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Oils and Fats–Why They Are Good for Us and How to Choose and Use

Oils and Fats–Why They Are Good for Us and How to Choose and Use

(JPC-PROD/Shutterstock)

Naiwen Hu

Naiwen Hu

1/22/2024

Updated: 2/5/2024

Health Viewpoints
Fats are essential nutrients, and eating the right oils can contribute to our overall health by providing these fats. However, strong advertising over the years vilifying fats and fear of their causing weight gain keep some people from including healthy fats in their diets.
An increasing number of studies have shown that the consumption of high-quality oils contributes to vascular health, and helps prevent conditions such as high blood pressure, high blood sugar, and high cholesterol. Incorporating healthy oils into the diet provides nourishment for the skin, protects the gastric mucosa, promotes digestion, and plays a role in hormone regulation, lowering bad cholesterol, and preventing gallstones.

Constipation, Premature Aging, Gallstones

According to the ancient Chinese text “Jingui Yaolue,” “pig oil,” (lard) was known for its ability to nourish the intestines and treat severe constipation. Fats are essential nutrients for the human body. Omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, found in fats, cannot be produced by the body and must be obtained through the diet. A prolonged lack of fats in one’s diet may lead to conditions such as constipation, premature aging, and gallstones.
Some people, fearing weight gain, refrain from consuming oils and fats and as a result, may experience hunger shortly after eating. Sufficient fat intake extends the presence of dietary fats in the stomach, thereby enhancing satiety.
Omega-3 oils contribute to skin hydration—insufficient amounts in the diet may lead to dryness, potentially accelerating the aging process. Additionally, female hormones rely on body fat for production, so abstaining from oils may hasten ovarian degeneration and accelerate the aging process.
Inadequate fat intake may also contribute to the formation of gallstones. The gallbladder stores and concentrates bile, which is released upon stimulation by fats. Low fat intake may hinder the release of bile, leading to its gradual thickening over time and an increased risk of gallstone formation.
Of course, not all oils are created equal and many of the oils people eat are over-processed and included in ultra-processed foods. While these oils should be avoided, healthy oils should be embraced.

Stomach Nourishment, Improved Bowel Movements, Anti-Aging

Animal fats can protect the gastric mucosa and nourish the stomach. In addition to using olive oil regularly, the inclusion of animal fats in cooking is also beneficial. Healthy natural fats can lubricate the intestines and promote regular bowel movements, aiding the body in detoxification and maintaining intestinal health.
In February 2023, a research report published in ScienceDirect examined the association between types of cooking oils and atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease (ASCVD) risk using logistic regression analysis. The study looked at 15,874 elderly Chinese people, aged 65 and above.
It found those who cooked with vegetable oil (mainly canola and sesame oils) had a 31.68 percent prevalence of ASCVD, compared to 17.46 percent among those who cooked with lard or other animal fat. The multivariate-adjusted model indicated that users of vegetable oil/sesame oil showed a significant increase in the risk of ASCVD (Atherosclerotic Cardiovascular Disease) compared to their counterparts who used lard/other animal fats. This suggests that cooking with lard or other animal fat oil is a better choice for older adults.

Lard and Camellia–Two High-Quality Healthy Oils

Three major benefits of incorporating lard into the diet include:

Promoting Digestive Health and Enhancing Appetite

In “Compendium of Materia Medica,” authored by Li Shizhen during the Ming Dynasty, it is recorded that lard has detoxifying properties, aids in digestion, promotes diuresis, reduces edema, and stimulates hair growth. One can consider stir-frying dishes or mixing rice with lard to address a poor appetite, whether for an adult or a child. Dishes prepared with lard are particularly aromatic, which can enhance appetite, replenish qi, and nourish the internal organs. Additionally, drizzling a bit of lard on rice and other grains and vegetables can make a meal more appetizing.

Nourishing Skin and Treating Hair Loss

In the ancient text “Ben Cao Jing Ji Zhu,” lard oil is noted for its skin-enhancing properties, described as “pleasing the skin” and “capable of preventing wrinkles when used as a hand cream.” Lard effectively moisturizes dry skin, contributing to the maintenance of smooth, delicate, and elastic skin, as well as aiding in the treatment of hair loss.
A classic dish prepared with lard includes:

Blanched Sweet Potato Leaves With Lard

Ingredients:
  • 1 bunch sweet potato leaves
  • 1 to 2 teaspoons lard oil
  • 1 teaspoon soy sauce
  • 1/3 teaspoon salt
Preparation:
Select sweet potato leaves and young stems that are tender, wash, and drain. Blanch sweet potato leaves in hot water for three minutes. Add lard, soy sauce, salt, and a small amount of blanching water to the leaves. Stir well, and it is ready to serve.

