How to Choose Healthy Cooking Oils
Q: How do you choose a healthy cooking oil? Depending on the source I read, canola, olive, and coconut can all be good or bad.
A: I’m so grateful that, after years of being vilified, those in my profession, and the nutrition field in general, now accept fats as a very important part of a healthy diet. Fats are a tremendous source of energy, help maintain healthy nervous and endocrine systems, and are invaluable to the function of every cell in our bodies. And those are just a few of the reasons we need them.
However, not all fats are created equal. There is a lot of conflicting information regarding the health benefits of a few of the most popular fats and oils used for cooking: coconut, olive, and canola, specifically. I’ll do my best, to clear up some of the confusion and let you know which ones I use the most.
Coconut oil has unfortunately received some bad press in the past few years. Because of its naturally occurring saturated fats it has been regrettably lumped into a group of fats that are often discouraged.
Even though coconut oil is solid at room temperature, a characteristic of saturated fat, 50% of coconut oil fat is an amazing type called lauric acid. Lauric acid is a gift of nature, being anti-microbial, anti-viral, and anti-bacterial. Coconut oil is also high in medium-chain-triglycerides (MCTs). These MCTs are easily digested and absorbed by the body for use. Because they are easily used, they don’t wind up packed elsewhere in your body’s fat stores and can even help you develop a leaner body.
Therefore coconut oil is ideal for cooking, baking, and even eating raw, straight from the jar. I even use it as lotion and make-up remover. Clearly a very multi-purpose oil! When purchasing, make sure it is virgin and unrefined.
Olive oil is arguably one of the most popular cooking oils on the market. Because it is high in monounsaturated fats, it is considered a healthy oil that can help control insulin levels and lower cholesterol.
Olive oil is, however, very susceptible to oxidation, a chemical reaction that changes the structure and benefit of the oil. Therefore, there are two important things to remember about olive oil.
First, it is not meant for high heat. Truly, its health benefits are most present when heat is not introduced at all. If you do choose to cook with it, use only quick, low heat.
Second, buy only extra virgin olive oil that is contained in dark bottles or tins. Store the oil in a cool, dark place and use within six months of purchasing.
Canola is a hybrid name that combines “Canada” and “oil”, but the oil itself is from the rapeseed plant. It is also very commonly used cooking oil, but has, too, been under fire lately.
Truth be told, the majority of canola oil on the market comes from genetically modified and pesticide-treated plants. In addition to typically being GMO, conventional canola oil has also been exposed to very high heat (up to 300 degrees), and is often bleached, deodorized, and refined.
Though it doesn’t intrinsically offer many health benefits, it does have a very mild flavor. Because at times I don’t want the peppery-flavor of olive oil or the coconut-hint of coconut oil to come through in whatever I may be making, I do keep a small bottle on hand. If you do choose to use canola oil, be sure it is organic, expeller-pressed and free of GMOs.