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Cooking Oil 101: Everything You Need to Know

There seems to be a lot of complicated and conflicting information about cooking oil. And it’s incredibly confusing and difficult to sort through! Which oils are good for you and which are bad? Is saturated fat really the enemy? What about cooking temperatures? Can extra virgin olive oil really be a carcinogen? Oh and what do terms like “extra virgin” and “unrefined” mean anyway? If you’re tired of wading through all of the advanced cooking and medical jargon this will be right up your ally! Here’s a simple list of the best and worst oils you can eat!

Oil Basics:

Cooking oils can be part of a nutritious diet! They can even be of tremendous benefit to our health. The good ones are high in antioxidants and help us to absorb nutrients. They are also an excellent source of energy, support body functions like building healthy cell membranes and even encourage healthy cholesterol! However, when it comes to cooking oils, not all are created equal. While we’ll discuss the ones to seek and the ones to avoid later there are some basic things to know about choosing and storing cooking oil!

How to Choose Your Oil

In plant based oils always choose unrefined, cold pressed oils. These haven’t been exposed to heat and are minimally processed. Because of this they are highest in nutrients and less likely to already be rancid or toxic. Yes, many oils we purchase have gone bad or become toxic before we even get them home!

With regards to animal fats used for cooking it is VERY important that you choose only grass fed or pastured products. Because toxins are often stored in the fat of animals it’s important that the products you are consuming come from animals that lived the most natural life possible. It is also important to be aware that consuming animal fats is part of a “nose to tail” diet. Which means, it’s environmentally and nutritionally important.

How to Store Your Oil

Liquid oils spoil (go rancid) very easily. Once oil has gone rancid it’s toxic. Often you can tell by the smell. If an oil has turned it will typically have a strong foul odor. Don’t eat it! Cooking oils that have gone bad cause inflammation in the body and are carcinogens. They might not make you sick right that moment but they wreak havoc on your health!

There are a few things you can do to keep your oils fresh longer. First, store them in a cool dark place. A cabinet that is far from the stove or heat vents is ideal. Second, your oil should be stored in a dark or frosted container. And lastly, don’t over buy oils that are more fragile.

Best Oils For Cooking

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The best oils for cooking are those that are most resistant to heat. When oils are heated they begin to break down. These broken down oils cause significant health issues and are a known carcinogen. The temperature at which an oil breaks down is known as it’s smoke point. The higher the smoke point the higher the temperature you can cook at. The oils I included on my “best oils for cooking” list can all be heated at high heat and are safe to be used in the oven. I prefer to use oils that I don’t have to worry about at all when I’m cooking! (Keep it simple.)

1. Avocado Oil

This is absolutely my favorite oil to cook with! I highly recommend it and it’s the easiest one for everyone to agree on. Avocado oil is a Monounsaturated fat and is liquid at room temperature. People who are still very worried about saturated fat are comfortable using it and because it’s liquid it’s super easy to work with. It also has a very mild flavor so you can cook anything in it! Not only that but avocado oil improves cholesterol levels, increases nutrient absorption and has an abundance of antioxidants. It even contains carotenoid and polyphenol which are believed to benefit heart health!

This super healthy, easy to use oil is available in most grocery stores now! I have found that it’s a little pricey so I buy my avocado oil from Amazon in bulk. Because it’s so stable it stays good for a very long time! And, Not only is it good for cooking but avocado oil is great for beauty routines as well!

2. Coconut Oil

Coconut oil has recently grown in popularity! It is solid at room temperature and very stable. This is very common of saturated fats, which coconut oil is. Saturated fats are far more stable upon heating and for this reason are great options for cooking.

Saturated fat often gets a bad wrap. But there has been a significant amount of recent research debunking the theory that saturated fat is unhealthy. A recent study had some surprising results. When replacing unsaturated vegetable oil with saturated fat in half of the male participants it was found that those consuming the vegetable oil DID have lower LDL cholesterol. But they also had higher rates of death, heart disease and coronary artery disease than those who consumed the saturated fat. This adds to mounting evidence that the demonization of saturated fat may have been hasty and unfounded.

