Framed first as diet villain, now culinary hero, fat has made quite the comeback. Research shows that the shift a few decades ago to lower-fat and fat-free foods may well be the reason our country now has obesity problems. Many of us fear fat, so we load up on refined carbs in an attempt to feel full.
The subject of fat comes up every day in the Cooking Light Kitchen. As we test and taste recipes, we find ourselves asking more questions: How much oil is absorbed? Why can't we have the skin? When is butter a better option? Can we deep-fry this? Some of these questions are easily answered, while some leave us scratching our heads.
To tackle all these issues, two members of our food team, Robin Bashinsky and Sidney Fry (each with wildly different backgrounds; see below), joined forces to marry the best of fat's culinary uses with sound nutritional advice. Robin is our Test Kitchen veteran, always looking for ways to sneak a few extra dabs of butter into our calorie-conscious dishes. "Fat is an essential tool in the healthy cook's kitchen," he says. "It elevates food in a way that no other medium can." Sidney is a registered dietitian and our resident nutrition editor. She, like many of our readers, used to look first to the total fat number on a label, shying away from anything in double-digit territory. Up until 2009, in fact, Cooking Light didn't allow recipes with more than 30% of calories from fat to be published, with few exceptions.
But what we know now as healthy cooks is that fat is indispensable in the kitchen—used to cook and sear lean proteins, baste vegetables, wilt greens, and caramelize natural sugars in food. And as healthy eaters, we also know that fat is satisfying and delicious: Think of how smashed avocado transforms morning toast. With 9 calories per gram, fat is twice as dense as carbs and protein—a reason it has more staying power than any other nutrient. Higher-fat foods take longer to digest and leave you feeling fuller longer so you tend naturally to eat less. "The goal isn't to be morally virtuous, but it's important to be mindful," says Sidney. "This project was designed to help our readers become more comfortable with using fats in a healthy way."
What follows this week is a series of blogposts that serve as an in-depth master class on fat—best practices for the healthy cook, most delicious uses for food lovers, and some surprising findings that just might change the way you cook with this incredible, indispensable ingredient.
This Series in a Nutshell: Cooking with Healthy Fats