The Good Oil

Olive oil from Imperia in Liguria, Italy.

It has long been held that fat is bad for you, all fat that is. But in fact not only are there many fats that are not bad for you, many are very good for you, and you will actually be less healthy if you are not getting enough of the right kind of fat. Good fats promote a healthy and well-functioning cardiovascular system, a healthy nervous system and are useful for maintaining weight. They help to both protect and maintain good clear skin and healthy hair, support your immune system, can help regulate blood sugars, your thyroid,  and even protect against cancer.

Most people know that olive oil is regarded as a healthy oil but there are whole new breed of oils available that may be better choices, particularly when it comes to using oil for cooking.

There is a temperature reached during cooking with oil called the smoke point, which is the point at which the oil is compromised, both in taste and nutritionally. Bluish smoke starts to rise as the oil is close to burning. It is the temperature where the oil starts to break down chemically, and it varies from one oil to the next, depending on whether it has been refined or not and the extent of refining, as well as the origin of the oil. When the oil breaks down it creates trans fats. Oil that has been damaged by overheating is bad for you because it is chock full of free radicals, which we already know are the basis of disease . Any oil with a low smoke point should not be used for cooking at all.

Before we go on to which oils are best for which purpose it’s worth knowing that there are three different types of oils – monounsaturated, polyunsaturated and saturated. Some oils contain more of one type than another and it is important to know which is which. For a long time the advice has been that saturated fats are bad for you and polyunsaturated are good for you. But it is not as straight forward as that.

Many oils today are refined. Refined versions of the oils have a higher smoke point but they are REFINED, which means that chemicals and high heat were used in the processing to extract the oil, which drastically damages the nutrients, rendering them harmful. Hydrogenated vegetable and seed oils are man made and you need to avoid them. You may know these better by their other name – trans fats.

Extra-virgin oils traditionally came from the first pressing of the fruit, seed or nut, but now the term is more likely to mean the oil is ‘pure’. These days cold-pressed oils are unlikely to actually have been pressed, and cold-extracted is a more accurate description. The oil is extracted using centrifugal force and very low heat, about 28-30C, low enough not to damage the oil. The speed at which the oil is extracted helps to preserve the antioxidants.

The stability of the oil is the important factor when it comes to heating the oil during cooking, particularly extra high heat used to fry. Saturated oils are the most stable, mono-unsaturated are pretty stable, and polyunsaturated are the least stable. Polyunsaturated oils are the worst to cook with – including safflower, sunflower and canola. These polyunsaturated oils contain lots of omega 6 fats which when damaged, form artery clogging trans fats. They also cause many other serious health problems.

Oils 2

So how do you know which oils are best for what?

It all depends what you are going to use the oil for. If it for dressing a salad then you would look for one with a nice taste, but if you want to cook with it you would need to carefully consider whether the oil will stand up to the heat. If you will be frying food, then the oil needs to have a high smoke point.

It is better to select oils that are unrefined as they are going to have more nutrients and less additives so will be healthier for you. It’s not worth buying cheap oils as in the long run they will cost you with your health. Generally, the pricier the oil the more likely there was care taken in the manufacture.

Here is the lowdown on some of the better edible oils you can use in your cooking.

COCONUT OIL

Coconut oil is almost all saturated fat, and so has been the most maligned and misunderstood oil for a long time, but it is actually one of the healthiest oils, a nutrient packed superfood. The love affair with coconut keeps growing every day and you can read lots more about this wonderful oil right here.

It has a high smoke point, 180ْC (350ْ F) and is very shelf stable and is the very best choice when you want an oil that is stable even when it is heated. In addition coconut oil also promotes heart health, helps maintain stable cholesterol and even helps you to lose weight.

Coconut is almost entirely saturated fat, but unlike the saturated fats you find in animal products coconut oil is not absorbed the same way by your body and so does not pose the same problem to your health. It is rich in medium chain fatty acids (MCFAs). These are easier for your body to break down and digest, they put less stress on your digestive system and body organs, they are immediately converted into energy in your liver rather than being stored as fat, and they stimulate your metabolism to help you lose weight. Long chain fatty acids, LCFAs, do not have these benefits and are more difficult to digest. Coconut oil is converted to energy like a carb but without the insulin spike effect in your bloodstream of carbs. It doesn’t get stored in the body – your body either uses it or gets rid of it. One special feauture of coconut fat is that 50% of the fat is lauric acid which has wonderful health promoting qualities and is able to destroy virus and bacteria.

AVOCADO OIL

Avocado oil has a high smoke point – 200 degrees C, so you can use it to cook at very high temperatures without compromising the properties of the oil. It has been proven to fight heart disease and effectively lowers bad cholesterol (LDL), helps with diabetes, cancer, skin and hair problems. It contains a healthy beneficial balance of omega-6, omega-3, and omega-9 fats as well as the antioxidant vitamin E. The vitamin E level will be higher in cold-pressed versions as they will have undergone less oxidation. Avocado oil is also used frequently in skin creams as a moisturizer.

