I've had a question or two in the last few days about cooking oils and what to use. I have favourites that are a staple in my house but I'm not very good at editing what might be good for others in the arena of oils. Here are some ideas as to pick the best one(s) that suit your life and style in the kitchen.
First things first, fats are not always bad things. Just as there are bad fats that contribute to heart disease, cancer, and other maladies, there are good fats that fight those things by lowering LDL (bad cholesterol) and raising HDL (good cholesterol), reducing inflammation, and providing cancer-preventive antioxidants. Most kitchen cupboards contain some of each, primarily in bottles of cooking oil. Okay, there more oils in the snacks, baked goods, and cereals hidden behind though cupboard doors, but I will touch on that at the end.
Although knowing this distinction between the good and bad is one thing, deciding which cooking oils to toss and which ones to buy isn't so black and white. What oils are best for sauteing, frying, or baking? Which ones should only be used salad dressings and “cold use”? Here are a few tips in deciding what oils best suit your kitchen needs.
Go for it. These fats are rich in antioxidants like vitamin E and, unlike other fats, can actually help increase HDL levels and decrease LDL levels (which is a good thing), while also reducing inflammation.
Proceed with caution. These come from plants and have been generally seen as a healthy alternative to animal fats. Although they, too, can improve your HDL-to-LDL ratio, they are also high in omega-6s, which need to be balanced with omega-3s and they have a higher potential to react or oxidize more quickly.
Keep to a minimum. Not all saturated fats are created equal, saturated fats like butter and lard may add flavor and work well for cooking, but they can clog your arteries if eaten in larger amounts, boosting the risk of heart disease and stroke not by the excess cholesterol that sticks to the arterial wall but it is when it is oxidized that it becomes plaque. Some studies indicate they may even raise the risk of colon and prostate cancers. Saturated fats are also found in coconut, palm, and palm-kernel oil. These types of saturated fats, in lower amounts, may have more positive effects. Saturated fats do tend to boost both good HDL and bad LDL levels, and are less likely to oxidize. The negative studies may lead towards animal fats and not as much to saturated plant oils. This may not be due to the fats at all but the bacterial endotoxins associated with the ingestion of animal based fats creating an inflammatory response.(1)
Absolutely not. Trans fats are created when hydrogen is added to vegetable oil, changing it from a liquid into a more solid form, such as margarine. Trans fats lower HDL levels and raise LDL; they're considered even worse for heart health than saturated animal fats. Trans fats are easily oxidized and freenform radical chain reactions that can damage cell membranes and body tissues. They can also compromise immune function and promote inflammation.
A good thing. A chemical-free mechanical process that extracts oil from nuts and seeds.
A very good thing. These are oils that are expeller-pressed in a heat-controlled environment to preserve their flavor, aroma, and nutrients.
It all depends. These are oils that have been filtered until they are transparent, making them good for high-heat cooking. Look for naturally refined brands.
A yes vote. These oils contain solids that make them cloudy but give them more flavor. They are not suitable for high-heat cooking.
Healthy salad and cooking oils should be stored in cool, dark places. Look for darker bottles, a good indication of a higher quality oil. Most oils have a limited shelf life. Check your oil's production date, and keep it for no longer than 6 months. If kept too long, oils lose their flavor and can become rancid. The best way to prevent that from happening is to store oils in the refrigerator. Most will solidify, but don't worry. Just leave them at room temperature for a short period and they'll re-liquefy. If you prefer to keep your oils in the pantry, buy them in small quantities so you'll be replacing them more frequently. Keep them somewhere dark and cool.
Steps to take when considering what to use ...
It's been a while since cooks kept a jar for collecting bacon grease atop the stove, to be used for frying everything from chicken to potatoes. Still, there are some oils that have no place in your cupboard or your arteries.
Blended Vegetable Oils
Most commercial vegetable oils are a mixture of unidentified oils that have been extracted with chemicals.
Most oils have a limited shelf life, certainly no more 6 months. Smell your oils. If they don't smell fresh, get rid of them. Rancid oils can cause more harm than good no matter how good they originally started out as.
Usually made with partially hydrogenated oils, shortenings are high in trans fats, which are considered the unhealthiest of all fats.
Chemically Extracted Oils
Although these are not proven to be dangerous, there are more natural methods of extraction, like cold pressing.
Oils High In Polyunsaturates
These include corn oil and soybean oil, among others. Polyunsaturates are not inherently unhealthy, but they do contain high levels of omega-6 fatty acids, which most North Americans already get too much of. Although we need them in our diets, we should be getting fewer omega-6s and more omega-3s.
