Home Health Debates When Should You Avoid Polyunsaturated Fats In Recipes?

When Should You Avoid Polyunsaturated Fats In Recipes?

written by Guest Blogger July 13, 2011

We all know there are healthy and unhealthy fats out there. Many of us (including me) have substituted healthy fats to recipes and, unfortunately, altered the taste and texture so much that it turns out… well, yucky. Today we’re in luck because, guest blogger, Greg Hayes, tells us all about which oils are best used for different recipes!

The benefits of cooking at home, rather than eating out, include lower calorie meals, saving cash, and in most cases, generally more healthful foods. For the health conscious chef, there’s a temptation to simply omit oils from recipes, or substitute poyunsaturated fats for their health benefits. Understanding their contribution to recipes can help with making the best choices for healthful, flavorful foods at home.

It’s important to start with understanding that fats and oils are mixtures of chemical compounds. Now infamous for their negative effects on overall health, both trans and hydrogenated fats are the result of chemical processing of mono- and polyunsaturated oils to improve storage stability.

It’s important to understand that while trans fats aren’t found in nature, hydrogenated fats and oils are naturally occurring materials that can be found in high concentration in many plants. While polyunsaturated fats work great in room temperature applications, such as pesto and dressing, there are times when they aren’t the best choice.  The following are a three examples.

Baked goods that aim for a flaky texture, like biscuits or croissants, often call for animal-based fats. These ingredients are generally solids at room temperature, that melt during the baking process. Substituting oils that are liquids at room temperature, which are high in mono and polyunsaturated fats, may enhance their health benefits but will also dramatically change the texture of your finished product. But palm and coconut oil, which are high in saturated fat and thereby solids at room temperature, will provide the same texture while also eliminating trans fats and cholesterol from your recipes.

Every cake and cookie recipe calls for some kind of liquid oil to retain moisture. Usually a vegetable oil of some type, its tempting to try substituting with something high in polyunsaturated fats, like canola or flax seed oil. Although its a well-intentioned move, a look at canola oil vs vegetable oil shows that while these particular oils are high in omega-3 polyunsaturated fats, they tend to decompose during baking. The result is a cake or cookie with a fishy, waxy flavor. Avoid this problem by sticking with soybean oil or corn oil in baked goods.

Deep frying, sauteing and stir-frying are all high temperature processes that demand excellent heat stability. Since oils highest in polyunsaturated fats tend to decompose after extended exposure to heat, they are inappropriate for such applications. Exposure to high temperatures not only causes those oils to oxidize, which gives foods an objectionable flavor, but can also generate a compound called acrolein, which irritates the lungs and eyes, causing coughing and tearing.

Despite their negative reputation, consuming appropriate amounts of fats and oils is an important part of eating healthy. Using them appropriately in recipes involves more than just choosing those highest in polyunsaturated fats though. It includes understanding their contribution to flavor and texture, and balancing that against their role in health.

About the Author

Greg Hayes is the author of Live Fit Blog, where he writes about fitting fitness into busy lives.  For more tips on choosing the healthiest cooking oil, check it out!

I bet those I feed with healthy baked goodies will definitely appreciate it when I apply this info – I know I will! Do you use different healthy oils for the recipes mentioned above – please share!

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Greg July 13, 2011 at 8:34 pm


Thanks for the chance to participate in your community!

Head Health Nutter July 13, 2011 at 8:54 pm

Thank you for contributing a well-written and highly useful post, Greg!

Jenn Brigole July 22, 2011 at 11:13 am

Very helpful information, Greg. I just know it too well that eliminating or substituting certain oils with a healthier kind can have an adverse effect on someone like me, who’s trying to practice a healthier lifestyle. With the intentions of making my home cooking more healthy, I ended up with a bad experience and it has backfired on my program of staying fit.

Greg July 22, 2011 at 10:43 pm

@Jenn – Sorry you had a bad experience. It’s certainly true that people can have adverse reactions to dramatic changes in the types of oils they consume. It’s usually best to move slowly when it comes to stuff like that. Hope you’re able to get back on track!


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