Oils 101: Choosing the Right Cooking Oils For Your Health and Your Recipes
The fat-free phase of the 1980’s did not do a body good. In fact our bodies need fat--it’s important for our nervous system, brain, and skin amongst a host of other health benefits. But what oils should we choose?
Learning to use the right oil is an important component to learning how to cook. Oil doesn’t make you fat especially if you choose the right varieties. Here are some of the most healthful oils on the market:
1. Coconut Oil
Dr. Weston Price studied South Pacific Islanders and found them to be healthy and fit, despite having a lot of dietary fat in the form of coconut oil in their diets. He also found low instances of heart disease.
Coconut oil is a saturated fat that reduces your risk of heart disease--how could that be? It’s because coconut oil is the richest source of medium chain fatty acids (MCFAs). Being smaller they are easily digested and are immediately burned up in the liver for energy, like carbohydrates but without the insulin spike. They move right through. Coconut oil is also known to boost thyroid health, increase metabolism, support immune health, and it’s good for your skin.
Coconut oil is thick like butter and then melts down when you’re cooking with it. It has a deep coconut flavor that persists even after cooking so it’s great for sautéing.
2. Flax Seed Oil
Flax seed oil is the richest plant source of the essential omega 3 fatty acid ALA. An imbalance in the body's fats with a shortage of essential fatty acids is linked to cancer, asthma, depression, accelerated aging, diabetes, and ADHD to name a few. Studies have also found the flax seed oil may prevent the growth of breast cancer tumors.
Don’t cook with flax seed oil, instead drizzle it on top of salads, soups, and even oatmeal.
3. Sesame Oil
Sesame oil has a nutty flavor and it’s what gives Asian dishes that distinctive aftertaste. Sesame oil also lowers blood pressure and your risk of heart disease and, at the same time, it’s loaded with iron, calcium, and magnesium.
All three are very important nutrients but the amount of magnesium is particularly exciting because it’s so wonderful for calming us down, restoring sleep cycles, and reducing PMS symptoms.
Sesame oil is good for drizzling on meals, stir frying, and for sauces.
4. Avocado Oil
Photo: Jack Hollingsworth/Thinkstock
Avocado oil is one of the newest oils to the health food scene. Avocados provide nearly 20 essential nutrients, including fiber, potassium, Vitamin E, B-vitamins, and folic acid. Avocado, like olive oil, is high in oleic acid, which has been shown to prevent breast cancer in numerous studies. Avocados are high in beta-sitosterol, a compound that has been shown to lower cholesterol levels.
The oil form has many of the same benefits but people love it because it tastes so good. It’s buttery, creamy, and great for any sort of cooking or baking.
5. Grape Seed Oil
Certain studies have found that chemicals in grape seed oil may trigger apoptosis--a process that aids the self destruction and elimination of damaged cells in cellular systems. Therefore, it may help with liver damage and suppressing the development of certain types of cancer.
You can cook with it or use it as a drizzling oil.
6. Olive Oil
Most of us know the health benefits of extra virgin olive oil but let’s take a closer look as to why. One of the polyphenols in olive oil, hydroxytyrosol, helps protect the cells that line our blood vessels from being damaged by overly reactive oxygen molecules. Therefore, it keeps our arteries flowing strong. It’s also 75 percent oleic acid, a monounsaturated fat--a far higher percentage than other oils. In fact, the oil next in line is canola oil with only 60 percent oleic acid.
Olive oil is great for sautéing and drizzling but not so good for frying because of its relatively low heating point.
Photo at top: Bananastock/Thinkstock