Camellia Oil: Improving Digestive Health and Preventing Gallstones 

Camellia oil (or tea seed oil) is widely known as the “Eastern olive oil” due to its nutritional components similar to olive oil. It can nourish the stomach lining, reduce inflammation, and alleviate ulcers. Adding a moderate amount of camellia oil to stir-fried vegetables or meats regularly can effectively nourish and protect the stomach. In earlier times, camellia oil was commonly used in traditional folk medicine to address gastrointestinal issues.
A study on antimicrobial factors of camellia oil, conducted by Taiwan’s National Science and Technology Council, found that extracts from camellia oil exhibit inhibitory effects on Helicobacter pylori, providing a soothing effect on the stomach. Moreover, camellia oil can enhance the functionality of the digestive system and prevent gallstones.
Below are two traditional dishes prepared with camellia oil:

1. Stir-Fried Chicken With Camellia Oil

Ingredients:
  • Half of a free-range chicken (around 24.7 ounces)
  • 3 ounces (150 grams) of old ginger root
  • 3 tablespoons camellia oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon rice wine
  • 1 teaspoon soy sauce
Preparation:
  • Wash and dry the chicken, add salt and rice wine, mix well, and let it sit for 20 minutes.
  • Slice the old ginger into thick pieces of 0.2 inches (0.5 centimeters) and spread them out.
  • Heat the wok, pour in camellia oil, and stir-fry the ginger slices over high heat for 30 seconds.
  • Stir-fry the chicken over high heat for 5 minutes. Then, reduce the heat to medium and continue stir-frying for another 15 minutes.
  • Drain the camellia oil, return the chicken to the wok, and stir-fry over medium heat with soy sauce.
  • Remove the chicken from the wok and drizzle with some camellia oil before serving.

2. Vermicelli With Camellia Oil

Ingredients:
  • A bundle of vermicelli
  • A pinch of salt
  • An appropriate amount of camellia oil
Preparation:
1. Boil 16.9 fluid ounces (500 milliliters) of water over high heat, then reduce to medium heat and add the vermicelli. Once the vermicelli becomes soft, scoop it out and place in a bowl.
2. According to personal taste, add an appropriate amount of extra virgin camellia oil and season with salt. Stir well before serving. As the vermicelli already has some saltiness, additional salt may not be necessary.

Choosing the Right Oil for Various Cooking Methods

Different oils have distinct qualities and functions, so it is essential to choose oils based on specific needs.

1. Lard, Butter, or Ghee for Deep Frying

When preparing deep-fried foods, it is advisable to choose oils suitable for high-temperature frying, such as lard, butter, or ghee. These oils have a greater heat tolerance and thus are more stable at higher temperatures.

2. Olive, Sunflower, or Soybean Oil for Salad Dressing or Stir-Frying

For dressing salads or stir-frying vegetables, it is recommended to choose plant-based oils such as olive oil, sunflower oil, and soybean oil. These types of vegetable oils are suitable for cold dishes or stir-frying but should not be used for high-temperature deep frying, as they can lead to the deterioration of fats, potentially causing harm to the body.

How to Select Cooking Oils

When purchasing cooking oils, consider trying different brands and using a variety. Choose oils based on various cooking methods to mitigate potential risks.

Storing Cooking Oils

Exposure to air and proximity to high temperatures can lead to the oxidation and deterioration of cooking oils. To preserve oil quality, store it at a low temperature and use it within three to six months. If your household is small or you do not cook frequently, consider purchasing smaller bottles of oil.
Dietary needs may vary depending on the individual. Please consult with a dietary or health expert to find what is best for you.
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Naiwen Hu

Naiwen Hu

Author

Naiwen Hu is a traditional Chinese medicine physician at the Shanghai Tong Te Tang in Taipei, Taiwan, and a professor at the Nine Star University of Health Sciences in Sunnyvale, California. He also worked as a researcher of life science at the Standford Research Institute. In his over 20 years of practice, he has treated more than 140,000 patients. He was known for successfully curing the fifth melanoma patient in the world by using traditional Chinese medicine. Hu currently hosts a YouTube health program that has over 700,000 subscribers. He is also known for his popular road show on health and wellness held in various cities in Australia and North America.

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