? Need help with meal planning or a special dietary need? Send your questions to me at kimberlykmarsh(at)gmail(dot)com, and I will answer them in upcoming posts!

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“Healthier” Chocolate Chip Cookies

When it comes to making a dessert healthy, I have mixed emotions.  I am totally on board with making small changes to improve a dish’s nutrition.  However, you shouldn’t mess with dessert too much.  I have found that “healthy” desserts often don’t satisfy my cravings.  Unsatisfied, I either eat more or eat something else in addition to the original dessert, completely negating my “good” choice.

These cookies hit a good balance.  A few ingredient tweaks make them a little healthier, but they still satisfy my cookie craving.  Remember, though:  these are still cookies.  Compared to my regular chocolate chip cookie recipe, I saved 15 calories, 1.5 grams of fat, 1 gram of saturated fat, and 42 mg of sodium.  Not life altering savings, but enough that it adds up after several cookies.  And let’s be honest, you eat more than one cookie.

“Healthier” Chocolate Chip Cookies (makes 3 1/2 dozen cookies)

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1/2 cup unsalted butter or coconut oil, softened
1 cup brown sugar, packed
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 large egg whites
2 1/4 cups white whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
dash cinnamon (optional)
3/4 cup chocolate chips

1. Preheat oven to 350.

2. Cream butter/coconut oil and sugars together on medium speed of mixer until light and fluffy. Mix in vanilla and egg whites.

3. Add flour, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon (optional), mixing until just combined. Stir in chocolate chips.

4. Scoop rounded tablespoonfuls onto a lightly greased baking sheet. Bake at 350 for 10-12 minutes or until lightly browned. Allow cookies to cool briefly on sheet before cooling completely on wire rack.

Nutritional Information (Amount per cookie)

Calories: 90
Protein: 1 g
Fat: 3.3 g
Saturated Fat: 1.9 g
Cholesterol: 6 mg
Carbohydrates: 15 g
Fiber: 1 g
Sodium: 49 mg

Recipe Notes: The nutritional analysis uses butter rather than coconut oil. I have tried using coconut oil in this recipe. As I mentioned in my previous post about coconut oil, my cookies were darker, flatter, and crisper. I also found I needed to add a little bit of water to the coconut oil cookies to get the dough to come together. I have not tried this recipe with traditional whole wheat flour, but I’m guessing the results would be tolerable but less similar to a regular cookie. I like to add cinnamon to my chocolate chip cookies, because it gives them an extra flavor that reminds me of Mexican hot chocolate. That is entirely optional. I use milk chocolate chips, but you can easily use whatever flavor you prefer.

Coconut oil cookie (left) compared to butter cookie (right)

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Source: slightly adapted from Cooking Light

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Coconut oil

I recently read an article that discussed some of the health ramifications of reducing saturated fat intake. The real message I took from the article is that we cannot demonize an entire nutrient, such as fat, saturated fat, or carbohydrates. Our bodies need these nutrients in an appropriate balance. Different food sources of these nutrients can also have surprisingly different health risks/benefits.

A great example of this is coconut oil. Despite the name “oil”, coconut oil is actually a solid at room temperature. This makes it a common substitute in vegetarian and vegan baking for butter. With a higher smoke point than many vegetable oils, coconut oil can also be used for frying.

When I was in school, all of my textbooks used coconut oil as the example of a vegetable oil that is not good for you. Coconut oil is 91% saturated fat, compared to olive oil which is 14%. Even compared to butter, coconut oil seems bad: 86 g of saturated fat in 100 g of coconut oil versus 51 g of saturated fat in the same amount of butter.

However, not all saturated fats are created equal. The saturated fats in coconut oil are comprised of different fatty acids than those of butter, lard, and other solid fats. These fats are absorbed differently in our body and therefore can act differently. They can increase both HDL (good cholesterol) and LDL (bad cholesterol). Research is inconclusive at this time on whether the overall impact is positive or negative.

So, should you start using coconut oil in all of your baking and cooking? Not necessarily. Coconut oil should not be considered a health food. If you are replacing other solid fats with coconut oil, it should be fine. I definitely would not recommend replacing healthier oils like olive oil or canola oil with coconut oil. And remember that fat in any form should be consumed in moderation.

If you are considering switching to coconut oil, be aware of a few things. First, coconut oil may give a slightly sweet or coconut-y taste to your final product. That can be great if it is for a dessert, but not so great if it is for a savory dish. Second, it has a lower melting point than butter, so you may want to chill doughs using coconut oil. When I made cookies with coconut oil, they were much flatter. Lastly, coconut oil also tends to be a little more expensive than butter.

Bottom line: Using coconut oil over butter is mostly a matter of personal preference. But it should not be over-consumed or replace healthier, unsaturated fats.

Have any nutrition questions? Need help with meal planning or a special dietary need? Send your questions to me at kimberlykmarsh(at)gmail(dot)com, and I will answer them in upcoming posts!

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