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Cooking Oils


There are many cooking oils available to use therefore it is important to understand the different types of fats (both good and bad) that make up these oils. By knowing which fats provide health benefits and which fats are harmful to our diet, our educated choice in cooking oils will be easier to make.

Unhealthy fats

Saturated fats: The less we have of these fats, the better. Less than 7% of your daily fat calories should come from saturated fats. To cut back on saturated fats, limit or eliminate: Butter, whole milk, yogurt, cheese, Lard, definitely no bacon, red meat, the skin of poultry, coconut oil and palm kernel oils

Trans fats: Eliminate trans fats from your diet by staying away from foods that contain partially hydrogenated oils. Many packaged or processed foods contain these oils, so make it a habit to read the ingredient list before buying.

Healthy fats

Monounsaturated fats: Get the benefits of these fats from olives, avocados and nuts. Use extra virgin olive oil as often as possible. For higher heat cooking or baking, consider almond, peanut oil or avocado oil for good ways to get monounsaturated fats.

Polyunsaturated fats (omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids): Focus on eating more foods packed with omega-3s. Choose oily fish (salmon, herring, sardines) and walnuts, chia seeds and flaxseeds. In some cultures the diet tends to be omega-6 heavy. A diet too high with omega-6 fatty acids can increase inflammation, bringing a higher risk of many chronic diseases. The proper ratio for omega-3:omega-6 is 1:4.

Olive oil

Nutrition and cooking experts agree that one of the most versatile and healthy oils to cook with and eat is olive oil, as long as it’s extra virgin. An “extra virgin” label should mean that the olive oil is not refined or over processed and therefore of high quality. Extra virgin olive oil contains a large amount of monounsaturated fats and some polyunsaturated fatty acids. Olive oil has a relatively lower smoke point compared to other oils, so it’s best for very low or no heat cooking. It is one of the healthiest oils to use when baking and making salad dressing . Keep in mind that sometimes olive oil that is labeled “extra virgin” is not what it claims to be. Olive oil has been proven to lower LDL (bad cholesterol) and raise HDL (good cholesterol) levels when used to replace saturated fat such as butter. It also contains beta carotene, vitamins A, E, D and K plus many more healthful nutrients. Research shows these nutrients have beneficial effects on almost every bodily function.

Extra-virgin olive oil has the lowest oxidation rate of cooking oils. Oxidation promotes free radicals, chemicals that are highly reactive and can damage cells. Some of this damage may lead to cancer and other types of diseases. It is also an excellent source of antioxidants, which also protect cells from damage and oxidation. Extra-virgin olive oil also has properties that are excellent for skin care.

Coconut oil

Depending on who you ask, coconut oil should either be avoided or embraced in moderation. The main point of conflict is its high saturated fat content; unlike other plant-based oils, coconut oil is primarily a saturated fat. Not everyone agrees that such a concentrated source of saturated fat is bad for health, but some experts argue that replacing foods that are high in saturated fat with healthier choices can lower blood cholesterol levels and improve lipid profiles. Still, science is starting to suggest that not all saturated fats are bad for you. I am not against coconut oil and our bodies do need some saturated fat but the industry has done a great job to make it seem like it is a superfood. I am not saying that we should stop using coconut oil altogether because it is a good choice for a healthier oil to use when cooking at a very high temperature or frying food. I must say however that frying should be done in moderation.

Avocado oil

Avocado oil is a great choice. It is unrefined like extra virgin olive oil, but it has a higher smoking point, which means it can be used to cook at higher heat and is great for stir-frys. It does not have much flavor, which makes it a good option for cooking. Avocado oil contains both monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids. This oil has one of the highest monounsaturated fat contents among cooking oils as well as vitamin E. The downside is that it tends to be more expensive.

Peanut oil

Peanut oil is high in heart-healthy monounsaturated fat. Research shows that a diet rich in peanut oil can help lower your LDL, or “bad,” cholesterol levels. Lowering your LDL reduces your risk of developing heart disease or having a stroke. In addition to providing heart-healthy fat, peanut oil contains phytosterols. These plant compounds block the absorption of cholesterol from food, reducing the amount of cholesterol that ends up in your blood. Both unrefined and refined peanut oils contain more phytosterols than extra-virgin olive oil. Vitamin E is a nutrient that we all need more of and peanut oil is an excellent source of it. Vitamin E acts as an antioxidant within the body and also helps maintain our immune system and metabolism. Most people with a peanut allergy can safely eat highly refined peanut oil, according to Food Allergy Research & Education. Gourmet peanut oil (cold-pressed, expelled, or extruded peanut oil) should still be avoided. Peanut oil has a high smoke point of 450˚F.

