There is a lot of conflicting information about fats and oils. Which are healthy? Which should I cook with? What should I watch out for? This is an important issue to consider since ingesting damaged oils can lead to disease conditions such as high blood pressure.
Read on for information on the basics of cooking oils, and recommendations on which are best for which purposes.
It’s important to remember that when it comes to cooking, all oils are damaged by heat, light, and air, however, some fats hold up better than others. The main considerations with the healthfulness of oils and how to use them in heating is the smoke point and the amount of refining they have had.
It’s common to see an oil’s smoke point printed on its label, however, the smoke point is actually the temperature when the oil begins to smoke continuously, so, at this temperature, the damage has already started to occur. Heating creates the production of free radicals causing chemical changes such as the production of trans-fats and other toxic products. These are difficult for our bodies to detoxify leading to an increased risk of high blood pressure, and heart disease.
Refined oils typically have a higher smoke point, but they are also devoid of important nutrients such as vitamin E, carotene, antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds, as these are destroyed in the refining process. In addition, they are often made from inferior, pesticide sprayed plants and may also contain traces of the refining chemicals used[i].
Tips for Cooking
Luckily, there are ways to mitigate the damage done during the cooking process. While most recipes call to put oil in the pan first, that is actually the most damaging thing to do for oils! Instead, place your food in the pan first, then add your oil after. If you need to use a liquid before placing the food in the pan, use water or broth.
Want a meal plan that guides you on which oil to use for which purpose? This guide has recipes to follow that will make choosing your oil a no-brainer.
Also, use this handy checklist when deciding which oil to use for which purpose.
Saturated fats hold up against heating better than other fats. These are the best choices for cooking.
e.g. butter, ghee, tallow, lard, and refined (expeller-pressed) coconut oil, high heat avocado (click here to see the one I use)
Monounsaturated oils can be used with low heat but will get damaged at higher temperatures. Since it can be hard to know how high your fry pan heat is, be careful when using these oils in cooking.
e.g. virgin avocado, sesame, virgin coconut and extra virgin olive oils
Cold-pressed, unrefined polyunsaturated oils contain high levels of essential fatty acids and are essential for health, but should never be heated. Ensure you choose these oils from the refrigerator section in dark, glass bottles.
e.g. flax, hemp, and walnut
Processed polyunsaturated oils are heavily refined, with nutrients, antioxidants and anti-inflammatory benefits removed. They may also contain traces of chemical solvents used in the refining process and should be avoided[ii]. IMPORTANT NOTE: most processed foods contain these oils, so check your ingredient list before buying!
e.g. soybean, corn, canola, grapeseed, and regular sunflower/safflower