When it comes to cooking, not all cooking oils were created equally. In fact, some are downright bad for your health while others are loaded with health benefits. Swapping out the go-to oil in your kitchen is a simple change that can have big impacts on your health. Ready to learn more about the best and worst cooking oils? Let’s start with the oil that has no place in your pantry, or your diet.
If you are reading this and you have canola oil in your pantry, please pause, walk to your pantry, grab the oil, throw it in the garbage, and vow to never purchase it again. Canola oil is widely available, inexpensive and has unfortunately become the popular oil of choice in the food processing industry.
However, did you know that there is no canola plant? Instead, canola oil is produced from a modified version of the rapeseed plant. In addition to being derived from a genetically modified source, the plant, left untreated has a foul smell. As such, it is chemically processed with hexane at high temperatures to deodorize the plant. Further, the production process coverts the healthy, naturally occurring omega-3 fatty acids into omega-6 fatty acids, otherwise known as trans fats. What you are left with is a genetically modified oil that has been stripped of its nutritional value and is loaded with trans fats.
Health Dangers of Canola Oil
The disproportionately high occurrence of Omega-6 fatty acids, compared to the anti-inflammatory Omega-3 fatty acids in canola oil possess a number of health concerns. First, Omega-6 acids have been linked to decreased HDL (the good cholesterol) and an increased risk of heart diseases and obesity. Further, Omega-6 acids can increase inflammation. Unfortunately, chronic inflammation leads to a whole host of other health conditions including mood disorders, arthritis, digestive disorders, skin conditions and even certain forms of cancer. Interested in learning more about the dangers of inflammation? Check out my review of The Inflammation Spectrum.
Further, during the production process, synthetic antioxidants are added to the oil to increase the oxidative stability of the oil and act as a preservative. Over time, these synthetic compounds may have carcinogenic and toxic effects. While said to be safe in small doses, the broad use of canola oil and of these preservatives, in general, may lead to over consumption and dangerous side effects.
Healthier Oil Alternatives
When choosing a cooking oil, you want to look for options that are not “refined”. You also need to consider the temperature at which you will be using the oil. This is because different oils have different smoke points (i.e., a temperature beyond which the oil is no longer stable). Here are a few of the healthy oil alternatives that I keep in my kitchen:
Extra Virgin Olive Oil – To be Used at Low Temperatures!
Extra Virgin Olive Oil (EVOO) is packed with monounsaturated fats which have been shown to have anti-cancer and anti-inflammatory properties. EVOO also contains heart-healthy compounds that may be effective in reducing LDL (the bad cholesterol), obesity and type 2 diabetes. Further, it’s mild flavor makes it suitable for most recipes.
However, the smoke point for EVOO is on the low side at just 350 F. For this reason, olive oil works great in cold dressings and sauces or for sauteing and baking. However, it should not be used for high heat cooking or frying.
In recent years, avocados have taken the world by storm, and for good reason! Packed with heart-heathy monounsatured fats and other key nutrients, avocados have tons of health benefits. And, avocado oil is no different!
The potential health benefits of avocado oil include lower blood pressure, lower LDL cholesterol and decreased risk of heart disease. Avocado oil also plays an important role in the detoxification process, protecting the body from free radicals, and enhancing the absorption of other nutrients.
Like EVOO, avocado oil has a mild flavor making it suitable for most recipes. Unlike EVOO, avocado oil has a high smoke point (above 500 F), making it a great choice for low temperature cooking and baking as well as high heat grilling, broiling or baking.
Unrefined Coconut Oil
Similar to avocados, coconuts are highly regarded for their amazing health benefits, including the existence of healthy fats. In particular, coconuts contain medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs) which, when consumed, may increase the number of calories you burn, leading to increased weight loss. MCTs also have antimicrobial effects and can provide a quick energy boost. When digested, a portion of MCTs are broken down into a molecule called ketones, making coconuts and coconut oil a popular choice for individuals following a keto diet.
Coconut oil does have a mild coconut flavor which can add to the flavor of some recipes, or can easily be overpowered by other spices and ingredients. Similar to EVOO, unrefined coconut oil does have a relatively low smoke point at 350 F. Therefore, this oil is best used for medium heat cooking. As it is solid at room temperature, it is not suitable for cold dressing and sauces.
The contrast between the health dangers of some cooking oils versus the health benefits of others are stark. As I mentioned, swapping out the oil that you use is a simple step that can have huge impacts on your health without significant impacts on your cooking. And friendly reminder that this goes beyond just your kitchen! Read the ingredients on the packed food that you buy. Companies disclose what type of oil they use in their products so look for products derived from healthy cooking oils.
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