Oil is fat. But not all fats are created equal.
What kind of oils are you cooking with in in your kitchen? Most have no idea that the type of oil you cook with will make a difference in your health. Certainly, oil is fat. Yet, we need certain fats for many important processes of the body. Benefits include flawless skin and hair, maintenance of the structure and function of cells, and providing absorption of fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E and K) to aid in the production of hormones like estrogen and testosterone.
“Sixty percent of the dry weight of the brain is fat, and healthy neurons contain a type of fat known as DHA,” says Susan B. Dopart, MS, RD, C.D.E, author of the book A Recipe for Life. The healthiest oils are those highest in mono-saturated fats, lowest in saturated fat and ones that contain omega-3 fatty acids that are converted into EPA and DHA.
Also, when you’re cooking at a high heat, you want to use oils that are stable and don’t oxidize or go rancid easily. When oils undergo oxidation, they react with oxygen to form free radicals and harmful compounds that you definitely don’t want to be consuming.
According to Miller Family Heart & Vascular Institute’s Preventive Cardiology Program, it’s important to know the smoke point. The smoking point is the temperature that causes oil to start smoking, which produces toxic fumes and harmful free radicals (the stuff we’re trying to avoid!). Different oils have different smoking points, due to their chemical make-up. This means some oils are better suited for cooking at higher temperatures than others. A good rule of thumb is that the more refined the oil, the higher the smoke point.
Our top 3 healthiest oils are low to moderate smoke points:
Coconut Oil –
Best suited for light sautéing, sauces and low-heat baking.
This oil is semi-solid at room temperature and it can last for months and years without going rancid. According to Holistic Nutritionist Evita Ochel, “For the most health benefits coconut oil should be purchased in the unrefined or (extra) virgin form. It is even more beneficial to choose a variety that is organic and raw. Refined coconut oils can be treated with various chemicals, and processed with very high heat, thereby compromising the health benefits of this product. Oils that are cold pressed are expeller pressed in a heat-controlled environment to keep temperatures below 49ºC or 120ºF degrees. In this sense, it is more beneficial to choose a cold pressed oil, as the more heat that is applied to the food item, the more the nutritional benefits are normally compromised and the more the quality of the food is degraded.”
Coconut oil also has powerful health benefits. It is particularly 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.
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Best suited for baking, stir-frying, dressings, dips, or marinades
Use Light refined Olive Oil for frying. Note: try to avoid fried foods as much as possible.
According to Timothy Harlan, MD, assistant professor of clinical medicine at Tulane University and the author of Just Tell Me What To Eat!. extra virgin olive oil is the highest quality olive oil with the best flavor. It is produced from the first cold pressing of the olives and pits. Cold pressing means that heat or chemicals aren’t part of the production process. “Virgin” olive oil, without the word “extra,” is the oil produced from the second pressing. It has a lighter flavor and color than extra virgin olive oil.
Extra virgin olive oil has many amazing health benefits. Oleocanthal — one of the compounds found in extra virgin olive oil — has been shown to have anti-inflammatory properties. For example, a study published in “Nature” in 2005 found that when participants consumed 4 teaspoons of olive oil per day over 12 weeks, the oil mimicked an anti-inflammatory drug when it came to reducing pain. Extra virgin olive oil may also play a role in reducing the risk of heart disease as well as combating diabetes and promoting healthy fetal development.
Also, remember to keep your olive oil in a cool, dry, dark place, to prevent it from going rancid.
Butter/Ghee (preferably from grass-fed cows)
Best suited for baking and if clarified best suited for stir frying, sautéing, frying.
There really is no reason to fear real butter. Even world renowned heart surgeon Dr. Dwight Lundell has spoken out against the vilification of saturated fats:
Animal fats contain less than 20% omega-6 and are much less likely to cause inflammation than the supposedly healthy oils labelled polyunsaturated. Forget the “science” that has been drummed into your head for decades. The science that saturated fat alone causes heart disease is non-existent. The science that saturated fat raises blood cholesterol is also very weak. Since we now know that cholesterol is not the cause of heart disease, the concern about saturated fat is even more absurd today.” – Dr. Dwight Lundell, MD Cardiologist
It’s the processed margarine that we must avoid. Margarine is a manufactured food product that’s high in trans fat, causing heart disease and diabetes. It was never designed to be healthy, nutritious or beneficial; it was designed to be an imitation, an inexpensive substitute.
Real butter is good for you. Studies show that it contains Vitamins A, E and K2. It is also rich in the fatty acids Conjugated Linoleic Acid (CLA) and Butyrate. CLA lowers body fat percentage in humans and butyrate fights inflammation, improves gut health and has been shown to make rats completely resistant to becoming obese.
There is one caveat for cooking with butter. Regular butter does contain tiny amounts of sugars and proteins and for this reason it tends to get burned during high heat cooking. If you want to avoid that, you can make clarified butter, or ghee. That way, you remove the lactose and proteins, leaving you with pure butterfat.