MACADAMIA OIL

I recently saw macadamia oil referred to as the ‘new olive oil’. But I actually think it is better. It is about 80% monosaturated (good) fat and is one of the healthiest oils available for cardiovascular health, much higher than olive oil. It has a high smoke point at 220ْ C (430ْF) which makes it a healthier oil to use for cooking. It is 85% monounsaturated fats and has a two year shelf life.

Here is why this All-Aussie nut is so good for you. It enhances heart health, helps to reduce the build up of plaque and prevents atheroschlerosis, reduces the risk of heart disease, helps with blood sugar regulation for diabetics, and helps your nervous system function well.

Unrefined avocado, macadamia or coconut oil are all healthy choices
Unrefined avocado, macadamia or coconut oil are all healthy choices

WALNUT OIL

The smoke point of unrefined walnut oil is 180ْ C (350F), slightly lower than either coconut or macadamia oil, and easily damaged at high temperatures, so one to avoid for frying. It has a nutty flavour and is great in salads and smoothies. Unrefined walnut oil contains high levels of monounsaturated oils such as omega 9 which keeps your arteries supple and helps prevent atherosclerosis and heart disease. It is also high in omega-3 and omega-6 to reduce inflammation, and to lower the risk of blood clots and erratic heart rhythyms. Research from Penn State University showed that wanuts and walnut oil could maintain healthy blood pressure even during stressful times. It is an excellent source of vitamins B1, B2, B3 and vitamin E. It can help prevent eczema and alleviate other skin problems. It is one of the best sources of antioxidants of the tree nuts.

OLIVE OIL

Olive oil is indeed a healthy oil but not when it comes to cooking. It is a monounsaturated fat which makes it more stable than polyunsaturated fats, but on a cellular level it is not so stable and has been associated with increased risk of heart disease and breast cancer when it is heated. But, it is a great oil to include in an unheated state. The smoke point varies depending on how olive oil is made. Extra Virgin olive oil is 160ْ C (320F). Virgin is higher at 220ْ C (420F) and extra light 240ْ C (470ْ F). The rise in smoke point corresponds to how refined the oil is – the less refined the lower the smoke point. Extra virgin olive oil is a very perishable oil and can go rancid quickly, every time it is exposed to the air it oxidizes.

My choice for high heat cooking is avocado, macadamia or coconut oil. But as usual be careful of the quality. Most commercial oils are refined and contain chemicals from the processing so watch out for cold pressed and extra virgin oils. It’s especially good if it is in a dark jar as this helps protect the oil from light damage.

Remembering that the smoke point for each variety of oil is variable, and that it is always better to avoid refined oils, here is a rough guide for a few oils.

Unrefined Oil Type

Smoke Point Centigrade

Smoke Point Farenheit

Unrefined Canola, sunflower, safflower,

160

225

Unrefined peanut oil

160

320

Extra virgin olive oil

160

320

Walnut oil, unrefined

160

320

Coconut oil, unrefined

180

350

Macadamia

200

390

Avocado

190-200

375-390

Refined Oil Type

Canola, sunflower, safflower, refined

220

430

Virgin olive oil (refined)

220

430

Extra light olive oil (refined)

240

460

Walnut oil, semirefined

200

390

Coconut oil, refined

230

450

Rice bran oil

250

480

Peanut oil

225

440

Before I finish, just a quick word about RICE BRAN OIL which has appeared in Australian shops over the last few years. Promoted as a ‘Natural Oil’, it is not quite as natural as you would think, and is a good example of how advertising may be misleading. It has a very high smoke point, no additives listed, and the makeup of rice bran oil sold here in Oz is 47% monounsaturated, 33% polyunsaturated and 20% saturated, so it would seem a reasonably healthy choice.

However, rice bran oil is a refined oil that comes from Thailand. It is subjected to very high temperatures and chemicals during processing. It is not a cold pressed oil, like olive and some of the nut oils. On the bottle the oil it is labeled as extra-cold filtered, which is a manufacturing process that results in the removal of the saturated fats, and is not the same as cold-pressed or cold-extracted.

So go ahead and enjoy your oil, just make sure you are selecting The Good Oil.

good oils 2

Disclaimer.

All information and opinions presented here are for information purposes only and are not intended as a substitute for professional advice offered during a consultation. Please consult with your health care provider before following any of the treatment suggested on this site, particularly if you have an ongoing health issue. 

Source articles

http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2010/10/22/coconut-oil-and-saturated-fats-can-make-you-healthy.aspx

http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=george&dbid=56

http://www.naturalnews.com/031801_avocado_oil_healthy_fats.html

http://www.livestrong.com/article/481198-is-walnut-oil-healthy/

http://www.medicaldaily.com/articles/870/20100804/seven-great-benefits-of-walnut-oil.htm

http://foodmatters.tv/articles-1/what-oil-is-best-to-cook-with-and-which-oils-should-never-be-heated

http://www.naturalnews.com/004653.html

http://www.naturalnews.com/010125.html

http://macadamias.org/pages/health-benefits

http://changinghabits.com.au/_blog/Changing_Habits/post/rice-bran-oil–the-healthy-alternative-or-so-you-think/

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