I saw an advertisement for something called canola oil, claiming it's lowest in saturated fat. What is this oil and, should I use it?

ANSWER - Canola oil is produced from seeds of a specially bred variety of rapeseed, a member of the Brassica family of vegetables. Chemically, it differs from other popular oils in that it contains mainly mono-unsaturated rather than poly-unsaturated fatty acids. As the advertising copy you read no doubt pointed out, it has less saturated fat (the type that drives blood cholesterol upward) than other oils.While that is true, just how different oils are depends on how the data are presented. We think it makes good sense to look at them in terms of household portions. And regardless of which oil you choose, a tablespoon provides about 131/2 grams of fat. Comparing the amount of that total which is saturated, we find that a tablespoon of canola oil contains about a half a gram less than safflower oil and a gram less than the same amount of soybean oil.

These differences are really nothing to write home about. So if you use oil sparingly, as you should, it seems reasonable to let taste preference be your guide.

The name "canola," incidentally, was chosen in 1978 by the Canadian seed-oil industry to describe the new variation on a very old product. The plant from which oil is derived is a relative of one used in ancient Asia for lamp oil and in 13th-century Europe to feed cattle.

QUESTION - Are low-fat and skim milk recommended for babies? If not, why not?

QUESTION - There are several reasons why reduced or fat-free milks aren't recommended for infants. Skim milk, in particular, is simply calorically too dilute. More than a decade ago, Dr. Samuel Fomon and his colleagues at the University of Iowa demonstrated that when a group of male infants were fed as much skim milk as they wanted, they consumed a considerably greater volume than infants fed standard formula. However, they still consumed fewer calories. The result was that they grew at a slower-than-normal rate and had far smaller fat stores than would be expected. In fact, fat stores were 25 percent below normal.

Information about what happens when older infants are fed skim milk is more limited. What data do exist indicate that their intake of linoleic acid, the essential fatty acid, may be below recommended levels. Also, the percentage of calories that come from protein may be quite high, causing unnecessary wear and tear on the kidneys.

Unfortunately, studies comparing the growth of infants fed 2-percent milk with those fed whole milk suffered from flaws in design. In another study, infants fed 2-percent milk did manage to consume as many calories as those given whole milk or formula, but to do so they too had to imbibe a considerably larger volume. The result is that they took in more protein, as well as more of several minerals, again putting an extra burden on their kidneys.

And at younger ages, their fat stores were lower than those fed milk of normal fat content. Indeed, the bulk of the evidence suggests that as infants grow a bit older, they are increasingly able to compensate for the diminished energy content of reduced and fat-free milk by taking in a greater volume of the milk as well as more solid foods.

But the point is: Why challenge them to do so? For the first year of life, breast milk or fortified formula are the preferred choices.

QUESTION - I can't find ground lamb in my local market and would like to grind my own. What part of the lamb is best for grinding?

ANSWER - Since it is to be ground, cost and not tenderness is usually the first consideration. Where it is available, ground lamb is generally made from meat in the shoulder area and other trim. Shank meat, stripped of tough sinews, can also be used. Some Middle Eastern markets also grind lamb leg for raw kibbe. Cost notwithstanding, because of the potential dangers of foodborne illness, we strongly caution against eating uncooked meats of any type.

Lamb, especially the cuts you'll be using, is high in saturated fat. We suggest you trim the meat carefully before grinding, and adapt the recipe so that you can drain off as much fat as possible during cooking. For example, in making baked kibbe, a ground lamb and bulgar wheat dish with pine nuts, we use a bulb baster to drain the excess fat as it renders while cooking. And after grilling ground lamb patties with yogurt and mint topping, we drain them on paper towels to eliminate as much of the extra fat as possible.

1990, Washington Post Writers Group