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Cook with healthy oils, but use sparingly

I often go to the farmers market in the summer, look at all of the beautiful vegetables, and wonder “How will I cook that?” I want to share with you some of what I have learned about preparing foods at home in ways that reduce saturated fats and maximize nutrients and flavor.

The types of oils and fats used in cooking can be confusing. Cooking oils from many plants are higher in unsaturated fats (good) while animal fats and many tropical oils (palm and palm kernel oil) contain mostly saturated fats (bad). Saturated fats can raise LDL (bad) cholesterol and harm our health in other ways while unsaturated fats help raise HDL (good) cholesterol.

Olive oil – especially virgin olive oil – has several components that can help our health and contains mostly unsaturated fats, but it can have a strong flavor and does not withstand high heat. Canola, peanut, safflower and other plant oils are also high in unsaturated fats and withstand higher heat. Coconut oil has become popular lately and while it has more unsaturated fats than palm oil or animal fats, it is still quite high in saturated fats.

Even with healthy oils, you want to use them sparingly. Spraying oil helps you use less when cooking. Buy vegetable oil in a spray can at the grocery or buy a refillable spray bottle at a kitchen supplies store.

Stir-frying is a great way to cook vegetables, tofu, seafood and meats with very little oil. Add a small amount of vegetable stock, wine, rice vinegar or soy sauce for extra flavor shortly before you are done cooking.

When making soups and stews, skim off the fat. If you want to get more off, let it sit in the fridge overnight so the fat will congeal on the surface and be easier to remove.

Many vegetables only need to be cooked a short time. Overcooked vegetables lose nutrients and flavor. I have had several friends who only learned to like vegetables when they began cooking for themselves. They had previously only tasted vegetables that were overcooked or out of a can. Steaming vegetables in a basket, microwave or electric cooker is a better choice than boiling them. Adding seasoning to the water can help flavor the food as it cooks.

Root vegetables such as onions, carrots, and rutabaga can be brushed with olive oil, lightly seasoned and then roasted in the oven. Last summer I started doing this more and discovered how delicious kohlrabi can be.

Roasting and broiling meats on a rack allows fat to drip away from the food. When basting, don’t use drippings. Use something like wine, tomato juice or lemon juice. You can braise meats such as chicken or rabbit by lightly browning them in a skillet, covering with a flavorful liquid and cooking in a slow cooker or oven. Extra liquid can be used for making a sauce to be served with the food.

Barbecuing and grilling are popular this time of year, but burning meats can increase cancer-causing substances in your food.

Fish and eggs can be poached on the stove or in the oven – rather than fried – using water, broth, vinegar, juice or other liquids.

Baking isn’t just for bread and cookies. Seafood, poultry, vegetables and fruits can be baked covered or uncovered to reduce using oils or fats in your cooking and preserve vitamins and other nutrients.

Food can and should be a great pleasure in life, with community meals being at the center of everyday life and celebrations. With a little practice and creativity, you can make memorable, mouth-watering meals that are healthy, too.

Dr. Alisa Hideg is a family medicine physician at Group Health’s Riverfront Medical Center in Spokane. Her column appears every other Tuesday in the Today section. Send your comments and column suggestions to

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