The Best & Worst Cooking Oils: Why Oils are Heart of Healthy Cooking?

Cooking Oils and Their Purpose
Editor's Note: This article has been recently updated with latest information and research studies.
 

Cooking Oils and Their Purpose

Cooking oil is a type of fat that is used in baking, frying, and all other types of cooking. Cooking oils are also used in the preparation of the food that doesn’t require heat, e.g. salad dressings. Having in mind it is one of the most essential ingredients for all meals it is necessary to buy the right product. Not all oils are the same, some oils can have a lot of health benefits, and on the other hand some cooking oils can damage your health.

What is Smoke Point?

Smoke Point

The smoke point is the temperature at which the cooking oil starts to smoke, or burn. It is of huge importance to avoid the smoke point because it produces* free radicals (they have an important role in cancer development) and toxic fumes. Additionally, oils with the highest saturated fat content are more resistant to rancidity.

When you notice smoke at any point while you are cooking, you should know it is a sign that cooking oil you use is not suitable for cooking at high temperatures.

Smoke point depends on refinement and origin of the oil and it increases* with the decrease* of free fatty acids and the growth of refinement temperature. That is why it is not recommended to use same cooking oil for deep frying more than twice.

Types of Cooking Oils

Cooking oils can be divided according to their origin and structure. When it comes to origin, the most common cooking oils are vegetable oils and seed oils.

Vegetable oils are extracted from plants and can be either consumed directly or as ingredients in the food. Vegetable oils include peanut oil, soybean, olive etc.
Seed oils are obtained from the seeds of plants, rather than the fruits. Some seed oils are almond oils, canola oil, coconut oil, sesame oil, etc.

Oils contain a combination of three types of fats monounsaturated, polyunsaturated, and saturated.

Monounsaturated fats are fat molecules which contain one unsaturated carbon bond in the molecule (also called “double bond”). Oils that are consisted of monounsaturated fats are usually liquid at room temperature but start to solidify when exposed to cold temperatures. Example of monounsaturated fat is olive oil.

Polyunsaturated fats are fat molecules which contain more than one unsaturated carbon bond. An Example of polyunsaturated fat is canola oil.

Saturated fats are fat molecules that don’t have any unsaturated carbon bonds. Unlike polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats, these fats when included in oil are solid even at room temperature. Example of oils that contain saturated fats is coconut oil.

Healthiest Cooking Oils and Their Benefits

Truth is all oils contain fats. It is impossible to find oil without fat because it is the most important component. However, most people usually don’t realize that there are good and bad fats. Not all oils are harmful and some of them can have various health benefits. The best cooking oils are:

1. Olive Oil

Olive Oil

It is usually considered as the best and the healthiest oil on the planet. This oil is also included as the main source of fat in famous Mediterranean diet. Olive oil belongs to monounsaturated fats and has a good reputation due to numerous health benefits. Olive oil’s health benefits include: decreases* risk of breast cancer and its recurrence, lowers the level of LDL (low density cholesterol, “bad cholesterol”) and increases* the level of HDL (high density cholesterol, “good cholesterol”), reduces* chances of developing heart-related disease. Olive oil is also rich with antioxidants which minimize risks of getting cancer; it also regulates blood pressure and enhances* insulin sensitivity. Additionally, olive oil can reduce* level of obesity and lowers chances of developing arthritis. Olive oil improves* bone calcification and mineralization which prevents osteoporosis. Characteristics of extra virgin and virgin olive oil include: strong flavor, monounsaturated fats (78%), polyunsaturated (8%), and saturated fats (14%). Refined olive oil has mild flavor. Of course, it is always advised by experts to use extra virgin olive oil because it doesn’t go through heavy chemical processes like refined olive oil.

2. Avocado Oil

It is pressed straight from avocados. It is monounsaturated fat and it has a higher smoke point than olive oil and is perfect for cooking that involves high temperatures. Avocado oil is helpful for regulating high blood pressure and has anti-inflammatory characteristics. Regular intake of avocado oil can reduce* the risk of suffering from arthritis.

Additionally, avocado oil is useful in treatment of periodontal disease. Recent studies confirmed that psoriasis responds well to avocado oil and this oil is recommended for the topical treatment of this skin condition. This oil is characterized with neutral flavor that doesn’t disrupt the flavor of the meal by interfering with other ingredients.

3. Almond Oil

Almond Oil

Just like avocado oil, almond oil is good for cooking at high temperature due to its high smoke point. It is extracted from the almonds and has anti-inflammatory properties. It can help with inflammations both topically and during ingestion. Other health benefits of almond oil are better* immunity, mild pain reliever, muscle relaxant, heals wounds fast. Almond oil can be also included in beauty regime due to its moisturizing purposes. It also treats* dry skin, chapped lips and serves as a makeup remover. Additionally, almond oil is good for treatment of eczema and other skin conditions. Almond oil is a great source of vitamin E and including it in your diet can decrease* the risk of suffering from cardiovascular diseases.

4. Macadamia Nut Oil

It is monounsaturated fat, and contains low levels of polyunsaturated and saturated fats. This oil is heart-healthy, lowers LDL cholesterol, and is a good source of Vitamin E and squalene. Macadamia nut oil is beneficial for hair and skin as well. This oil has a long shelf life and due to squalene, tocotrienols, and tocopherols (compounds that preserve the oil from oxidation) it can last up to 3 years in un-refrigerated storage.

