The health benefits of fats and oils are often misunderstood and often cut back to the viewpoint of fatty acids and fat metabolism. However, many oils also contain other health beneficial compounds such as antioxidants, omegas, polyphenols and healthy plant fats. This makes them benefitial for digestion, cleansing the internal organs (ever heard of kidney stone removal with olive oil?) and promoting healthy hair, skin and nails.
Whats confusing is the great variety of oils on the market, the different qualities, nutrient makeups and characteristics.
Which oil is good for cooking? Whats Omega-3 and 6? What makes fat healthy versus unhealhty?
Lets digg in a little deeper!
A good rule of thumb is to avoid all “vegetable” oils. They are usually made from either a single or combination source of corn, soybean, cottonseed, canola, safflower, palm and sunflower. By calling it “vegetable” oil, the industry can change around the plant source without needing to spend money to change the label; in other words, they’re cheap, and they’re typically made pretty cheaply, too.
These oils are all high in polyunsaturated fats and are highly processed and refined, meaning they are not only stripped of nearly all nutrients (empty calories), but they have been pre-exposed to high temperatures and factory processing that essentially makes them rancid and carcinogenic before you’ve even gone to cook with them yourself. Processed vegetable oils are also highly oxidising and increase inflammation in the system for that reason alone.
Due to the low cost of these refined oils, large food companies and chain restaurants use these vegetable oils for their products, packing them into foods that we don’t even realise contain oils— including “healthy” protein bars, almond milk, dark chocolate and other packaged items marketed at the fitness industry. Even if it’s labeled “organic” corn/safflower/canola/etc oil, you can’t escape the fact that it’s highly processed and nearly void of nutrients.
But which oils are good?
Olive oil (Extra Virgin)
A good olive oil is pressed at a temperature below 27 °C (80 °F), retaining all of the natural antioxidants of the olives. Thats why you should always ensure you are getting “extra virgin”. It has a high nutrient profile, is unrefined, and contains a balance of mono and polyunsaturated fats, meaning it’s less volatile when exposed to air or heat than other plant oils. High quality olive oil has been shown to have similar inflammation-reducing effects as anti-inflammatory drugs. These and numerous other benefits occur thanks to the many phenol compounds of virgin olive oil. Its regular use is associated with a lower risk of stroke, cerebrovascular disorder and various types of cancer. Virgin olive oil has also been shown to lower the risk of cardiovascular disease. In addition, brain health and performance may be improved with the regular use of virgin olive oil.
definitely the most expensive, but all around the most beneficial. Packed with many of the same amazing benefits of avocados, the oil is creamy yet has a very mild taste, making it very versatile. It has a similar chemical makeup to olive oil, yet has a slightly higher smoke point of around 230°C (450F)
Same as a good Olive oil, Coconut oil should always be cold-pressed and virgin because it contains phenolic compounds that act as antioxidants and calm inflammation (such as ferulic acid, p-coumaric acid and tocopherols). Coconut Oil is a saturated fat, but naturally contains MCTs (medium-chain-triglycerides) which are absorbed more quickly than other fats and easily converted into energy (MCTs bypass your digestive tract and go straight to your liver where they’re broken down into energy-packed ketones). Coconut Oil also has Antibacterial and anti fungal properties which help balance gut flora and support immune health. That said, it is saturated, so it’s not beneficial for everyone, especially if you have a lot of it.
The traditional Indian method of making clarified butter (ghee) removes the milk proteins from the butter, making the resulting product lactose-free. Because ghee contains no milk protein, it can withstand high temperatures. This makes it a very good oil for cooking. Ghee does not contain harmful trans fats that can cause heart disease and other serious health problems. Ghee and butter contain butyric acid which can reduce intestinal inflammation.
Fish oil and fish liver oil
General guidelines recommend eating fatty fish twice per week. Fish and other seafood contain long-chain omega-3 fatty acids (EPA and DHA). Omega-3 fats can be found in many vegetable oils, but they mostly contain short-chain alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) which is poorly absorbed particularly in men, but later we will dig in deeper into the science of omegas.
The intake of omega-3 fatty acids improves mood, increases attentiveness and generally improves cognitive functions. According to a study report, omega-3 fatty acids (particularly EPA) are highly beneficial especially in the treatment of depression and the reduction of silent inflammatory conditions.
