What Cooking Oil Should I Be Using?
Navigating the world of fats can be a real headache, and cooking oil is no exception. So just what oil should you be using to cook with? Let’s take a look.
Olive oil is the cornerstone fat of the famous ‘Mediterranean Diet’, and is frequently used both as a salad dressing and also as a cooking oil.
The apparent health benefits of olive oil are many. For starters, olive oil is extremely rich in antioxidants, and researchers have suggested that it might have similar effects to low-doses of anti-inflammatory medication like ibuprofen, when it comes to reducing chronic inflammation.
Furthermore, studies have suggested that olive oil might have a powerful effect in preventing cardiovascular disease and may have anti-cancer and anti-diabetic effects, as well as potentially aiding weight loss.
A risk with some cooking oils is that they oxidise in reaction to heat and become damaged and harmful.
The general rule of thumb is that saturated fats are the most heat-resistant, with monounsaturated fats (MUFAs) in second place being quite heat-resistant, and polyunsaturated fats (PUFAs) being unstable and dangerous to cook with.
Olive oil is mostly made up of MUFAs, and research shows that it remains stable during cooking. In one study, it took olive oil 24-27 hours of deep frying before it was deemed to have become harmful.
Coconut oil is one of the great “super-foods” of the modern health world, with many people now choosing to use it as their staple cooking oil in place of the more mainstream options.
First things first; coconut oil really does appear to have some pretty remarkable health benefits.
Studies have found that coconut oil improves cholesterol scores and contains substances which kill off harmful microbes. Additionally, coconut oil may reduce hunger and improve weight loss efforts. A 1996 study found that men who ate MCT fats (medium-chain triglycerides) — the main type found in coconut oil — ate fewer calories per day, and lost more weight, than men who consumed more LCT fats (long-chain triglycerides).
Coconut oil is almost completely made up of saturated fat, meaning that it’s very heat-stable and safe to cook with. If you’re aiming to manage your intake of saturated fat, however, just be mindful of how much coconut oil you do use.
Seed and vegetable oils
‘Seed and vegetable oils’ refers to a large number of popular cooking oils, including:
- Rapeseed oil
- Sunflower oil
- Sesame oil
- Corn oil
- Canola oil
- Soybean oil
- Cottonseed oil
- Grapeseed oil
- Rice bran oil
- Safflower oil
Despite their popularity, there’s good reason to avoid using these oils where possible. For one thing, vegetable and seed oils are often highly processed and may contain high levels of trans-fats. Furthermore, there’s developing scientific evidence that these oils can lead to an increase in the risk of developing heart disease.
There’s also evidence that when these oils are repeatedly heated — as they frequently are in fast food restaurants — they can end up becoming harmful.
Butter isn’t a cooking ‘oil’ as such, but it is a very common fat used in cooking — particularly among certain groups like paleo-dieters.
In addition to being rich in vitamins like A, E, and K2, butter is primarily made up of saturated fat (around 68%), followed by monounsaturated fat, and very low levels of polyunsaturated fat.
In other words, butter is a good, heat-stable fat to cook with. That being said, sugars and proteins within the butter may be burned during cooking, and this may present some undesirable side effects.
Palm oil is frequently used in Southeast Asian cuisine and has a similar consistency to coconut oil. Research has found it to be a significantly heat-stable oil, and it’s rich in carotenoid antioxidants.
For example, one study reported an increase in LDL cholesterol levels in response to consuming lots of palm oil – this is the kind of cholesterol linked with heart disease.
Avocado oil has certain similarities with olive oil. For one thing, it’s primarily made up of MUFAs, making it stable for cooking with.
Furthermore, it’s high in the antioxidant lutein, which seems to have specific benefits for eye health.
As you might expect from an antioxidant-rich food, avocado oil may have potent anti-inflammatory properties, with some research suggesting it can help alleviate the symptoms of arthritis.
Other evidence also suggests that the antioxidants in avocado oil are an effective tool in fighting free radicals.
It’s very hard to find a right or wrong answer when it comes to cooking oils, but by getting clued up you can choose an option that suits your health and fitness goals.