You’ve probably heard some very confusing advice about which cooking oils are best for your health.
Almost every time you read an article or watch a health show on TV, someone is recommending some good-for-you grease that’s somehow better, less cancer-causing, more antioxidant-rich, less (or sometimes more) fatty than the last.
The problem begins with doctors and nutritionists — and Big Food — who like to classify cooking oils by categories of fat, claiming that one category is “good” and another is “bad.”
Don’t listen to them. We already know that mainstream medicine and modern nutritionists were wrong to demonize fat in the first place — and they’re just as wrong about judging oils by their fat.
Take saturated fats. These are simply fat molecules that have no double bonds between carbon molecules because they are saturated with hydrogen molecules.
Despite the modern day warnings, as a species, you’ve been eating and thriving on saturated fats for hundreds of thousands of years — probably longer.
Yet you were also told that eating saturated fats increases your risk for heart attack or other cardiac issues.1 In fact, the opposite is true — many studies show that saturated fats can be good for your heart.
But the truth is — some oils containing saturated fats are bad and some aren’t.
You see, cooking oils are individuals. Some have more nutritional values than others, but other oils are just downright bad or you.
For example, coconut oil (one of my favorites) is a saturated fat that’s loaded with immune-system boosting and heart-healthy benefits. Sunflower oil is also saturated fat, but it’s one of least healthy cooking oil healthy options out there.
The fact is, you can’t judge a cooking oil by the kind of fat that’s in it.
One thing you should consider is the “smoke-point.” This is the temperature at which the oils decompose chemically and can become a cancer-causing agent. So the higher the smoke point, the better the oil is to use at high temperatures. You can use high smoke point oils at high temperatures for cooking, sautéing, frying and baking.2
I recommend avoiding vegetable oils like soybean, canola, corn, sunflower, safflower and rice brain oil. You see, to prolong shelf life, these oils are hydrogenated. This means hydrogen gas is forced into the oil at high pressure. Hydrogenation interferes with enzymes in your body at a cellular level and can cause cancer, obesity, asthma, and auto-immune disease.3 Soybeans, canola, and corn also come from GMO crops which we know are harmful to your health.
3 oils to put in your shopping cart
- Avocado oil: This oil has a smooth, nutty taste. And it has a healthy nutritional value. Because it contains high levels of folate (vitamin B9), it also slows the aging process by protecting your telomeres, the biological time keepers at the ends of your chromosomes. Avocado oil also has a high smoke point of 510 degrees F, which means it can be used both as a raw salad dressing or for cooking at high temperatures.
- Coconut oil: This is my favorite kitchen oil. It has a distinct sweet flavor and is high in lauric acid, an immune-boosting fatty acid that keeps your energy levels high, helps you lose weight, and lowers your cholesterol.4 Coconut oil also has a unique kind of fat called medium-chain triglycerides, or MCT. Unlike most fatty acts, MCTs are tiny enough to enter your cells’ mitochondria directly, meaning your cells can use the fats from coconut oil instantly, instead of storing them as fat.5 Its smoke point is 350 degrees F.
- Extra virgin olive oil: This oil is a staple in the Mediterranean diet, and is known to protect your heart and reduce your cancer risk. That’s because it contains the powerful nutrient, tyrosol.6 Tyrosol protects you from free radical attacks that damage DNA and cause deadly diseases. However, it has a relatively low smoke point at 320 degrees F, which means you shouldn’t fry or sauté with it — but it’s great as a salad dressing or dip.
To Your Good Health,
Al Sears, MD, CNS
1. Nina Teicholz. “The big fat surprise: why butter, meat and cheese belong in a healthy diet.” 2014.
The 2. Culinary Institute of America (1996). The New Professional Chef, 6th edition, John Wiley & Sons
3. Thomas LH, Jones PR, Winter JA, Smith H. Hydrogenated oils and fats: the presence of chemically-modified fatty acids in human adipose tissue. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 1981; 34:877-86.
4. Babayan, V.K. Medium chain fatty acid esters and their medical and nutritional applications. J Am Oil Chem Soc, 1981, 58: 49A-51A.
5. Han JR et al. Effects of dietary medium-chain triglyceride on weight loss and insulin sensitivity in a group of moderately overweight free-living type 2 diabetic Chinese subjects., Metabolism., 2007 Jul;56(7):985-91.
6. Estruch R, et al. Primary prevention of cardiovascular disease with a Mediterranean diet. New England Journal of Medicine. In press. Accessed March 23, 2013.