Aug 12, 2020
We’re seeing the popularity of home cooking rising, due to time being spent at home during the pandemic. It’s no question that oil is used pretty heavily in the kitchen when it comes to cooking, and I’m often asked which oils are the best to cook with.
There’s little doubt that oil makes food taste good because we are hardwired to seek high-calorie foods such as fat - it gave us a survival advantage. - but is it healthy in the context of food abundance?
When it comes to cooking with oils, you will find polarising camps of health gurus: some preaching that no oil is healthy for human consumption, and some saying the more oil the better.
There is no denying that we need healthy fats - for brain health, hormonal health. However, healthy fats exist in whole foods e.g. nuts/seeds, avocados. And so the debate is really on whether extracted oils from food is healthy.
Nutrition is a nuanced area and I don’t feel blanket rules work for everyone. For example, variations in the APOE gene can determine how we react to saturated fat in our diet. How inflamed your body is and what else you eat can determine whether cholesterol is oxidized. This may be why some people can eat saturated fat without too much escalation in their serum cholesterol levels, whilst others see a spike, and also not everyone with high serum cholesterol develops heart disease.
In my opinion, oil is a “processed food”, meaning it’s calorie-dense and nutrient-poor. So, what’s actually in the oil that makes it so unhealthy?
- Oil is highly processed, usually extracted with chemical solvents, bleached, then deodorized. Solvents and extracts that are usually chemicals make up a significant part of the oils due to this particular making process. Oil in high heat can also alter the molecular structure leading to the formation of trans-fats. As it is usually cooked in high heat, most of the nutrients found in the oils are destroyed in the cooking process. It doesn’t end there, since AGE (advanced glycation end-products) are also created in high heat. AGE’s are known carcinogens and on top of that, it could also cause skin ageing and inflammation.
- Not only does it contain these chemicals, but it can also contain omega 6 fatty acids (also known as polyunsaturated fatty acids), which are pro-inflammatory when out of balance with omega 3. This type of fatty acid is needed by our bodies, but when we get too much, it poses a concern when it’s acquired from too many processed foods. Omega 6 is prevalent in safflower oil, sunflower oil, corn oil, soybean oil and cottonseed oil.
- Many oils are derived from GMO crops, so they may be contaminated with pesticides. The top four genetically modified oils are soybean, canola, corn and cottonseed. According to the FDA, in 2018, GMO soybeans made up 94% of all soybeans planted, GMO cotton made up 94% of all cotton planted, 92% of corn planted was GMO corn, and in 2013, GMO canola made up 95% of canola planted.
- Many oils on the grocery store shelves are rancid or not pure. Two studies done by UC Davies, which looked at olive and avocado oil, uncovered unsettling truth about the quality of even oils labelled as 'pure' or 'virgin' - and revealed a desperate need for better regulation in the oil industry (more details below)
For a clear overview, I’ve compiled a full list of oils to avoid when possible, in no specific order.
- Canola Oil
- Corn Oil
- Palm Oil
- Vegetable Oil
- Soybean Oil
- Safflower Oil
- Cottonseed Oil
- Sunflower Oil
Anyone looking to decrease their saturated fat consumption due to heart disease should also look into cooking without oil. Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn has successfully reversed coronary artery disease using a whole-food, plant-based diet with no added oils.
Now, for those of us without chronic diseases, we may wish to incorporate a little oil here and there in our diet for enjoyment. So, let’s look into some options touted to be healthier.
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
- Pro: Made up of monounsaturated fat called oleic acid, which has been shown to fight inflammation, and when produced properly, olive oil can be rich in antioxidants.
- Con: carcinogenic compounds such as lipid peroxides and aldehydes can form when the oils are overheated. It is also prone to adulteration, oxidation, and there are 'fake' olive oils on the market. So choose your oils wisely.
- How to look for a good olive oil:
- Look for a certified origin e.g. California Olive Oil Commission (COOC), or the North American Olive Oil Association’s NAOOA, bearing a red circular logo with a green olive branch, IOC (International olive council)
- Purchase oils in dark-colored glass bottles. This helps reduce oxidation. Steer clear of plastic and light/clear bottles.
