Saturated fat is the source of a lot of great flavors, but also the source of a lot of disease.
Saturated fat is solid at room temperature, like butter and lard. However, it’s not necessary to make a choice between flavor and health. The message of my blog and practice remains the same when it comes to the flavors we get from saturated fat; you can approach recipe changes with joy and excitement at how good it tastes rather than feeling like you are giving something up. Most people just need an increased awareness of what’s out there.
Quick primer on the different types of fat, their sources and how they affect your health:
- High levels of macronutrients- sugar or fat rather than micronutrients like vitamins are minerals- are typically bad for you. Some fats are worse for you than others.
- An extreme example of how a fatty meal can affect arterial health is “post-prandial angina,” or chest pain after a fatty meal, which was first described over 200 years ago by William Heberden. There has even been research done in which arteries were shown to harden after people consumed fat. This happened both after high-fat meals were eaten, and after fat was infused into the blood stream in an attempt to bypass the brain and GI system to see if it was due to the fat in the blood alone causing hardened arteries or some other factor in the body.
- If one high-fat meal can cause chest pain in people with pre-existing arterial disease, imagine what a lifetime of high fat consumption can do for your baseline arterial health. We know high fat diets worsen risk factors for coronary artery disease and associated arterial disease.
- We also know that eating a low fat vegan diet can reverse heart disease, EVEN in people who are so bad off they are getting ready to have coronary artery bypass grafting (CABG) or surgery. This is a surgery cracks open the chest at the sternum, takes veins from the leg and sews them around blocked coronary arteries in the heart. There is actually a lifestyle program that is so successful, it is Medicare-approved to reverse disease with lifestyle instead of surgery. This cardiac rehab program created by Dean Ornish, MD, that focuses on stress reduction, exercise, and a very lowfat diet.
- HOWEVER, there are some types of plant fats that REDUCE cholesterol, like fats from avocados and nuts. Polyunsaturated and monounsaturated (liquid at room temperature) tend to cause less problems in our body than the saturated variety.
- So what are the easy ways to increase fiber and nutrients while decreasing fat or choosing healthier forms of fat?
1. Switch sources of nutrient-poor saturated fat, like cream, butter, or cheese, for nuts.
Health benefits of Nuts: Nuts are rich in high-quality protein, fiber, minerals, tocopherols, phytosterols, vitamin E, vitamin B6, folate, and phenolic compounds. Honestly, there isn’t much nuts do that’s not absolutely fantastic for you. Epidemiologic studies have linked nut consumption with reduced rates of heart disease and gallstones, as well as beneficial effects on hypertension, cancer, and inflammation…. So basically reduces risk of everything bad.
Compare this with the increased rates of obesity and heart disease linked with the ingredient you are using nuts to replace, and it’s easy to see why this is a good change to make.
Best types of nuts to use and how to use them: For a buttery taste, I like to use roasted pecans (see Pumpkin Spice Pudding post). For a creamy taste, I like to soak cashews or macadamia nuts for about 8 hours (during a workday or overnight, depending on when you need them), then pureeing them in a food processor. Any type of nut butter (almond, walnut, etc.) can easily replace butter on a peice of toast. Here is a simple, 4 ingredient recipe: Vegan Parmesan Cheese. Or to replace heavy whipping cream, All Purpose Cashew Cream.
Here is an example of using nuts to replace cream and butter in a recipe. This is a recipe from America’s Test Kitchen cookbook, Vegetarian style. It was a chowder that called for heavy cream; I replaced the heavy cream with pureed macadamia nuts, and it was heavenly. No one who tried it could tell a difference.
2 Tablespoons Pecan oil (original recipe called for butter)
1 onion, cut into half inch pieces
1 fennel bulb, 1 tablespoon fronds minced, stalks discarded, bulb halved, cored and cut into 1/2 inch pieces.
Salt and pepper
6 garlic cloves, minced
2 teaspoons minced fresh thyme or 3/4 tsp dried
2 tablespoons all purpose flour
1/2 cup dry white wine
1.5 c water
4 cups vegetable broth
1 celery root (14 oz), aka celeriac, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch pieces
12 oz red potatoes, unpeeled, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
1 Golden Delicious apple, peeled and shredded
1 bay leaf
1 (3-inch) strip orange zest
1/4 c macadamia nuts w/enough water to cover in a blended
- Saute pecan oil, onion, fennel for 5 to 7 minutes over medium heat.
- Stir in garlic and thyme and cook until fragrant (30 sec), then stir in flour and cook for 1 minute. Stir in wine and cook until almost evaporated (1 min).
- Stir in broth, water, celery root, potatoes, apple, bay leaf, and orange zest and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low, partially cover, and simmer gently until stew is thickened and vegetables are tender, 35-40 min.
- Turn off heat, discard bay leaf and orange zest. Puree 1/4 c macadamia nuts with enough water to cover. When it takes on a creamy consistency, add 2 cups of vegetable mixture, puree until smooth, then combine with the rest of the stew. Stir in fennel fronds, season w/salt and pepper to taste, then serve.
2. Incorporate beans or squash in a recipe for creaminess instead of using cream or butter.
Health benefits of beans: The consumption of beans and other legumes is also associated with a slimmer waistline and can help lower the risk of heart disease, diabetes, and some forms of cancer. The healthiest societies in the world (known as Blue Zones) that have the most centenarians and the least rates of disease will regularly eat 3 servings of beans per day.
Best types of beans to use and how to use them:
- White varieties of beans like cannelini and Great Northern become creamy very easily in the food processor. Garbanzo beans, though, tend to remain a bit grainy- think of the texture of their most famous dish, hummus. That dish has creaminess added with Tahini, or sesame seed butter, but still is typically more grainy than the first varieties I mentioned when pureed.
- Example recipes (click on the following to be taken to the website with the recipe)_: The Ultimate Vegan Cheese Sauce,
Health benefits of squash: high in fiber, high in healthy plant phytonutrients/antioxidants/carotenoids.
Best types of squash to use and how to use them: The creamiest varieties of squash (in my opinion) are butternut, buttercup, and delicata. Here are some example recipes: Butternut Squash Mac and Cheese, Butternut Squash Soup, Butternut Squash Instant Pot Nacho Cheese Sauce.
3. Learn how to use Nutritional Yeast
Health Benefits of Nutritional Yeast: huge amounts of protein, fiber, and B-vitamins, while not really containing many calories. It has been shown to boost immune function, lower cholesterol, and has antibacterial and antiviral properties.
What it is and how to use it: Nutritional yeast is made by growing S. cerevisiae (the same variety of yeast used to make beer, bread and kombucha) on a sugar-rich molasses medium. Then, it is deactivated with heat, washed, pasteurized, dried, and crumbled. It’s almost always fortified with nutrients, particularly B vitamins, before ending up on store shelves. Unfortified versions are also available.
REFRAIN from this ingredient, though, if you have Crohn’s Disease or gluten intolerance. If you have gluten intolerance, may need to do some extra digging to see how it was cultured, as many varieties of nutritional yeast are grown using gluten-containing substrates. If you find varieties that aren’t cultured this way, though, you are likely safe to consume it.
Nutritional Yeast was an ingredient in many of the recipes I linked to, above. You can also just sprinkle it on top of things like popcorn the way you would cheese shreds. Here are a few other example recipes: Oil-free lemon basil pesto, Healthy Mushroom Fettucini Alfredo, Nut and Oil Free Vegan Cheese Sauce, Vegan Tofu Feta Cheese,Cranberry and Thyme Vegan Cheese Ball.