Healthy Cooking Oils
Don’t Let the Wrong Oil Kill You
As many of us prepared to deep fry our turkeys for Thanksgiving the other day, the subject of cooking oil naturally came to mind. Many people take it on faith that cooking oils are bad, and there is really no such thing as a healthy cooking oil. If you’re one of those folks, that’s too bad, because there actually some oils that are a valuable part of a healthy diet. As we’ll see in a second, some oils are healthy when consumed if you don’t heat them to traditional cooking temperatures, such as avacado oil and virgin olive oil.
Some fats are essential, and these are not limited to only those you get from that helping of grilled salmon or the flax seed you sprinkled on top of your yogurt for breakfast this morning.
Yes Beavis, there are oils that you can use for cooking without making your arteries look like the 405 at 4:30.
The Healthy Cooking Oil Sham
First of all, you should be aware that not all of the oils that have been traditionally thought of as healthy actually are. In fact they may not be something your should subject your body to unless you just can’t avoid it. One of the main problems encountered by most of the popular cooking oils out there is that they rapidly oxidize in the presence of heat and light. Since most of these are sold in clear containers, they are exposed to light even
before you purchase them.
As a preventative measure, most cooking oil manufacturers use a process whereby they replace the air in the package with a volume of inert gas that prevents oxidization. They would not go to this added expense unless it was necessary. Storing your opened oil in the refrigerator is a great idea, because it cool and dark. Some oils will thicken or turn into a solid at refrigerator temperatures though. Just let them stand art room temperature for a while and you’ll be able to pour them again. If you have a wine cooler, this is even better, but keep them in the dark.
Once exposed to cooking heat, all bets are off! The oils oxidize even before you’re finished cooking, leading you to consume unhealthy amounts of a substance that can cause inflammation inside your body. This is true of soybean, canola (rapeseed), and corn oils, which are the most popular vegetable based cooking oils.
Who Says Heating Oil is Bad for You?
Who says that heating oils can cause problems for you? Well, a 2001 study review by English PhD professor and expert in free radical biochemistry Martin Grootveld, et al. and published in the Journal Foodservice Research International, for one. The study review, entitled “The Health Effects of Oxidized, Heated Oils” pulls no punches in it analysis.
It states: “Considerable evidence has accumulated over the past two decades that heated cooking oils, especially polyunsaturated oils, may pose several types of health risks to consumers…” and “Heat degrades polyunsaturated fatty acids to toxic compounds; saturated and monounsaturated fatty acids are resistant to heat-induced degradation.”
It goes on to say that “Several types of diseases may be related to the exposure of humans to food- or air-borne breakdown products of heated oils including atherosclerosis, the forerunner to cardiovascular disease; inflammatory joint disease, including rheumatoid arthritis; pathogenic conditions of the digestive tract; mutagenicity and genotoxicity, properties that often signal carcinogenesis; and teratogenicity, the property of chemicals that leads to the development of birth defects “ Ouch!
There have been plenty of Canola bashing sites and letters flying about the Internet in the last few years. As with may of the tings you’ve probably seen on the ‘net. There is some truth to most of it, but much of it should also be taken with a grain of salt (not too many grains though, excessive salt consumption isn’t good for you).
Canola Oil Killed WW1 Soldiers?
For example, one popular quote on Canola equates it to the mustard gas used on hapless soldiers in WWI. Is Canola oil just a half step away from dangerous mustard gas? Are you going to need a gas mask to keep from blistering your lungs whence you next venture into your kitchen?
Thankfully no. Mustard gas is not some bastardized Canola relative. Rather it is so named because of the smell, and is made by treating ethylene with sulfur dichloride, itself derived from hydrochloric acid. Although ethylene is actually an unsaturated hydrocarbon, it can be made form just about any plant, including the rapeseed used in the production of canola oil. Wikipedia says that “Ethylene is produced from essentially all parts of higher plants, including leaves, stems, roots, flowers, fruits, tubers, and seedlings “
A Problem With Many Healthy Cooking Oil Lists
The main problem with canola oil and many other supposedly “healthy” oils for cooking is what I alluded to earlier. They have a problem with heating. Canola is about 30% polyunsaturated, and when heated polyunsaturates turn into something the FDA says is healthy in no amounts, even traces. These are, of course, transfats., and there is a reason the FDA doesn’t like them.
Many websites list healthy cooking oils and base it almost entirely on which have the highest level of unsaturated fats. This is wrong, as we’ve seen., especially concerning polyunsaturated oils. Look at the percentage of polyunsaturated fats in any oil you’re considering cooking with. Lower is better here.
Many food oils are exposed to high heat levels during processing, which destroys much of their food value and raises their toxicity levels from the start. Use only cold-pressed cooking oils whenever possible.
A Healthy Cooking Oil Alternative
Extra Virgin Coconut Oil
Although virgin coconut oil is comprised chiefly of saturated fats, it is steadily gaining a great reputation as a healthy cooking oil. One of the primary advantages of coconut oil is that it doesn’t oxidize easily, even when subjected to cooking heat. Remember, that oxidization means the oil is breaking down into harmful compounds. So, despite the fact that virgin coconut oil is 92% saturated, it is actually one of the healthiest cooking alternatives.
Proportionately, the saturated fat in coconut oil contains a large amount of medium chain triglycerides (MCTs) This group of fatty acids
As I noted earlier, many popular cooking oils will not only oxidize when heated to cooking temperatures, but even when stored at room temperature for even short periods of time. This includes popular oils such as Canola, which many people think, incorrectly, is one of the healthier oils.
If you’ll be using it to fry with, look for high heat coconut oil. It is even less likely to oxidize during cooking than the regular variety.
Coconut oil in Research
A 2009 randomized, double blind study by a Brazilian research team demonstrated that coconut oil in the diet actually reduced waist sizes compared to similar quantities of soybean oil. They also showed improved serum cholesterol ratios compared to the soybean oil group.
Remember that any oil adds a significant number of calories to your diet, and no matter what, it is calories in vs. calories out that dictate whether or not you lose weight. Keep the amount of total oil consumption relatively low, to avoid blowing up your diet’s caloric content.
I’ll examine more healthy cooking alternatives soon. What do you use to cook with?