Is the Cooking Oil You’re Using Improving Your Health or Damaging it?
If you like to cook, you probably have a favorite cooking oil - your go-to standard of choice. But the oil you think is the healthiest may not be healthy after all!
There’s a lot of misinformation out there on the nature of oils, and which are healthiest for cooking. Unfortunately, much of it focuses on the use of refined, polyunsaturated oils, which are anything but healthy!
As a Naturopathic Doctor, I’m naturally a big fan of cooking my own food. I’d like to set the record straight on which oils are healthiest to cook with and which ones you should avoid like the plague.
What is an oil’s smoke point? It’s the point at which the oil will begin to vaporize in the pan, creating smoke. This smoke is made up of water, free fatty acids, and some oxidized compounds that are createdby the heating process. It can also contain toxic chemicals, like acreolin.
If you heat oil past its smoke point, it suddenly becomes more toxic and less healthy for you than it would have been previously. It can even put the fats through a process called polymerization, which can increase the formation of damaging free radicals.
But it’s important to note that break-down of the oil can occur before the smoke point as well.
And some oils are refined by subjecting them to high heat and chemical processes to artificially increase their smoke point. This naturally reduces the nutritional value of the oil, and can add unnecessary toxins as well.
Smoke point is a good guideline, but not the only thing you need to determine whether or not an oil is good for you.
Top 5 Cooking Oils
Below are five of my favourite cooking oils. They have proven health benefits, and are relatively easy to acquire or make.
Coconut oil (Smoke point: 280-365°F)
You’ll find experts across the internet speaking in favour of coconut oil, and I tend to agree with them. Coconut oil can aid weight loss, improve energy, treat fungal infections, and may even serve as a supplement to natural thyroid treatments.
Of course, it’s also a great cooking oil. It’s primarily made up of saturated fat, which is highly stable and resistant to rancidity. Rancidification is a nasty chemical breakdown of the fats into potentially harmful substances called aldehydes and ketones. Exposure to oxygen and heat can speed up this process in unsaturated fats.
Now you might see the word “saturated fat” and be surprised that a naturopathic doctor is suggesting the stuff. That’s not surprising. Saturated fats have been vilified by conventional medicine and the mainstream media for decades, but there is no good evidence to suggest that saturated fat is bad for you – in fact, evidence shows that it is good for your health!
Coconut oil also contains high levels of Medium Chain Triglycerides (MCT) that give it many health properties.
Clarified Butter/Ghee (Smoke Point: 425-480°F)
Butter, like coconut oil, contains a high percentage of saturated fat, making it resistant to rancidity. But it also contains a small amount of protein and sugar that can burn when heated. The clarification process removes that protein and sugar, leaving only the butter fat behind.
You can buy ghee in most health food stores, or you can easily do it yourself at home.
Ghee, if made from grass-fed cow’s milk, is a great source of Vitamins A, K2, D and CLA (conjugated linoleic acid), a fat that may aid in weight loss and blood sugar balance.
Butter (Smoke Point: 325-375°F)
Grass-fed butter, that is butter produced by cows who were given a diet of grass more in line with their natural diet than the cheap GMO corn many cows are fed, has a number of demonstrable health benefits.
It can give you the same nutritional value as ghee, but is generally less expensive and more convenient, since you don’t need to worry about turning it into ghee.
But because it still has the proteins and sugars, which would have been removed in the clarification process, it has a lower smoke point.
Palm Oil (Smoke Point: 430-455°F)
Palm oil, harvested from the fruit of oil palm trees in Africa and the Americas, is also high in stable saturated fats like the others above.
They’re also high in nutritional value. The red palm oil contains natural anti-oxidants like vitamin E and carotenoids which further protect the oil from going rancid.
But a caution is advised before you buy just any old palm oil. Make sure what you get is sustainably harvested, as much palm oil production leads to the destruction of wildlife habitat.
Olive Oil (Smoke Point: 320-350°F)
You’ve likely heard that olive oil is good for you, and it’s true. It’s different from the above oils, though, because it isn’t very high in saturated fat.
It does, however, contain antioxidants and mono-unsaturated fats which have been shown to promote heart health.
But despite these facts, as well as its undeniable deliciousness, it isn’t as resistant to break-down by heat as saturated fats are. It is best used for low heat cooking only, or as part of a vinaigrette on a salad.
It’s also important to know where your olive oil is coming from. A lot of cheap commercial olive oil is cut with cheaper, refined oils like corn, canola, or soy oil, even if it says “100% extra virgin olive oil”.
Cooking Oil For Health
Now that you know some of the healthiest oils out there and even one that may benefit your thyroid, it’s important to keep the following things in mind when choosing your oil.
Make sure to use organic oils, as conventionally grown ones often contain high levels of pesticide residues.
Steer clear of refined oils, like peanut oil, corn oil, soy bean oil, canola oil, grape seed oil, sunflower oil, and generic “vegetable oil”. These oils have a high smoke point because of the refining process, but they are also highly processed and often contain chemical solvent residues and harmful trans-fats. Avoid these at all costs!
However, if you manage to find unrefined versions of sunflower oil and grape seed oil, these are acceptable. They do have lower smoke points than their refined cousins, so use them cold or for low heat cooking only.
Keep an eye on the cooking oil you use. A simple change from processed oils to one of my top 5 can be a big step toward living a healthier lifestyle, naturally!
Written by: Dr. Pat Nardini, ND