Fatty Fish include:
Alaskan Salmon (Watch out for the Wild one!), Cod, Mahi Mahi,
Low Mercury Wild fish such as Anchovies, Haddock, Petrale Sole, Sardines, Summer Flounder, Trout, Atlantic Herring
Mussels and other wild caught seafood
Tuna, Swordfish, shark, tilefish, king mackerel, and marlin should only be eaten occasionally because of their high mercury content
Summing it up:
The processing method used in the oil has a crucial impact on its health benefits. If the oil is refined instead of cold-pressed, i.e. if it is heated to up to 260 °C (500 °F), the quality and properties are significantly compromised. The refinement and impurity removing process also removes plant sterols, chlorophyll, flavouring agents, polyphenols acting as antioxidants, lignans, lecithin, squalene and other fat-soluble active substances.
Always ensure you are keeping them stored in a cool place in a dark glass SEALED bottle. NEVER buy an oil in a plastic bottle or leave it exposed to air. This creates oxidation— think rust— and will turn the oil rancid. Not ideal.
What are omega-3, omega-6, and omega-9 fats?
The balance ratio of omega-6 and omega-3 in indigenous people was approximately 2:1 which is considered ideal because the imbalance of fatty acids cause silent inflammation in the system. In Europe the ratio is on average 8:1 and in the US up to 20:1.
The most common source of omega 6s is linoleic acid, found in corn oil, soybean oil, safflower oil, cottonseed oil, sunflower oil, poultry, and some nuts and seeds. Because these oils are cheap to produce, many companies use them in processed foods like candy, cookies, crackers, popcorn, granola, dairy creamer, margarine, frozen pizza, and other snacks.
Types of Omega 3s
Amazing sources of omega 3s include fatty fish, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, walnuts and flaxseeds.
There are three common types of omega 3 fatty acids:
• EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) – both are long chain omega 3 fatty acids, and both come from animal sources. DHA is the really good one: it keeps your nervous system functioning and provides anti-inflammatory benefits. Higher consumption correlates with improved mood, greater insulin sensitivity, increased muscle growth, and better sleep.
• ALA (alpha-linolenic acid) – this is a short chain omega 3 fatty acid. ALA comes mostly from plant sources, and most animals can’t really use it, so they convert it to the super-powerful DHA. A good source of ALA Omega 3s are chia seeds.
Herbivores and opportunistic omnivores like mice and rats are great at converting ALA to DHA. Humans, on the other hand, can only convert about 8% of ALA to DHA.
Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) has been shown to improve memory and reaction time in healthy young adults. In addition, DHA slows down the aging of the brain, prevents dementia, improves learning and reduces the risk of stroke.
What oils are healthiest (and safest) for cooking?
From a scientific point of view - none. Heating is always a form of processing, which removes plant sterols, chlorophyll, flavouring agents, polyphenols acting as antioxidants, lignans, lecithin, squalene and other fat-soluble active substances. If you heat the oil up to its smoke point it leads to oxidation and free radicals = carcinogenic substances. Plant fats, including oils as well as nuts and seeds, are all best consumed raw.
Simply try to introduce more steaming, dry roasting in the oven and water sautéing into your cooking routine. THEN add a little avocado oil or Extra Virgin Olive Oil to garnish and add healthy fats.
However, if you want to use oils for your dishes - take a look at the list below!
HIGH HEAT OIL = ideal for sautéing, frying and other high heat applications SMOKE POINT
Avocado 265°C (510°F)
Ghee 252°C (485°F)
MEDIUM HIGH HEAT OILS = best for sautéing at medium-high heat and for baking SMOKE POINT
Coconut 185°C (365°F)
MEDIUM HEAT OILS = best for sautéing at medium heat, sauces, salad dressings SMOKE POINT
Macadamia nut oil 199°C (390°F)
Unrefined sesame oil 177°C (350°F)
Butter 177°C (350°F)
Extra Virgin Olive Oil 160°C (320°F)
NO DIRECT HEAT OILS = very fragile structure and robust flavour SMOKE POINT
Unrefined flaxseed oil 107°C (225°F)
Borage 107°C (225°F)
Evening Primrose 107°C (225°F)
Wheat Germ 107°C (225°F)
*SMOKE POINT = indicated how high a heat the oil can take before beginning to smoke When an oil smokes, it releases carcinogens and free radicals within the oil.