Fat Tuesday!!!

Happy Mardi Gras!! I would normally be going out this evening with Chris for some fun, but instead I will be working…another night shift.  My rhythm is all thrown off- I am going on about 4 hours of sleep from today after last night’s shift.  Surprisingly, I’m holding up ok…we’ll see about 3 AM tonight!

Several things…first, since it’s Fat Tuesday, I believe an assessment of fat is in order.  I was looking at the peanut butter jar from yesterday, Peanut Butter & Co, and it say it is “All Natural” peanut butter and has “No Hydrogenated Oils.”  Generally speaking, I like this peanut butter because it only has 3 ingredients: peanuts, salt, and palm fruit oil (Smooth Operator & Crunchy varieties).  No sugars or sugary substitutes (unless you get their flavored peanut butters), no preservatives, no partially or fully hydrogenated oils, and they make a variety of flavors!  Here’s their website:
Peanut Butter & Co.
I have wanted for years to visit their sandwich shop in NYC…someday, maybe.  They have awesome looking sandwiches! I love that everything is “All Natural,” too, but it begs the question: what is “all natural?”  And, as a follow up, what is Palm Fruit Oil, listed under one of 3 ingredients?  Is it “natural?” 

So, in my typical fashion I launched a mini-quest to get some answers.  As it turns out, the terms “All Natural,” or “Natural” is not FDA regulated.  Anyone can slap that on a label- and charge more for the product than similar, “non-natural” products.  So, for me, that term means that the product should contain no man-made materials, but I can’t rely on the words “Natural” on the label to be necessarily truthful.  Ok, so then what is Palm Fruit Oil?  Is it better for you than hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated (non-natural) oils?

First, Palm Fruit Oil is oil derived from the fruit of the palm, and it is also know simply as, “Palm Oil.”  Palm Oil is related to Palm Kernel Oil and Coconut Oil because they are all made from the Oil Palm.  It is different from “Palm Kernel Oil,” in that the later is derived from the seed of the oil palm, and “Coconut Oil,” which is derived from the kernel of the coconut.  In that sense, it is “natural” by my definition since it is not man-made.  Here is a helpful wikipedia article:
Wiki Palm Oil

Since Palm Oil and Coconut Oil are related, does that mean Palm Oil is as bad for you as Coconut Oil?  Despite a recent NY Times article stating that Coconut Oil is practically “health food,” and imply that it’s really not that bad for you (like those shameless high-fructose corn syrup commercials) I have to disagree.  Yes, it may produce flaky crusts and pastries similar to butter or Crisco, and yes, it may have a delightful coconut-y flavor, and yes, it may be an excellent vegan substitute for butter, but my agreement stops there.  It IS that bad for you- Coconut Oil is 92% saturated fat- similar in content to butter (Wiki Coco Oil)!  It is also a solid at room temperature, with a consistency similar to Crisco.  Palm Kernel Oil is about 86% saturated fat Wiki Palm Kernel Oil, and Palm Oil is 50% saturated fat, 50% unsaturated fats.  So out of the 3, Palm Oil contains the least saturated fats and therefore has the least amount of the bad fats which adversely affect cholesterol levels.  But it’s not perfect, and it isn’t something that should be consumed in large quantities.  And, as for coconut oil and palm kernel oil- I’m gonna treat it just like butter, and consume it very rarely.  Maybe I will make a coconut cake at Easter with Coconut Oil, but I cannot think of it as a “health food.”

So this leads me to my next question: is there a resource that categorizes oils, natural and non-natural, by the types of fats they contain?  And are there recommendations for how much of each type of fat we should eat?  Here’s a pretty good start:
Mayo Clinic “Fats”
I hadn’t even heard of some of those fats, but I have now!  Finally, a chart that breaks down which fats are sources of “good” fats, and which are sources of “bad” fats! 

So, on this Fat Tuesday, perhaps we’ve elucidated the confusing array of fats: healthy fats, not healthy fats, fats for occasional consumption, and fats for daily consumption.  We also know now that not all “natural” fats are good for us, too…and we can be smarter consumers in the future!  Happy Fat Tuesday!!

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