5. Coconut Oil

Coconut Oil

It has been subjected to negative reputation for many years. Due to its saturated content it was presumed the oil was extremely unhealthy. However, a lot of different researches have confirmed that coconut oil possesses various health benefits. Coconut oil reduces* risk of getting heart diseases, boosts* immunity, helps with weight loss*, and protects* from infections. Additionally, this oil improves* your metabolism, increases* energy, is beneficial for your skin, and makes sure your thyroid gland is functioning properly. Characteristics of coconut oil are strong flavor, low rate of monounsaturated fats (6%) and polyunsaturated fats (2%).

6. Flaxseed oil

It is also known as linseed oil. This oil is popular ingredient in vegans’ diets because it contains omega fatty acids that can be also found in fish and fish oil supplements. The oil is polyunsaturated fat and offers a lot of health benefits like lowering blood pressure, improving* menopausal symptoms, improves* kidney function in people with lupus. It also reduces* risk of getting cancer, diabetes and osteoporosis. Characteristics of flaxseed oil are strong flavor and it is low in saturated fats. This oil doesn’t require heat.

Cooking oils to avoid and their consequences

All oils are consisted of three types of fat (as discussed above). However, ratio of these fats in some oils is inadequate for regular intake which makes them unhealthy. These oils are usually used for deep-frying. Oils you should avoid are:

1. Soybean Oil

Soybean oil

It is unhealthy due to high ratio of trans fats. Additionally, soybean oils are heavily processed which can lead to health complications like asthma, bone degradation, decreased* immunity, reproductive problems etc. Also, soybean oil can cause heart problems too and it contains anti-nutrients. This means that oil forbids our body to absorb nutrients from other foods which can only damage our health. Soybean oil reduces* the functionality of thyroid, decreases* energy level and is usually regarded as the ingredient that contributes to obesity.

2. Corn oil

It is extracted from corn germ and it is usually derived from genetically modified corns. Regular consumption of this oil can negatively affect someone’s health. Corn oil increases* risk of getting cancer, increases* weight, and deteriorates the function of liver, kidneys, adrenal glands, spleen and other organs. Additionally, corn oil can speed up the growth of tumor and promotes* prostate diseases, especially prostate cancer.

3. Canola Oil

Canola Oil

It has pro-inflammatory characteristics and is heavily processed. Just like with corn, this oil is derived from genetically modified plant. Unless it has label which says “organic” chances are high canola oil you have (or want to buy) contains a high level of toxic chemicals. This oil can increase* the risk of getting lung cancer, lead to loss of vision and decrease* the functionality of central nervous system. Additionally, canola oil can invoke various respiratory problems, anemia, constipation, and increase* the risk of getting cardiovascular disease. Canola oil can become rancid quickly and during chemical processing of the product, it is deodorized which can never be good for someone’s health.

4. Sunflower Oil

It is one of the most commonly used cooking oils in the world. However, it has high calorie level and doesn’t have vitamins and minerals that are essential for the proper function of our body’s organs. It has pro-inflammatory characteristics and it negatively affects insulin and level of white blood cells. Sunflower oil isn’t rich in antioxidants and isn’t suitable for introduction into one’s diet on daily basis. Additionally, it isn’t helpful for strength of our bones unlike some other oils. This oil can increase* weight and lead to obesity. It is recommended to avoid hydrogenated and partially hydrogenated sunflower oils due to toxic chemicals structure.

5. Safflower Oil

It is odorless, colorless, and has no flavor. This oil can lead to development of heart diseases because it lowers HDL levels in our body. Unlike most other cooking oils, this oil doesn’t contain Vitamin E and hence has no antioxidant purposes which can result in faster aging process or getting cancer. Additionally, safflower oil can decrease* the kidney function and triggers allergic reactions. Other health consequences of safflower oil include stomachache, nausea, and vomiting. Doctors don’t recommend intake of safflower oil to people with bleeding disorders, people who are about to undergo surgery etc.

Dos and Don’ts of cooking oils

  • DO have several cooking oils in your kitchen. Some oils can be used on high heat, some oils can’t.
  • DON’T cook on high heat with olive oil. Olive oil doesn’t have high smoke point and some other type of oil (like avocado or almond) would be a better* choice.
  • DON’T buy heavily processed cooking oils due to high level of toxic chemicals.
  • DO store your cooking oil properly. Some oils (flaxseed, avocado etc.) have to be stored in refrigerator at all times. After the purchase of cooking oil, check the label and instructions to get informed about the perfect way to store it.

Conclusion

Cooking oils are consisted of same fats, however some oils have ratio of those fats that is simply unhealthy and should be avoided. When cooking at high heat always use oil with high smoke point.

What are your favorite cooking oils to use?

Comment below and let us know why oils are heart of healthy cooking?

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Author

Expert Author : Ella James (Consumer Health Digest)

Ella James is a freelance journalist who specializes in fitness, health, nutrition and travel. Currently, she is a contributing editor for Consumer Health Digest as well as regularly writes for publications including All You, Shape, Self, Weight Watchers, Women's Health, Real Simple, Prevention and Fitness.