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Fat.  Of the three basic nutritional building blocks (protein, carbohydrate, and fat), fat is the one that is most talked about, especially when it comes to healthy eating.  So let's talk about it.

Disclaimer:  I am not a dietician or nutritionist, nor do I play one on TV.  This is simply some basic information I have learned in my weight loss journey.

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"Fat is flavor".  So say all the chefs on the Teevee machine.  And they're right.  But fat in and of itself doesn't have a particular "flavor".  Rather, it enhances and magnifies the flavors already inherent in the food.  

Fat is also necessary.  We NEED fat to survive.  Just as there are essential amino acids that we can only get from food, there are essential fatty acids as well.  And without them we cannot survive.  It's part of the way we're all connected to everything in the Circle of Life.

But wait, you say.  Isn't fat also bad for you?  Doesn't fat lead to high cholesterol, hardening of the arteries, stroke, and all sorts of other bad stuff?

Well yes, it does.

So shouldn't we try to cut out the fat from our diets?

Not exactly cut out, but reduce, yes.

But if less fat is good, isn't no fat better?

No.  And not only because of the essential fatty acids we need.  Look at any food label that has the words "fat free" on it.  Remember, fat is flavor.  If you eliminate all the fat, you have to replace it with SOMETHING.  And that something is usually carbohydrates.  Which for someone who is trying to lose weight, is a kiss of death.  Because carbohydrates are eventually broken down into SUGAR.  

So we just have to have less fat.  Here are some facts about fat:

As you know, fat we use for cooking comes in many different forms:  Butter, lard, vegetable shortening, and oils.   But all fat has some common characteristics.  First and foremost, a serving of fat amounts to 5 grams.  That works out to about a teaspoon.  No matter if it's a teaspoon of butter or a teaspoon of lard, or a teaspoon of olive oil, one serving is one teaspoon.  And one gram of fat has 9 calories.  Meaning a serving of 5 grams of fat has 45 calories.

So then, a serving of fat is a serving of fat, right?

Correct.

So what about products like Land O' Lakes light butter?  It says a TABLESPOON is only 50 calories.

Well, as I said before.  If you reduce fat, you have to replace it with SOMETHING.  Chances are, there's 2 teaspoons of water or other products in that product.  Always read your labels.  Especially the "Calories from fat" line.  

Now, while a teaspoon of butter may have the same amount of calories as a teaspoon of olive oil, that's only a number for use with QUANTITY.  What's more important is the QUALITY--that is, what kind of fat is it?

Here's where we get into all the nutritional details of saturated and unsaturated fats.  Without getting too detailed, the unsaturated fats are the best ones for you.  Now, that's not to say that you can't cook with butter on a special occasion, but I suggest reading the following paragraph for appropriate cautions.

So, armed with this knowledge, you can cook with fat in a responsible way.  My suggestion is to use a teaspoon per serving.  For instance, when you're doing a simple roast vegetable or potato on a baking sheet, if you're making four servings, you can use four teaspoons.  Or even less.  And USE YOUR MEASURING SPOONS.  We are not all super chefs who can automatically measure out by eye every time.  

And it's rarely that you will need to use more than a tablespoon (3 teaspoons) of fat when you are cooking.  

Now, it's important to keep the addition of fat to a minimum because of "hidden fat" in the food products we eat.  The USDA has a database of nutritional information for most foods.  If you look through that, you will see that many things have varying degrees of fat in them.  Especially meat.  It's this hidden fat that adds those calories.  For instance, a piece of sirloin or round is often classified as a "lean meat".  You'll see ground sirloin at the store advertised as "90% lean" and stuff.  However, one ounce of such lean meat can still have up to 3 grams of fat--two thirds of the way to a full serving.  And as the average serving size of meat is usually around four ounces, you can see how that adds up.

One more thing--be cautious of cooking sprays and fat free butter-flavored sprays.  Even though they show 0% of practically everything, they are still oil based and too much will register as calories.

Now in the body itself, fat is an inactive tissue.  It's basically just storage of energy.  And fat cells are where that energy is stored.  Here's something I recently learned.  Fat cells never go away.  Once the body creates a fat cell, that cell never leaves.  What happens is that they deflate like a water balloon.  Which makes sense, because even though I'm now at a weight not far off from high school, I'm bigger around the middle than I was then, with lots of loose skin and other stuff.

Now if you get liposuction to take away those extra fat cells, know this:  The fat may not return there, but it will come back in different places.  So if someone gets tummy lipo, the fat may return above the tummy, or below it.  

So when meal planning, pay very close attention to labels and to the amount of added fat.  

