A guide to healthy cooking oils – how to choose and what to use
-Apr 20, Caroline Blight, Health -
There is so much conflicting news about the type of oils we cook with. For years we were told to opt for low-fat. But now everyone is singing the praises of coconut oil, seeds oils plus a number of others. And, butter is back. We take a look at which are the healthiest, most nutritious options.
After years of being encouraged to follow low-fat diets, there’s new thinking that we should in fact be embracing the oily stuff.
There are a huge number of oils on the supermarket shelves but it’s becoming increasingly difficult to know how they can be used and which are best for our health.
“Your body needs oils to nourish your heart, brain, nerves, hormones and every cell,” explains Rochelle Hubbard, Nutrition Health Coach and founder of Eat Smile Live. “The thing that must always be remembered is that fats should be natural, unadulterated, and part of a healthy, balanced diet.
“The good ones are incredibly good for our health, and help maintain a balanced healthy weight.
“And the right fats actually speed up our metabolism and they help keep us feeling full, so we eat less without having to deprive ourselves.”
Which cooking oil is best for health?
Coconut oil is a saturated fat which is why it was demonised for years. But further research has shown the way it’s processed by our bodies is very different from saturated animal fats.
It’s the best natural source of medium chain fatty acids (MCFAs), which are sent directly to your liver to be used as energy. These are not stored as fat.
They also help stimulate your metabolism, leading to weight loss.
“Half of coconut oil is made up of lauric acid – which is found in breast milk,” says Rochelle.
“It’s anti-viral, anti-fungal, anti-bacterial and fantastic for our immune systems. This is as well as increasing nutrient absorption from other foods. That helps our digestive function, and regulates our blood sugar levels.”
For maximum nutritional benefits chose raw, virgin or extra virgin coconut oil.
“When you see raw on any food, it means by and large that it has not been processed. And if it has been heated at all then it has not gone above 40-45 degrees centigrade,” says Rochelle.
“This means the oil retains all of its nutritional benefits – nothing has been destroyed.”
Use a spoonful in smoothies to make them more filling. Or try when you sauté vegetables as coconut oil can be heated relatively high without turning toxic.
Olive oil contains more monounsaturated fatty acids than any other natural oil. It protects against heart disease by keeping ‘bad’ cholesterol levels in check, raising the quantity of good cholesterol.
It’s so easy to digest it even has a calming effect on stomach ulcers.
Extra virgin oil is the most expensive type, and is made from the first cold pressing of the olives.
“It’s very important that you buy virgin or extra virgin olive oil,” says Rochelle. “Otherwise it’s been chemically extracted and will be full of toxins.”
Olive oil deteriorates when exposed to direct sunlight, so keep it in an airtight bottle in a cool, dark place.
It doesn’t improve with age and is best consumed within a year of bottling.
Olive oil should never be used to fry with as it turns toxic at high heat.
It’s best used in salad dressing, on bread or on pasta. You can also use olive oil in cakes baked below 140 degrees.
All nut-based oils are low in saturated fats and high in monounsatuated fats which have been shown to improve blood cholesterol levels. This can decrease your risk of heart disease.
Macadamia nut oil has the highest mono-unsaturated fat level. Choose walnut for extra omega-3 essential for heart health. Pick almond and hazelnut for skin and brain enhancing vitamin E. And peanut oil for antioxidants that help eliminate free radicals, which cause chronic diseases.
Opt for unrefined versions and smaller bottles as nut oils don’t have a long shelf life.
If you have a lot of nuts in your diet anyway, you would be better using nut oils just occasionally as a seasoning. `
Rochelle says: “Nuts are actually a source of omega 6s, which are essential but if eaten in too high an amount can cause over inflammation in the body.”
Seed and nut oils go rancid quickly, so should be kept refrigerated at all times.
Some nut oils like almond, peanut and macadamia, are good for cooking with as they have a high smoke point.
But walnut and hazelnut oil shouldn’t be heated so drizzle on risottos, pasta, vegetables or use in desserts.
Seed oils are mainly polyunsaturated and provide both omega 6 and 3.
Polyunsaturated oils are considered essential because our bodies can’t make them.
Some seed oils have a better balance of omega 3 and 6 than nut oils.
Hemp seed in particular has what is considered a ‘perfect’ 3:1 ratio of Omega-6 to Omega-3 fatty acids, to support heart health.
Flax, also known as linseeds, are a rich source of plant omega 3 (ALA) which has been found to inhibit cancer cell growth.
In addition to omega benefits, pumpkin seed oil also contains zinc, essential for a healthy immune and reproductive system.
Seed oils are less stable than other oils and can go bad easily. Look out for dark bottles which will make sure their structure isn’t effected by sunlight.
Sunflower oil is technically a seed oil but because it’s 70 per cent omega 6, which we don’t want too much of in our diets, current thinking suggests it’s best avoided – perhaps try shallow frying in coconut oil instead.
With the exception of sesame oil you should never heat seed oils as even being kept in a warm place can change their chemical structure.
Keep in the fridge and add to smoothies to make them richer and more filling, use on salads and as a tasty dip for bread.
Oxygen also damages their make up so be sure to replace the lid quickly and eat soon after drizzling.
Which is healthiest? – Butter versus Margerine
If you love the taste of butter but spread a ‘healthy’ margerine on your bread instead it could be time to switch back.
Saturated fat was previously thought to be the only cause of artery-clogging cholesterol. But recent research has shown that sugar and trans-fats combining could be more to blame.
“Butter is an excellent source of the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K” explains Rochelle.
“Vitamin A is necessary for the health of our eyes, bones and teeth, growth and tissue repair.
Used in moderation, saturated animal fats are not as dangerous as once thought. And the spreads brought in to replace them aren’t always better. Better to use butter and avoid any chemically created fats, hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils.
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