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Ask the doctor: Which are the healthiest fats for baking?

Q. I avoid shortening because of its high trans-fat content; but is it really worse than butter or lard for baking?

A. All three of these fats are unhealthy. Each contains high amounts of saturated fat or trans fatty acids (trans fat), which have adverse effects on blood cholesterol. Both saturated fat and trans fat raise LDL or “bad” cholesterol, but trans fat also lowers HDL or “good cholesterol.” Because of this, the unhealthiest fat is trans fat.

Shortening is highest of the three in trans fat and butter is highest in saturated fat. Lard falls in between for saturated fat, and has the lowest trans fat content of the three. But all three fats should be used sparingly. Nutrition experts recommend we get no more than 10% of daily calories from saturated fat and avoid trans fats as much as possible.

Fortunately, these three fats aren’t your only options. Several trans fat-free shortenings and oils are available. Choose products that don’t contain the words “partially hydrogenated” or “hydrogenated” on the label. Canola, olive, and soybean oils are healthier unsaturated alternatives. You can also bake with spreads such as Smart Balance that contain plant sterols and stanols, which have been shown to lower total and LDL cholesterol. Or, you might try baking sweets that don’t contain any fat, such as biscotti or meringues.

— Celeste Robb-Nicholson, M.D.
Editor in Chief, Harvard Women’s Health Watch

Posted by: Dr.Health

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