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updated: 9/26/2012 3:33 PM

Lean and lovin' it: Olive a more healthful option for all kinds of cooking

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  • Olive oil keeps corn bread moist without adding saturated fat.

    Olive oil keeps corn bread moist without adding saturated fat.
    Deborah Pankey/Daily Herald


Some folk's believe that when it comes to oil or vegetable shortening, the Lean Wizard never uses use it; otherwise how could he stay lean?

If you searched my pantry there's one product you won't find: vegetable shortening. Sure, the most popular vegetable shortening in the blue can says that its shortening is trans fat free; but a fast read of the ingredient list tells a different story.

The first ingredient, soybean oil, has no trans fat. So far so good.

Second ingredient: fully hydrogenated palm oil. Not so good. Or is it?

According to the Mayo Clinic: "It sounds counterintuitive, but "fully" or "completely" hydrogenated oil doesn't contain trans fat." Really?


Full hydrogenation doesn't give this ingredient a complete pass, though, since half of palm oil is saturated fat. But still, zero trans fat so far.

Third ingredient: partially hydrogenated palm and soybean oils. Here's the "uh-oh" moment. Trans fats are created when oil -- any oil -- is partially hydrogenated. So, how do those blue can folks get away with stating: "0 g of trans fats per serving"?

That's easy; USDA labeling rules clearly state that if a product contains less than 0.5 trans fat grams per serving (that's 0.49 grams or less) the label can round down and state zero tans fat.

So is there trans fat in this product and others like it? You betcha.

What can you do?

Leave the shortening in the can and use olive oil or butter or margarine (where the words "partially hydrogenated" never appear).

Olive oil has become my go-to cooking oil for almost everything, including popping pop corn. Here's another unexpected use for olive oil: cornbread.

Cornbread can be made with vegetable shortening, butter or margarine or the South's first choice: bacon fat.

Thanks to its natural buttery notes, my cornbread tastes sensational and contains no cholesterol from butter and no trans fats from other sources.

Olive oil has truly become a star in my kitchen. Authentic extra-virgin olive oil delivers wonderful flavor notes to every food with which it comes in contact. It can even stand alone as a dip for bread, where flavor nuances, such as fruity or sharp and peppery can really shine. Ever consider dipping bread in canola or soybean oil or vegetable shortening? Yeah, I didn't think so.

No one makes a point of telling you the specific geographic origin of canola or soybean oil while most olive oil makers tout Spain, Italy, California and even Australia on their labels. Plus, you can count on pure olive oil not being pressed from genetically modified olives, while virtually all canola and soybean oils come from genetically engineered crops.

Olive oil also has less saturated fat than soybean oil and more monounsaturated fat than canola oil.

The choice is simple: for healthier eating steer clear of vegetable shortening or any shortening that includes hydrogenated fat (trans fat) in its ingredients and use olive oil instead.

Try this recipe: The first time I made this cornbread with olive oil instead of butter I was truly impressed by how good it tasted, and surprised by its buttery flavor.

• Don Mauer welcomes questions, comments and recipe makeover requests. Write him at

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