Wednesday, June 9, 2010

The sight of saturated fat

 Saturated fat from a pair of five-ounce extra lean ground turkey meat patties fills the trough at the bottom of a bacon tray when cooked in a microwave. You are allowed to feel smug about all that artery-clogging fat you avoid eating.

It’s called saturated fat because it’s saturated with as many hydrogen atoms as nature allows. Human ingenuity, however, is astounding. Our ability to make matters worse is unlimited. More than a century ago, researchers found a way to produce a fat that has more hydrogen than is found in nature. It’s called trans fat. And if saturated fat doesn’t kill you, trans fat has a much better chance of finishing the job.

     Saturated fat in our food comes mostly from meat, diary products, and eggs. These are excellent sources of needed protein. The problem is the saturated fat that comes with the protein.
     We’ll look at a simple method we use in our house to get the benefit of protein from ground meat with very little of the saturated fat. But first, some background that’s guilty of over simplifying a very complex subject.
     We need some fat in our diet. But too much saturated fat, especially with too little exercise, can result in clogged arteries, causing heart trouble. That might have been what caused my cardiac arrest in 1989. My exercise was too sporadic and I was a hearty meat eater. I especially liked to slice off and eat the tasty fat from roast beef. Deadly.
     Unsaturated fats (monounsaturated and polyunsaturated) do not have the same tendency to clog the arteries, and some even help to keep our pipes clear. We get these mostly from plants (although a few, such as palm and coconut oil are extremely high in saturated fat). Fish, especially wild salmon, have a type of unsaturated fat (omega 3 fatty acid) said to be particularly good keeping the arteries clear. Omega 3 is also found in some seeds and nuts, such as flax and pumpkin seeds and walnuts.
     It’s in the production of trans fat that technology turns a good thing into a bad thing. The process is called hydrogenation, or partial hydrogenation. Using heat, pressure and a catalyst, hydrogenation turns good unsaturated fat into bad saturated, or partially saturated fat, and pumps more hydrogen into that fat than can be found in nature.
     Why would they do that?
     They do that because trans fats offer a number of advantages for food product manufacturers, retailers, and fast-food outlets. Trans fats generally do not become rancid as quickly, and so provide longer shelf live. Because trans fat have higher melting temperatures, faux lard and shortening and margarine made from corn oil or other plant oils stay nice and firm at room temperatures, and are cheaper to make than butter or animal lard, don’t turn rancid as quickly, and require less refrigeration. Hydrogenated margarine stays nicely firm at the dining room table, whereas healthier, non-hydrogenation vegetable margarine (preferably from canola oil, the oil with the least saturated fat) is always soft, even in the refrigerator. Many baked products require semi-solid fats such as trans fats to suspend solids at room temperature. Trans fat oils can be used to deep fry a great amount of food—such as potatoes—than other oils.
     Non-hydrogenated peanut butter is healthier than the much more common hydrogenated type, but the oil separates and floats to the top of the jar. Your can often find a quarter-inch of oil floating at the top of the jar. You wont see any oil in hydrogenated peanut butter, but it will still be there, in the same amount, and it won’t be the healthy type. What to do? Store the jar upside-down in the refrigerator to mix the oil with the peanut butter and keep inverting every other day or so. You can easily make your own non-hydrogenated peanut butter by simply grinding peanuts in a food processor.
     What has all this got to do about benefiting from the protein of ground meat with very little of the saturated fat? Not a hell of a lot, actually, except that it all relates to fat.
     How we get the meat and protein without the fat is childishly simple. We start with “extra lean ground turkey meat.” It’s sold at Loblaw’s under the chain’s proclaimed healthy Blue Menu label, advertised as low in fat, sugar and salt, high in fibre, and with no hydrogenated oil. You could use any type of lean, or extra lean, ground meat: turkey, chicken, pork, beef. We prefer ground turkey, sold in packages of approximate 20 ounces (0.55 kg).
     Half a package gives us two patties of about five ounces each. We cook these on a bacon tray in the microwave until well done, about five or six minutes (the time will vary with different microwaves). Enough saturated fat is cooked out of the extra lean ground mean to run down the groves of the bacon tray and fill the trough at the bottom. One look at the ugly, yellow fat and you can understand why it clogs the arteries. It looks like stuff that would congeal to clog any pipe. It looks like glue.
     As you look at all the saturated fat that you’ve just avoided eating, you will feel a deep sense of satisfaction. You are even allowed to feel smug.
     TAGS. Fat. Trans fat. Saturated fat. Monounsaturated fat. Ployunsaturated fat. Omega 3 fatty acid. Atherosclerosis. Cardiovascular system. Hydrogenated food.


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