Now, here are a couple of recipes and techniques I use:

Basic Roast Potatoes:

Preheat oven to 375.  Halve or quarter 1-1 1/2 pounds of small red or gold potatoes depending on size.  Soak for a few minutes to let some of the excess starch escape.  Dry and arrange on a cookie sheet.  Drizzle one tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil on the potatoes and rub.  Season with kosher salt, pepper, and dried rosemary.  Rub seasonings all over the potatoes.  Place in the oven.  Turn after about 20 minutes or so, when they begin to brown.  Replace in the oven for another 20 minutes.

Serves 4.  Calories per serving:  Potatoes, 70.  Oil, 45.  Fat, 5 grams

Basic Roast Chicken Breast:

Preheat oven to 350.  Take two spit chicken breasts, with skin and bone.  Trim excess fat.  Rub each with a teaspoon of olive oil.  Season with salt and pepper.  If you wish, slide a fresh basil leaf under the skin. Roast for 35 to 40 minutes, or until cooked through. Look for an internal temperature of about 155-160.   Cover with foil and let rest 5-10 minutes.

Serves 4-6  Calories per serving:  Chicken, about 200.  Oil, 25.  Total fat, 12 grams.  Less if you remove the skin after cooking.

Salmon en Papillote:

Preheat oven to 400.  On a sheet of parchment paper, spread 3-4 oz of thinly sliced (using a mandoline) potatoes.  Rub with a teaspoon of olive oil.  Season.  Add a 4-6 ounce salmon filet.  Season.  Top with fresh green beans--about a cup.  Add lemon and fresh herbs of your choosing.  Fold the parchment over and fold shut the edges so you have a nice package.  Place on a cookie sheet and put in the oven for about 25-30 minutes.  

Each package serves one.  Calories:  Salmon, 150.  Potatoes, 70.  Beans, 60  Oil, 45 Total fat: 12 grams

Asian Grilled Beef Salad  (Courtesy Steven Raichlen and BBQ U):

1 flank steak (about 1-1/4 pounds)

for the marinade/ dressing:

    4 cloves garlic, minced
    1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
    3 scallions, white part minced, green part thinly sliced for garnish
    2 to 4 Thai or jalapeno chilies, seeded and minced (for spicier beef, leave the seeds in)
    3 tablespoons sugar
    1/3 cup soy sauce (or fish sauce)
    1/3 cup fresh lime juice
    3 tablespoons water
    2 tablespoons sesame oil

to finish the salad:

    1 ounce Asian rice noodles
    1 head Boston, bibb, or red leaf lettuce, broken into leaves, washed, and spun dry
    1 cucumber, thinly sliced
    1 small sweet onion, thinly sliced and broken into rings
    1 pint cherry tomatoes
    1/3 cup fresh mint leaves
    1/3 cup fresh cilantro leaves
    1/3 cup fresh basil leaves
    scallion greens (reserved from above)
    1/4 cup chopped roasted peanuts

1. Score the flank steak on both sides in a crosshatch pattern, as shown in the photo. Arrange the steak in a baking dish just large enough to hold it.

2. Place the garlic, ginger, scallion whites, chilies, and sugar in a mixing bowl and mash to a paste with the back of the spoon. Add the soy sauce, lime juice, water, and sesame oil and stir or whisk until the sugar crystals are dissolved. Pour half the marinade over the steak and marinate for 1 to 2 hours in the refrigerator, turning several times to insure even marinating.

3. Soak the rice noodles in cold water to cover in a large bowl for 1 hour. Taste them. If tender as is, drain well. If the rice noodles are still tough, cook in 3 quarts rapidly boiling water until tender 2 to 4 minutes. Drain in a colander, rinse with cold water, and drain well.

4. Set up the grill for direct grilling and preheat to high.

5. Line your salad plates with large lettuce leaves. Tear the smaller leaves into 2 inch pieces. Place the lettuce pieces, cucumbers, onion, tomatoes, mint, cilantro, and basil in the mixing bowl with the reserved dressing, but to not mix.

6. Grill the flank steak until cooked to taste 4 to 6 minutes per side for medium-rare. Transfer to a cutting board and let rest for 3 minutes. Cut the steak into paper thin slices sharply on the diagonal.

7. Toss the salad and loosely mound it on the lettuce lined plates. Place a mound of rice noodles in the center of each. Fan the beef slices on top of the salad and sprinkle with the scallion greens and peanuts. Serve at once.

Serves 4 as an entree, 6 as a first course.  I'm not going to go into all the calories, but an entree size serving has about 16 grams of fat.  Not bad for a beef dish.  And consider that some of that fat is only used in a marinade.

So, in conclusion, for me personally, I try to keep added fat to about 2-3 servings per meal.  That way, I get the necessary fatty acids without overloading my body.

4:42 PM PT: There's so much about fat to talk about.  Like avocados and nuts.  They are so good for you, but they are considered fats instead of vegetables and protein.

Originally posted to zenbassoon on Sat Jun 30, 2012 at 04:30 PM PDT.

Also republished by What's for Dinner.

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