If you are looking for different ways to cut calories and eat healthier, you can start by using healthy cooking oils in the kitchen. In this article, you'll learn about the benefits of healthy cooking oils and what makes cooking oil unhealthy in the first place.
What Makes Cooking Oil Unhealthy?
Most of the cooking oils on the market today are almost all vegetable oils due to lower saturated fat content. So what exactly renders cooking oils unhealthy, since veggie oils sound "healthy" in general? The most important thing to consider is the smoking point of the oil, which describes the temperature when the oil begins to smoke and its chemical composition begins to change for the worse. Once an oil is heated past its smoke point, cancer inducing free radicals will form and render the food unhealthy to eat. Hence, the higher the smoke point of the oil is, the more tolerant it is of higher heats and the less its chemical composition will change for the worse when exposed to high heat.
Here are some tips to help avoid unhealthy cooking oils:
- Be mindful of different oils' smoke points when cooking.
- Store your oil in cool, dark places to prolong shelf life. Some oils may require refrigeration.
- When looking for oil, try to avoid anything labeled as generic "vegetable oil," as it may contain a blend of several different vegetable oils with different smoke points.
- Stay away from vegetable shortening for cooking or baking, as they usually contain fully and/or partially hydrogenated oils, which can lead to similar effects as that of trans fatty acids when heated.
- In fact, stay away from any oil products that contain hydrogenated oils.
- Never re-use cooking oil once it has been exposed to heat. It is a recipe for trans fats and cancer-causing carcinogens.
Benefits of Healthy Oils
Vegetable oils are naturally low in saturated fats and higher in unsaturated fats, such as monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. Both of these fats are immensely beneficial for the body and can help protect the cardiovascular system. Some oils, such as olive oils, also contain important antioxidants that have anti-cancer effects.
Monounsaturated fats, which include the healthful oleic fatty acid, tends to be liquid at room temperature. It can lower "bad" LDL cholesterol and raise "good" HDL cholesterol, which can help lower blood pressure, decrease risks of heart disease, stroke, and breast cancer, decrease pain for arthritis, and help with weight loss. Olive, almond, pecan, cashew, peanut, and avocado oils are excellent sources of monounsaturated fats.
Polyunsaturated fats, also known as the omega fatty acids, are essential fatty acids that our body cannot produce ourselves. While they are commonly found in fish oils, they can also be obtained from a variety of vegetable cooking oils. Polyunsaturated fats can also benefit the cardiovascular system similar to that of monounsaturated fats, as well as alleviate depression and making your skin glow.
Remember, just because a vegetable cooking oil is high in monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats does not mean it can always stand well against heat. Be sure to check its smoke point as well as the proper method of storage to prevent it from going rancid. Also, large portions in anything good is never a good thing; hence, be sure to have moderate intake of healthy oils, as an excessive amount may lead to weight gain and obesity.
How to Choose the Right Oil
The key to choosing healthy cooking oils is dependent on the oil's smoke point, as well as the style of cooking involved. When possible, try to choose "unrefined" oils versus "refined" oils for maximum health benefits.
The best oils suited for deep frying are vegetable oils that naturally contain saturated fats, which is an effective stabilizer that allows higher smoke points. While animal fats, such as lard, tallow, and butter, have the highest smoke points, they contain a high amount of saturated fats that may negatively impact the cardiovascular system. The oils below are suited for high heat cooking, such as searing, browning, and deep frying:
- Coconut oil
- Almond oil
- Avocado oil
- Hazelnut oil
- Palm oil
- Sunflower oil
- Light colored olive/refined oil
These oils are best suited for baking, oven cooking, and stir fries:
- Canola oil
- Grapeseed oil
- Macadamia nut oil
- Extra virgin oil
- Peanut oil
These oils below have medium smoke points, and can be used for light sautéing, sauces, and low-heat baking purposes.
- Corn oil
- Hemp oil
- Pumpkinseed oil
- Sesame oil
- Soybean oil
- Walnut oil
No Heat Oils
While these oils below should not be used in cooking, they can be healthy and flavorful components for your favorite salad dressing, dip, or marinade. These oils are usually best kept in the refrigerator for freshness, so be sure to check the storage instructions. Some of such oils include:
- Toasted sesame oil
- Flaxseed oil
- Wheat germ oil
- Extra virgin olive oil
- Walnut oil