Despite the high levels of saturated fat, coconut oil has been shown to benefit heart health and increase HDL (good ) choloesterol.

That said, I find coconut oil to be more difficult to work with stove top because it’s solid. It can be used in baking to replace butter. This easily converts recipes to vegan without using palm oil. Currently there are significant environmental concerns about the palm oil industry.

Coconut oil is also an awesome beauty product and beauty product additive!

3. Grass Fed / Pastured Animal Fats

Many people are uncomfortable consuming animal fats. They are saturated fats and of all fats they have gotten the worst reputation. However, they are part of a healthy diet as long as they are purchased responsibly. It is very important to consume animals in their entirety for nutritional and environmental reasons. For more information regarding this please see my post, Nose to Tail: Why You Should Eat Offal and How to Get Started.

Animal fats such as lard, beef tallow, grass fed butter or ghee and duck fat are all nutrient dense and have very high smoke points. With animal fats a little goes a long way! I particularly love to add a small amount of duck fat in my cooking. Roasted and sauteed veggies or potatoes are incredible when cooked in duck fat!

Best Oils For Dressings

These oils have incredible health benefits but very low smoke points! They shouldn’t be used for cooking above low temps.

1. Extra Virgin Olive Oil

This is one of the most well known oils. It is delicious, very versatile and SO beneficial to your health! Many people cook with it and it’s included in a lot of recipes. But, it shouldn’t be. The dark secret about extra virgin olive oil is that when it is heated to it’s smoke point it causes inflammation and is a known carcinogen. If you want to use olive oil to cook with sacrifice the nutrients and mild flavor for the fuller flavor olive oil (not extra virgin).

Olive oil is an important part of all healthy diets. It’s as prolifically agreed upon as vegetables! Maybe that’s because since it comes from the first pressing of olives it is extremely nutrient dense. But it likely also has something to do with the high levels of phenolic compounds which work in the body to reduce oxidative stress.

What is Oxidative Stress?

Oxidative stress is the imbalance of harmful free radicals and anti-oxidants. Free radicals cause inflammation which leads to chronic disease and aging. Anti-oxidants prevent or slow free radical damage.

In summary… Oxidative stress leads to aging and illness.

2. Nut & Seed Oils

Nut and seed oils are delicious additions to dressings. They typically have a mild nutty flavor but don’t necessarily taste like their nut counterparts. Consider using walnut, macadamia, flax seed and hemp seed oils. They even have additional health benefits. For example, walnut oil is high in omega 3 and decreases high blood sugar and LDL cholesterol and flax seed oil may decrease blood pressure and inflammation.

Oils to Avoid

There is one category of oils that should be avoided and that is Polyunsaturated oils. They are less stable and become toxic and rancid very quickly. Often these oils are already rancid on the grocery store shelf due to high heat and chemical refining. They decrease levels of EPA and DHA which are essential to body and brain function! Polyunsaturated oils also increase free radicals and are associated with increased cancer rates, heart disease and other metabolic and inflammatory diseases. They are even believed to contribute to decreased memory and Alzheimer’s disease!

You might be shocked to discover which oils are polyunsaturated. They are, canola, sunflower, safflower, soybean, cotton seed and corn oils. Many of these oils are genetically modified as well! Because of this they have a profound environmental impact in addition to their health consequences.

Fat Is Imperative to Good Nutrition

Long gone are the days of shunning fat. Now we all know that fat is actually good for you and imperative to optimal health. Cooking oils are an excellent source of fat! Not only do they help your body to absorb nutrients and vitamins but they are also high in vitamins A, D, E, and K. Quality cooking oils help preserve cell and brain health. They can even stave off many common chronic diseases!

Choosing the right fats makes all of the difference! It shouldn’t take a medical degree or a PhD to choose the healthiest cooking oils for your family! And, now it doesn’t!

Share this post to give your friends and family the inside scoop on healthy cooking oil! Feel free to leave any additional questions in the comments!

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Posted in Food, Health, Health & Wellness, Nutrition, Nutrition

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