It seems like such a simple question:
“What is the best oil to use?”
Have you looked at all the choices at the store lately? There is olive oil, walnut oil, peanut oil, sesame oil, coconut oil, grapeseed oil, canola oil, and the list goes on! These oils are not created equal, especially when it comes to their sensitivity to heat and how they affect our health.
Can they handle the heat?
Oils react differently to heat, depending on the types of fat they contain and how much they have been processed. Some oils can lose their health benefits by “oxidizing” when heated, meaning they form free radicals that damage healthy cells. (Often referred to as their “smokepoint.”) This can also result in an unpleasant taste or odor under heat.
- Oils with high saturated fats are generally the most stable, as indicated by their solid state at room temperature, and very little oxidation at higher temperatures. An example of this is coconut oil.
- Oils that are high in polyunsaturated fats are more easily damaged by heat and oxygen. Walnut oil is an example of an oil that should not be used in cooking and is actually best stored in the refrigerator. Other oils high in polyunsaturated fats include corn oil, grapeseed oil, safflower oil, soybean oil and sunflower oil.
- Oils that are higher in monounsaturated fats can protect themselves against low to moderate heat, especially when they also contain some saturated fats. Avocado oil and olive oil are good examples of oils that do well with moderate heat.
How do oils affect our health?
Omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids are unsaturated fats found in oils (and other foods) that are “essential” to our well-being: our bodies cannot make them, so we have to get them through our diets. While both types are important, it's critical to consume omega fats in the right balance.
The ideal ratio of omega-6’s to omega-3’s is thought to be 1:1 or 2:1, but the standard American diet can be as high as 15:1! This imbalance can lead to inflammatory diseases including cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, asthma, rheumatoid arthritis, various forms of cancer and irritable bowel syndrome, to name a few.
What is the main source of this omega-6 overload?
Many processed and fast foods contain inexpensive and readily available oils with high amounts of omega-6 and little or no omega-3 fats. You can pick up a box of almost anything processed and find at least one of these!
Safflower oil has 75% omega-6 with no omega-3
Grapeseed oil has 70% omega 6 with virtually no omega-3
Sunflower oil has 65% omega-6 with no omega-3
Corn oil has 54% omega-6 with virtually no omega-3
Cottonseed oil has 52% Omega-6 with virtually no Omega-3
Soybean oil has 51% omega-6 with only 7% omega-3
Additionally, we have heard it many times...
avoid partially hydrogenated oils as they contain highly dangerous trans fats!
You may be thinking...but I don't eat safflower, sunflower, soybean or cottonseed oil!
Think again! These oils are hiding in lots of processed foods, such as the soybean oil in Ritz crackers.
Also, notice the difference in the oils used in these two different brands of peanuts…the better option would be the one with peanut oil.
This is why it is so important to read those ingredient labels!
What about other oils?
Olive oil: extra-virgin olive oil (EVOO) is the first oil extracted from olives, and the highest quality olive oil you can buy. It contains more of the phytonutrients found in olives, and is ideal for dressings and sauces. Regular or pure olive oil is a lower quality olive oil with a lighter color and more neutral flavor. It's good to use for grilling and sautéing. Light olive oil is not called "light" because it has less calories -- it is a refined oil that has a lighter taste and higher smoke point -- and can be used in baking when you need a "neutral oil."
Canola oil: contains a great combination of the beneficial mono and poly-unsaturated fats, is low in saturated fat, and even includes omega-3’s, which many Americans need more of. It’s economical and works well at medium-high heat, and is widely recommended by nearly every prominent health organization. Yet, many are hesitant to use canola oil, because it is perceived to be highly processed.
Coconut oil: it's typically produced using little processing (closer to a REAL food), and while high in saturated fat, uniquely contains medium-chain fatty acids, which are easily digested therefore may avoid being stored as fat in the body. Coconut oil marked "refined" has been processed to remove the coconut aroma and flavor, while "unrefined" coconut oil has retained the coconut aroma and flavor. Coconut oil is a good option when a solid fat is required or when sautéing at high heat. (It’s also amazing on your skin!) You won’t find us going too crazy with it, because it is higher in saturated fat, but certainly, this near whole food has a place in a healthful, real food diet!
Vegetable oil: this broad term is used to describe oil derived from a plant, whether it be corn, canola, sunflower, olives, or others. You may run across some recipes in magazines or on the internet that just call for "vegetable oil."
So, what do we do?
The question of the “best oil to use” has some controversy and a lot to consider including the ratio of fatty acids, degree of processing and stability under heat. So, amongst all the confusion, we have tried to simplify our approach:
- For everyday cooking (medium heat), we use olive oil. This includes roasting vegetables in the oven.
- For higher heat cooking, we have had success with coconut oil and avocado oil.
- When a solid fat is needed in snack or baked goods, such as in the Chocolate Chia Energy Bites or Almond Butter Bites, unrefined coconut oil is our preferred choice.
- For Asian dishes, toasted sesame oil adds excellent flavor, but is best added at the end to avoid high heat.
- For salad dressings and dips where no heat is involved, our “go to” is extra virgin olive oil, but also like to mix up the flavors with other oils such as walnut, sesame, pistachio and macadamia nut oils. Especially for dressings, we try to purchase unrefined, cold-pressed oils.
- Need a neutral-tasting oil? Try canola oil (buy organic expeller-pressed brands if you prefer) for applications such as baked goods. “Light” olive oil (which comes from later expressions of the olive) has less of an olive taste and is also a favorite for baking.
Please share with us -- we would love to hear your ideas and tips on what types of oils you use at home!