With the recent cooking oil price hike, many of us would probably have to rethink our selection of cooking oils. Although oil isn't always a lead ingredient in anything we eat (the quantity of oil used is another matter altogether!), considering the types and amounts of oil we use in the meals we consume everyday sure is a serious topic. Worldwide, cooking oil consumption is massive and so is the impact on our health.
Chronic inflammation, heart disease, poor skin health, reduced immunity and cancer have all been linked to oil consumption. There’s logic to this as one of the major components of our cell membranes are fatty acids and what we feed them will be reflected in our health. There’s truth in the saying, “you are what you eat”.
As part of my work as a Naturopath, I’ve had the chance to visit oil-making companies and understand the industry. I’ve also met many people along the way who are particular about their everyday oil choices. It’s no coincidence that they often have great skin, look younger and have better joint and heart health.
To join them, all you really need to know about oil is how to choose them and how to use them.
Choose UNREFINED Oils
See my previous article, 3 things you need to know about vegetable oils, which goes into detail on the oil refining process and its impact on our health.
When we consume an oil, apart from the good fatty acids that we need as building blocks for our cells, we also get phytonutrients, phenolic compounds, minerals and enzymes which are all highly beneficial. A cold pressed, non-chemical, unrefined process will preserve the best bits.
Anything that is described as refined, RBD (refined, bleached, deodorised), “pure” or not stated will be highly processed and should be avoided.
Use oils according to their highest SMOKE POINTS
Ever left oil in a pan over a high heat, only to turn around and find it billowing with smoke? That’s because every oil or fat has a smoke point – a temperature whereby it stops shimmering and starts sending out some serious smoke signals. When the oil has reached the highest temperature it can tolerate, the fat starts to break down releasing free radicals and harmful, toxic substances. This is when you are headed to the danger zone.
Most of the mass-produced, refined oils are processed to eliminate extraneous compounds, thus increasing their smoke point and shelf life along with a raft of carcinogenic chemicals.
The chart below shows the smoke points and uses of all the common cooking oils.
So, how to choose and use? You need to cover 3 bases:
TYPE 1: A good all-rounder with a high smoke point
EXPERT’S CHOICE: COCONUT OIL
For cooking it is the most stable at high temperatures and for general health it is rich in lauric acid and proven to have antimicrobial, antifungal and antibacterial properties. A study published in the journal Lipids claimed that consuming an ounce of coconut oil daily could trigger weight loss. Significantly, it seems to be good at removing abdominal or “visceral” fat – the type that clings to our internal organs, contributing to high blood pressure, Type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
TYPE 2: A middle of the road player for baking, quick stir-fries and sautéing
EXPERT’S CHOICES: BUTTER, AVOCADO, OLIVE AND SUNFLOWER OIL
- BUTTER, particularly the organic, grass-fed kind, tastes delicious and is a great source of fat-soluble vitamins, healthy saturated fat and other nutrients. It is rich in the fatty acids Conjugated Linoleic Acid (CLA), which may reduce body fat, and Butyrate, which can fight inflammation and improve gut health. Tests have shown rats to become completely resistant to obesity. Butter contains mainly saturated fat, so it is great for baking, sauteing and stir frying.
- AVOCADOS AND AVOCADO OIL are good sources of monounsaturated fats and are great on salads or in guacamole. Avocado oil is milky, making it great for salad dressings. As it’s stable in high heats you can also cook with it. The only downside is the price – it can be more expensive than other choices.
- OLIVE OIL, a staple in Mediterranean diets, is one of the world’s healthiest oils. It’s high in monounsaturated fats and low in polyunsaturated fats and contains lots of the phytonutrients that are beneficial for heart health. It’s great for salad dressings, cold recipes or low-heat cooking. High-heat cooking is best avoided as it will destroy some of the vital nutrients.
TYPE 3: To balance Omega 3 against Omega 6
Due to the amount of vegetable oil in our modern diets, the ratio of omega 3 to omega 6 has got dangerously out of whack. This causes excess Omega-6 fatty acids to build up in our cell membranes thus contributing to inflammation.
In order to counter this issue, it’s a good idea to supplement your diet with oil that is high in Omega-3. This will not only protect your brain and your cells, it is also anti-inflammatory and great for your heart.
EXPERT’S CHOICES: FISH OIL & FLAXSEED OIL
- FISH OIL is rich in the animal forms of the Omega-3 fatty acids DHA and EPA. A tablespoon of fish oil can satisfy your daily need for these. It will also help to improve the balance of Omega-3 to Omega-6 in the body.
It should never be used for cooking however, due to its high concentration of polyunsaturated fats. It’s best used as a supplement; one tablespoon per day. Keep in a cool, dry and dark place.
- FLAXSEED OIL contains an abundance of the plant form of Omega-3, Alpha Linolenic Acid (ALA). Many people use this oil to supplement Omega-3 fats, however, unless you’re vegan then I recommend fish oil as a much better source. Evidence shows that the human body doesn’t efficiently convert ALA to the active forms, EPA and DHA, of which fish oil has plenty. Due to the high levels of polyunsaturated fats, flaxseed oil should NOT be used for cooking.
AND FINALLY… the ones to avoid
It’s important to note that not all plant oils are bad but the ones you should avoid due to their high Omega-6 content and the high probability of genetic modification are as follows:
- Soybean oil – genetically modified
- Corn oil – genetically modified
- Canola oil – derived from rapeseed and highly processed
- Safflower oil
- Cottonseed oil
- Peanut oil
- Also avoid all margarines and fake butters.