My husband and I used to eat out all the time. It was one of the things we loved to do together. Then we moved to France and everything changed. I learned how to cook from scratch and he came home from catered events or work dinners feeling bloated and achy. We found that we never digested well after eating in restaurants. We felt better just eating at home. What was going on?
Duck Fat vs. Canola Oil
Working with chefs in France on recipes for my book, The Bordeaux Kitchen, I discovered that traditional French cooking used mostly what I call the “farm fats” (butter, olive oil, lard, tallow, duck fat), while many restaurants today, even in France, use unflavored, low-cost vegetable seed oils. In fact, these oils pop up in most processed foods, if you look at the labels. Shelf life and profit margins are at stake when it comes to selling a packaged food product, and, sadly, when running a restaurant.
My family felt better and more satisfied after meals prepared with duck fat or pure olive oil. Essentially, we were experiencing the difference between what it feels like to eat whole, real foods vs. processed foods containing industrial seed oils. It was so hard for me to abandon my organic canola oil, but once I did, my family and I digested and felt much better.
Secretive Seed Oils
What the industry won’t tell you, and only some doctors who are paying attention to this will, is that industrially refined (heated, deodorized, treated with solvents) seed oils, known as PUFAs (polyunsaturated fatty acids) are toxic in excess, and are cause for inflammation in the body.
Let’s face it, our bodies did not evolve with factory-processed oils for fuel. Before the late 1800s, when Napoleon III sought a low-cost, stable butter substitute (later called margarine) for his army and the lower classes of French society, there was no such thing as factory-made oil.
As Dr. Cate Shanahan, physician and author of the books The Fatburn Fix and Deep Nutrition, says, “Nature does not make bad fats, factories do.” These denatured seed oils accumulate in our bodies, and cause oxidation and inflammation that may actually contribute to chronic disease. These include safflower, cottonseed, sunflower, rapeseed (canola), soy, corn, and anything that says “vegetable” oil.
According to Dr. Shanahan, these also include what are most commonly used in restaurants in the US: rice bran and grapeseed oil. For these oils, the labels “expeller-pressed,” “organic,” and “heart healthy” are misleading for the health-conscious consumer. And with these vegetable oils representing up to 80% of fat calories and between 20% to 50% of total calorie intake in the typical American diet, the calories derived from whole, natural plant and animal foods have been displaced.
So Which Oils Do I Use?
Oils and fats that your great grandmother might have been able to “process” mechanically, such as pressing olive oil, churning butter, or rendering fat from ducks, pigs, and cows, are what I call the “farm fats.” These fats are nutrient dense, natural, and digestible. Make sure your olive oil is 100% pure olive oil, as many are “tainted” with vegetable seed oils. Splurge on a good Californian or imported organic brand. Mixing olive oil and butter when cooking will keep the butter from burning. Or use what is “too expensive” now for even most French restaurants: clarified butter (also known as “ghee” in the Indian tradition), but make it organic or better yet, from a grass-fed source.
Nutritious Alternative Oils
Paleo, Keto, and Vegan types alike also use virgin unrefined coconut, avocado, and macadamia nut oils. These are produced without solvents and are great for cooking because they have high enough smoke points for frying, and they are nutritious. Each has its unique flavor, much like olive oil does. There are even several brands that use these alternative oils to produce potato chips and mayonnaise. On the other hand, oils like walnut and sesame seed are nutritious, but have lower smoke points, and are better used as condiments, such as in salads.
But what’s the traditional fat used in cooking and baking back in the day? Lard! It can withstand high temperatures and is tasteless. And contrary to conventional belief, lard is not going to kill you, but that is a story for another day. Animal fats like lard, tallow and duck fat are mostly made up of saturated molecules, which means they do not oxidize. They satiate and are among the most nutrient dense foods we can eat. Our bodies know how to process animal fats, unlike the industrial seed oils.
Give It a Try
Experiment with cutting out industrial vegetable seed oils and processed foods containing industrial seed oils and see how you feel after two weeks or a month. You might find you feel better and have more energy. And who doesn’t want that?!
Tania Teschke is a writer and photographer who is passionate about French food and wine and is the author of The Bordeaux Kitchen,: An Immersion into French Food and Wine, Inspired by Ancestral Traditions. Tania has learned from cooks, butchers, chefs, and winemakers in France and holds a diploma in wine science and tasting from the University of Bordeaux. Tania continues to explore the deep connection the French have to their land, their cultural heritage, and to the nutritional density of their foods.