Vegetable oil

The term “vegetable oil” is used to refer to any oil that comes from plant sources. Most vegetable oils on the market are a blend of canola, corn, soybean, safflower, palm and sunflower oils. Most vegetable oils on the market are refined and processed, which means they lack flavor as well as nutrients. It is called ‘vegetable’ so that the manufacturers can substitute whatever basic oil they want like soy, corn, cottonseed or canola, without having to print a new label. The processed oils have been pushed past their heat tolerance and have become rancid in the processing. Some of these oils, especially palm, are associated with massive deterioration of land for production. I think that using olive oil whenever you can instead of corn or soybean oil is much.

Canola oil

Canola oil is derived from rapeseed, a flowering plant, and contains a good amount of monounsaturated fats and a decent amount of polyunsaturated fats. The canola plant is a member of the Brassica family, which includes broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower. It is a domesticated rapeseed-oil plant that has been bred to improve its taste and nutritional content. It is bright and yellow-flowering in the field and is grown primarily in Western Canada. Canola gets its name from “Canadian” and “ola,” which means oil. Of all vegetable oils, canola oil tends to have the least amount of saturated fats. It has a high smoke point, which means it can be helpful for high-heat cooking. However, in the United States, canola oil tends to be highly processed, which means fewer nutrients overall. Rapeseed oil is one of the oldest known vegetable oils, but historically was used in limited quantities due to high levels of erucic acid, which is damaging to cardiac muscles of animals.

Sunflower oil

Organic sunflower oil leads the list of oils that have lower amounts of saturated fats (about 11%) and a greater amount of “good’ fats”. It has one of the greatest quantities of polyunsaturated fat, nearly 69%. Furthermore, monounsaturated fat content in sunflower oil exceeds 20%. All of this makes sunflower oil an overall healthy option for the health of your heart, as compared to every other cooking oil out there. Unsaturated fats are easily metabolized by your liver and can therefore keep your cholesterol levels low. These fats are good for your heart and maintain a healthy balance in your body.It is an all-purpose oil capable of withstanding high cooking temperatures due to its high smoke point. However, studies show that a high smoke point does not correspond with an oil’s stability under heat. One study found that sunflower oil released the highest amount of aldehydes into cooking fumes, compared with other plant-based oils in three types of frying techniques. Aldehydes are toxic compounds that can damage DNA and cells and thus contribute to conditions like heart disease and Alzheimer’s. The longer that sunflower oil is exposed to heat, the more aldehydes it emits. Therefore, gentle, low heat cooking methods such as stir-frying may be a safer use of sunflower oil.

Getting the most benefit

Sauté instead of fry

Pan-frying uses a substantial amount of oil and higher heat for longer periods. Deep fat frying also uses a lot of oil at high heats but can be done for shorter periods. But frying foods in oil, or any kind of fat, promotes free radicals. Sautéing can cook small pieces of food in small amounts of oil for less time. Planning meals with foods that don’t need frying is certainly a better option when baking, grilling or quickly sautéing your food. This reduces the amount of fat you consume. An important point to always remember is that all oils that are safe to use at very high heat should be consumed in the least amount possible.

Use fresh oils

When you buy oil and store it for long periods, it eventually oxidizes and develops free radicals.It is better to buy oil in small amounts, keeping it fresh all the time. Store it in a cool, dark and dry place and be sure to replace any that smell rancid or off. Check the “best used” date because oils should be used within 30-60 days after opening.

Grapeseed and walnut oils are an exception: Store them in the refrigerator so they don’t become rancid. The cloudiness in refrigerated oils will clear once they return to room temperature.

Know the smoke point

Because of their chemical makeup, different oils have different smoke points. Some oils are better suited for cooking at higher temperatures. Generally, the more refined the oil, the higher the smoke point. Smoke point relates only to fresh oil; oil that is used for cooking and then strained and reused loses its integrity.

Oils with a high smoke point are best for searing, browning and deep frying which clearly we should avoid.

Oils which are essentially fats are a necessary part of your diet. People use oils almost daily for cooking and for drizzling over salads. While some oils, such as hydrogenated vegetable oil, can contribute to cancer, heart disease and stroke, according to the American Heart Association, others, such as olive and coconut oils can be helpful in reducing risks of heart disease and diabetes. Natural oils such as coconut, olive, flaxseed, walnut, avocado and hemp seed have built-in anti-inflammatory properties that we can all benefit from.

When shopping for oils, we should try to select oils that have been derived from nuts or seeds, without the use of any chemicals, and incorporate these healthy oils into our diet to enhance the flavor of food while promoting health.

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