Which Cooking Oil Should You Be Using?

 In Nutrition

With so many different types of oils available, it’s confusing to know which cooking oil is the “healthiest.” I understand your confusion, and you aren’t the only one baffled. I’ll be addressing some common questions surrounding cooking oils. 

Why do fats matter? Is saturated fat a killer or totally harmless? Does the difference between polyunsaturated fat and monounsaturated fat matter? Are we getting the right ratio of omega-3 fatty acids to omega-6 fatty acids? If we heat our olive oil to a high temperature, is it going to poison us with toxic compounds?

Many of us default to olive oil, even for frying or high heat cooking but that isn’t its intended use. When olive oil gets too hot, it actually degrades its health benefits. Many researchers recommend using olive oil to finish a dish, not prepare it.

In this article, I want to discuss the differences between common cooking oils and make it easier for you to pick the one right for your next recipe.   

Let’s start with the basics: All cooking oils are composed of three different types of fatty acids: monounsaturated fats, polyunsaturated fats and saturated fats. Each oil is categorized based on which type of fatty acid is the most prominent in it. For example, olive and canola oils are considered mostly monounsaturated fat, while corn and soybean oils contain mainly polyunsaturated fat. Coconut oil is predominantly saturated fat.

Some oils can withstand much higher temperatures than others. We want to choose oils that have a high smoke point, and we also want oils that are stable and don’t react with oxygen when heated. When you oxidize oils with lower smoke points, they lose the majority of their nutrients and often turn bitter.

Coconut Oil
When it comes to high heat cooking, coconut oil is one of the best choices. About 90% of the fatty acids in it are saturated, which makes it very resistant to heat. This oil is semi-solid at room temperature and it can last for months and years without going rancid. Coconut oil also has powerful health benefits. One in particular is its rich in a fatty acid called lauric acid, which can improve cholesterol and help kill bacteria and other pathogens. The fats in coconut oil can also boost metabolism slightly and increase feelings of fullness compared to other fats. It is the only cooking oil that made it to my list of superfoods.

Avocado Oil
Along with coconut oil, avocado oil is one of the best possible oils to have your kitchen for cooking with. In scientific studies avocado oil has been shown to help prevent stroke and heart attack in diabetic patients by lowering the concentration of bad (LDL) cholesterol and improving overall blood lipids. The refined oil has a very high smoke point, listed as 520 Fahrenheit. This makes it a great choice for stir-frys and other high-temperature such as baking or frying and can even be used as a salad dressing.

Olive Oil
Olive oil has caught a bad rep for oxidizing while cooking but I will say there are oils that are far worse to use for cooking. As long as you are using aren’t using an extreme temperature (looking to cook on a medium heat or lower) or cooking times are not absurd, the amount of oxidation produced will be small. Olive oil’s smoke point, by comparison, can vary greatly depending on the grade of the olive oil and its processing. Low quality ‘light’ olive oil is generally cited at a highest smoke point of around 430 Fahrenheit, which may be ok for medium frying. However, extra virgin olive oil, the type we’re told is the healthiest and best to get, can have a smoke point as low as 220 Fahrenheit, which is definitely not suitable for high temperature cooking or pretty much any kind of frying. So in short, extra virgin olive oil would be best suited for a dressing as opposed to a cooking oil.

Canola Oil (Rapeseed)
I’m not a huge fan of canola oil being used as a cooking oil due to the way it’s processed and over 90 percent of the crops are genetically modified. Most canola is chemically extracted using a solvent called hexane, and heat is often applied which can affect the stability of the oil’s molecules, turn it rancid, destroy the omega-3s in it, and can even create trans fats. Although there have been no long-term, viable studies done on GMO canola oil so this is more of a personal preference. I would advise finding “cold-pressed” canola oil but is very expensive and is also hard to find. Despite these facts, it does have a decent smoke point of 400 degrees.

Butter (Not Margarine)
I wouldn’t recommend using butter for any high heat cooking since it contains trace amounts of carbs that can burn when heated. Clarified butter and ghee are much better options to cook with. Butter contains Vitamins A, E and K2. It is also rich in the fatty acids Conjugated Linoleic Acid (CLA) and Butyrate, both of which have powerful health benefits. Typically butter’s smoke point is 350 degrees F but this will vary depending on brands.

 

Remember that there aren’t bad oils, but there are incorrect uses for particular oils. They can be an excellent way to hit your macro and micronutrient goals, while adding richness and flavor to your meals. Consider this information the next time you go to sauté/fry/bake up your dinner!

 

References

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2005/06/050617065306.htm

(Smoke points of cooking fats)

https://beta.theglobeandmail.com/life/health-and-fitness/health/smoke-point-matters-in-cooking-with-oil/article26569060/?ref=http://www.theglobeandmail.com&

https://www.huffingtonpost.com/margie-kelly/genetically-modified-food_b_2039455.html

Avocado Stroke & Heart Attack

https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/310996.php

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