Monounsaturated fatty acids, or MUFA's for short, sound like they belong in a chemistry class, not on a blog about art and food. Yet it makes perfect sense to include consideration of fats in any discussion of food, and it makes even more sense to include MUFA's in the discussion of beautiful food.
For quite some time now, we have been aware of the dangers to our hearts of saturated fats. These are the kind of fats that come primarily from animal sources. (Think bacon, butter, lard, and cream) They are generally solid at room temperature. The problem with including too much of them in the diet is that they contribute to health issues such as high cholesterol, diabetes, heart disease, risk of stroke, and hypertension.
MUFA's on the other hand, while still fats and still high in calories, show evidence of having a beneficial effect on health provided we don't overindulge and remember that we shouldn't have more than about 20-35 percent of our daily calories from ANY kind of fat.
Here's what the Mayo Clinic has recently said about these friendly fats:
"Consuming monounsaturated fatty acids may help lower your risk of heart disease by improving associated risk factors. For instance, MUFAs may lower your total blood cholesterol and low-density lipoprotein cholesterol levels. MUFAs may also help normalize blood clotting. And some research shows that MUFAs may also benefit insulin levels and blood sugar control, which can be especially helpful if you have type 2 diabetes."
And here's why they have a place in any discussion of beautiful food: Not only do they help do good things for our health and energy when added to the diet in place of saturated fats or trans-fats, they're beautiful to look at, to cook with, to taste, to crunch, and they improve the "satisfaction" quality of even the most calorie-conscious meal. That's because they are found in:
- Canola oil
- Nuts (Almonds, cashews, pecans, macadamias)
- Nut butters
- Olive oil
- Peanut oil
- Sesame seeds
- Dark chocolate
Chop up 4 pecan halves and sprinkle on top of a salad instead of cheese or crumbled bacon.
Dress up a grilled filet of chicken or white fish (snapper, cod, halibut, tilapia, etc.) with a spoonful of olive tapenade during the last minute or so of grilling.
Experiment with different dark chocolates and find one that you really enjoy. When a sweet tooth attack strikes, have an ounce and really enjoy it.
Stir fry using only MUFA oils like canola or peanut. They're stable at high heat, and you can add a tablespoon of sesame oil to the pan. Then sprinkle sesame seeds on top before serving.
Substitute olive oil for butter when making a sautee. Keep a few different kinds of oils on hand and get to know their flavors.
Cut an avocado into chunks and add a couple of tablespoons to a fruit smoothie or mix them into a fruit salad. They add beautiful color to a salad and velvety "mouth-feel" to smoothies.
Dip fresh, washed, and dried strawberries into melted dark chocolate and let cool. Great dessert!
And, lastly, a tip from my friend Gary, who suggests making guacamole (good use of avocados) with part mashed peas, to raise the amount of fiber and reduce the calorie count!
So, before plopping that spoonful of butter into a hot saute pan, think about how MUFA's beautify us froom the inside out, and reach for the olive oil instead! (Or the peanut, or the canola....)