Which Oil Should I Use & Which Ones Should I Avoid?

 

There are lots of tasty oils on the market but do you know which ones to use and when to use them? Even more importantly, do you know which ones to avoid?

Oils help us absorb specific vitamins and phytonutrients like vitamin A, K, E and D as well as lutein and other carotenoids. They can also add flavour and richness to our meals.

Extra Virgin Olive Oil – The Queen of Oils

Extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) is produced by a mechanical pressing of the olives which is done under a certain temperature (27°C) so that it does not degrade the oil. Use of solvents or chemicals to extract the oil are not permitted. Further, it must taste like olives and be free from defects.

A phenolic compound contained in EVOO, called oleocanthal, has powerful anti-inflammatory properties similar to Ibuprofen that has been shown to reduce symptoms of both joint and neuro-degenerative diseases, as well reduce inflammatory markers in those with heart disease.

Last year a study showed that the benefits of the Mediterranean Diet on reducing the incidence or mortality from certain cancers may be due specifically to the oleocanthal in olive oil. Researchers found that oleocanthal kills cancer cells by rupturing their lysosomal membranes.

If you have ever tried olive oil tasting you will know that certain oils will induce a cough after sipping. That cough is from the oleocanthal and is a sign of a great olive oil.

Should we cook with extra virgin olive oil?

Yes, you can cook with either extra virgin or virgin olive oils. The smoking point for olive oil ranges from 380-410°F which is well above the ideal temperature for sautéing food. The oil will not spoil at these temperatures. Studies have shown that olive oil (including extra virgin) is a stable oil resistant to damage from heat.

It’s important to avoid heating oils beyond their smoking point as this denatures the fats, releases toxic fumes and creates free radicals.

Avocado Oilavocado pic

Avocado oil is worth a mention as it has one of the highest smoking points, making it a stable oil to heat and it has a similar fatty acid profile to olive oil. It does not taste like avocados but has a mild flavour with a nutty undertone; an “almost neutral” oil. Like olive oil, it helps increase the absorption of carotenoids, a group of plant pigments (red, yellow, orange) that have antioxidant properties.

Next time you want to use olive oil but need something with a little less flavour, reach for avocado oil. 

Coconut Oil

Coconut oil is 92% saturated fat which is why it is solid at room temperature. Unsurprisingly, coconut oil has a rich and distinctive flavour of coconuts which can enhance many dishes. It’s smoking point (350°F) is similar to butter so this is not the fat you want to use for high temperature cooking.

The majority of the fats contained in coconut oil are called medium chain fatty acids (MCFA). We metabolize these fats differently than long chain fatty acids, for example, those found in butter. MCFA are metabolized in our liver for energy and are less likely to be stored as fat which is why some claim they can help with weight loss. At this stage more scientific research is needed to support these claims. A recent study did show that coconut oil raised total and low-density lipoprotein cholesterol to a greater extent than unsaturated plant oils, but to a lesser extent than butter.

Enjoying coconut oil in place of butter can be a tasty change for your palate and may reap some health benefits. But EVOO still wears the yellow jersey in terms of the oil with the most health benefits supported by rigorous scientific evidence. 

Finishing Oils

Walnut, hemp or flax seed oils all have healthy nutritional profiles; however, they are not conducive to heating. You can use them to drizzle on top of prepared dishes to impart an extra hint of flavour.

What About a Neutral Tasting Oils: Canola, Grape Seed, Safflower etc?

Canola oil is a highly processed oil which uses chemical solvents or high speed presses that generate heat. If you use Canola oil try organic cold pressed to ensure you are getting a better quality product.

Grape seed oil is a slightly cleaner oil than Canola and has a higher smoking point (420°F to Canola’s 400°F). Organic cold pressed grape seed oil should also be sought out over conventional methods of production. 

Cheaper refined oils such as soybean oil, safflower and sunflower oils go through intensive mechanical and chemical processing which yield a flavourless oil that is easily oxidized. Oxidation of oils create free radicals which is why these refined oils should be limited.

Cottonseed oil should be avoided at all costs as it contains toxins and is likely high in pesticide residues as cotton is not classified as a food and, therefore, heavier use of pesticides is permitted.

Final Tips

Buy olive and avocado oils in tins or darkened glass to reduce the chance of oxidation from light. Store your oils in a cool, dark place and don’t bulk buy. Follow the old adage: store what you use and use what you store. That is, aim to use your oils within a month or so to ensure optimal freshness.

Check out the world’s best EVOO for 2016 here.

References

Y. Allouche, A. Jiménez, J. J. Gaforio, M. Uceda, G. Beltrán, How heating affects extra virgin olive oil quality indexes and chemical composition, J Agric Food Chem, 2007 Nov 14;55(23):9646-54. Epub 2007 Oct 13, PMID: 17935291

Eyres L1, Eyres MF2, Chisholm A2, Brown RC2.Coconut oil consumption and cardiovascular risk factors in humans.Nutr Rev. 2016 Apr;74(4):267-80. doi: 10.1093/nutrit/nuw002. Epub 2016 Mar 5. 

Parkinson L1, Keast R2. Oleocanthal, a phenolic derived from virgin olive oil: a review of the beneficial effects on inflammatory disease. Int J Mol Sci. 2014 Jul 11;15(7):12323-34. doi: 10.3390/ijms150712323.

Verberne L1, Bach-Faig A, Buckland G, Serra-Majem L. Nutr Cancer. 2010;62(7):860-70. doi: 10.1080/01635581.2010.509834. Association between the Mediterranean diet and cancer risk: a review of observational studies. 

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