The best fats are those high in heart-healthy monounsaturates and other important nutrients such as oleic acids and omega-3 fatty acids. But you can't use the healthiest oils for everything. Buying the right healthy oil often depends on its smoke point, the stage at which heated fat begins to emit smoke and acrid, flavor-altering odors. Generally speaking, the higher an oil's smoke point, the better it is for high-heat cooking. Here are the best oils for different purposes.
For Dressings And Drizzling
Extra-virgin olive oil: Olive oil is the healthiest oil you can buy, as it contains the highest monounsaturate content. Extra-virgin is the oil that results from the first cold pressing of the olives. Being the purest olive oil, it's also the most expensive. But because it has a low smoke point, it should be used for lower heat cooking like low heat sautees or baking at no more than 300C.
Virgin olive oil:This is also the result of the first pressing of the olives, but it is more acidic and the flavor is less robust. Always choose cold-pressed. Most mass-produced varieties are extracted with chemical solvents so you have to be extremely careful with the product you buy . Use for cooking foods at low and medium temperatures.
Safflower oil:Choose the high-oleic version of this light, neutral-flavored oil. It's high in monounsaturates and has a high smoke point.
For High-Heat Cooking
Light olive oil:"Light" refers to the oil's colour and taste, not its calorie content. It has the same amount of beneficial monounsaturated fat as regular olive oil has. Because of an extremely fine filtration process, it has little of the olive oil taste and fragrance and a higher smoke point, making it a good choice for baking and high-heat cooking. It's usually a combination of refined virgin olive oils.
Sesame oil: Although this oil is high in polyunsaturates, its strong flavor means a little goes a long way. For Asian cooking, it's a must. Choose dark for seasoning and light for frying.
Avocado oil: This light-tasting oil is not only high in monounsaturated fats, but can also withstand high-heat cooking. A great multi purpose oil.
Grapeseed oil: Although grapeseed oil is high in mono- and polyunsaturates, it has a high smoke point and is often used as a substitute for olive oil.
Sunflower oil: This mild-flavored oil is high in vitamin E. As with safflower oil, look for the high-oleic version, since it is 80 percent monounsaturated and has a high smoke point.
I do suggest to keep 'high heat' cooking to a bear minimum and move away from over cooking and over processing our foods. If you are cooking in this fashion make sure to disguard the excess oil shortly after the meal preparation.
hazelnut and walnut oil are all high in polyunsaturates, they have a beneficial additive: They naturally contain omega 3s and certain vitamins and minerals.
Fats to completely avoid
Unhealthy fats also lurk in crackers, gravy mixes, cake and pancake mixes, and other packaged foods. These foods usually contain other unhealthy ingredients like artificial colors, refined sugars, MSG, and excess sodium.
Read the labels:
Toss Anything That Contains The Following
Partially hydrogenated oil:A source of trans fats, the unhealthiest of all. Most trans fats in the North American diet are found in commercially prepared baked goods, margarine, snack foods, and processed foods.
Conventionally processed oil: Many prepared foods contain vegetable, corn, peanut, or soybean oil. Conventional extraction of these oils often involves the petrochemical hexane, which is also used as a cleaning agent and as a solvent. Instead, choose products made with cold-pressed, expeller-pressed, or naturally pressed oils.
My choice for versatility and durability would be to have organic extra-virgin olive oil, organic coconut butter, organic avocado oil, and high quality organic grapeseed oil. I also love the nut and seed oils you can get in small organic batches to create dressings with, yum.
Fish oils are another topic all together, and those of you who supplement, may not like my findings. I'll try and have these put together in short order for you to review and make an informed decision.
I wanted to include a chart of cooking oils and there smoking points for your reference. All oils should be purchased organic, non-GMO for the best health contributions.
Eat whole and live healthy,
- Clett Erridge (2011). The capacity of foodstuffs to induce innate immune activation of human monocytes in vitro is dependent on food content of stimulants of Toll-like receptors 2 and 4. British Journal of Nutrition, 105, pp 15-23. doi:10.1017/S0007114510003004.
- Food Science Technologies;Sensory evaluation and nutritional value of cakes prepared with whole flaxseed flour vol.30 no.4Campinas Oct./Dec. 2010
- Food and Nutrition Sciences, 2011, 2, 281-286,Heat Treatment and Thirty-Day Storage Period Do Not Affect the Stability of Omega-3 Fatty Acid in Brown Flaxseed (Linum Usitatissimum) Whole Flour
Cassiano O. da Silva1, Paulo R. Cecon2, Hércia S. Duarte Martino, Sônia M. Rocha Ribeiro1*