- Look for a harvesting date or pressing date on the label. Try to get one within 6-12 months.
- Look for 100% extra virgin, cold-pressed and organic
- Some good brands found to be pure by the UC Davis study:
- Kirkland Organic
- Corto EVOO
- Cobram Estate
- California Olive Ranch
- Ellora Extra Virgin Olive Oil
- Partanna Extra Virgin Olive Oil
- Lodi Frantoio Extra Virgin Olive Oil
- TERRA Delyssa
(for more, take a look at the study
They are obviously not able to test ALL the brands out there, so if you do not see the olive oil brand you love on the list - contact them and ask them for 3rd party testing)
- The recommended way of use: Smoke point at 320 degrees Fahrenheit and a LOW heat point.
- I personally use in: Salad dressing, sauces, drizzling over pasta/bread/veggies
Which olive oil do I use? I normally buy it from a local farm because I like knowing how the olives were grown and handled, and I like to buy fresh. But many of you have asked me to recommend one that you can get your hands on that is of equal quality, and so I have been searching. I recently came across this small production extra virgin olive oil brand that ticks all the boxes for me.
A few reasons why I love Kasandrinos:
- Every batch is tested by 2 independent 3rd party labs, one in the EU and one in the US.
- 1st cold pressed and fresh, only current harvest is sold. Some experts suggest that olive oil starts to degenerate from about the 6 month mark, so it is always ideal to check the bottle date and make sure your olive oil is as fresh as possible if you want optimal antioxidants and minimal oxidation.
- Pressed using organic olives from ancient trees on a family owned farm in Greece. No pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers used and USDA certified organic.
- Hand picked to respect the ecosystem, olives go straight to a mill and not left around to mold, the left over pulp is made into fuel pellets to reduce waste.
- Single origin - meaning I know exactly where the olives have come from, how it was grown/harvested/milled, and the oils have not been mixed with other suboptimal oils.
They kindly offered us up to 50% off - click here if you want to give it a try.
- Pro: Some claim that coconut oil contains MCT (medium chain triglycerides) which can be used by our body as a rapid source of fuel and may encourage fat burning.
- Con: Coconut oil is high in saturated fats, with studies showing it may lead to raised LDL levels, which is correlated with heart disease. There is also research to show high saturated fat diet can lead to gut dysbiosis. The USDA recommends that one’s daily saturated fat intake should be less than 10% of calories per day.
- Recommended way of use: The smoke point is at 350 degrees Fahrenheit and a LOW/MEDIUM heat point.
- I personally use in: occasionally for desserts and baking, but it is not an oil I indulge in frequently.
- Pro: Ghee is a clarified type of butter that is argued by many as the “healthier” option compared to using just regular butter. Ghee’s smoke point is on the higher side and can be safely cooked with, with no change to its original molecular composition. Ghee can handle the heat even at 485 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Con: Ghee contains saturated fat, and can be a source of environmental toxins like PBC/dioxins. These environmental toxins have an affinity for and bioaccumulate in the fat of animals.
- Recommended way of use: Smoke point at 485 degrees Fahrenheit and a MEDIUM/HIGH heat point.
- I personally don’t use it at all. Ghee may have medicinal uses in Ayurveda and contain vitamins, but the ghee we use these days is probably very different to the ghee our ancestors had access to. With so many toxins being lipophilic and bioaccumulate in the fatty tissues of animals, and studies showing some of the highest levels of toxins like dioxins and PCB in cheese, ghee is something I try to avoid.
Did you know you could saute with broth, wine or water? Some may think it’s actually more harmful to cook with wine than oil, but actually, the alcohol is cooked off in the process with heat. My preferred method is to saute with broth. For quite some time now, I’ve been making my own mineral-rich, immune-boosting vegan broth- which always tastes divine. You can make your own too by following along the specific recipe found in my e-book! I promise… it’s life-changing.
I have yet to completely stop the use of oil in my cooking, but I’m utilizing various methods to use it in less quantities. These methods include air frying and baking on parchment paper and baking with mashed bananas or applesauce as a substitute for oil.
If you have a favorite method of cooking without oil, feel free to let me know in the comments.
I would love to hear from you!