Over the past year, I have learned A LOT about cooking oils. Much of my learning stemmed from the documentary “The Oiling of America.” (For anyone on cholesterol-lowering drugs, especially women, this is a must-see! Albeit a bit long, it is definitely worth the information.)
I’ll post more on this in the future, but for now, here is the key idea you’ll want to know:
Saturated fats have been consumed safely and nutritionally for thousands of years. Contrary to popular belief, they have not been proven to be the cause of heart disease, weight gain, or high cholesterol. It is theorized that the cause for each of these are rancid vegetable oils (found in almost all processed foods), hydrogenated oils or trans fatty acids, white sugar, and white flour.
So, what exactly does this mean for those of us looking to live a healthy lifestyle? Read on. We’re about to clear up some common misconceptions about cooking oils.
Vegetable oils are healthy and a great option for low-fat diets.
Cooking vegetable oils, including corn oil, soybean oil, canola oil, etc. are not natural. They are usually extracted using extreme processing techniques that render them rancid, then bleached and deodorized for your eating pleasure. It’s important to note that rancid oils are very inflammatory to the body and highly toxic. In addition to this, most are genetically modified and/or hydrogenated. Yes, even those that say trans-fat free may contain some small amounts of trans fats. The law allows a minute percentage to be considered “trans fat-free” and companies are good at adjusting the serving size to stay under that percentage. Avoid all vegetable oils, including those found in almost every name-brand processed food. An inflamed body leads to disease. (Read more here.)
When you purchase extra virgin olive oil, you are getting 100% extra virgin olive oil.
Approximately 70% of the extra virgin olive oil sold on store shelves is actually “watered” down and mixed with other cheaper oils, such as soybean oil. Yuck! To “test” your EVOO, put it in the refrigerator. It should get cloudy and harden when cold then turn back to liquid at room temperature. If it does not harden in the fridge, then you’ve been ripped off. (Read more here.) Also, pure extra virgin olive oil should be sold in a dark, preferably glass, container–not in clear glass like the picture above. Light denatures the proteins in the oil and makes them rancid and inflammatory. You’ll also want to look for stone-crushed, cold-pressed, and unfiltered. A couple of brands that I have found trustworthy include Napa Valley Naturals Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil and Bariani California Olive Oil. Yes, this is definitely a case of you get what you pay for.
Extra virgin olive oil is the healthiest cooking oil.
Extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) is a monounsaturated fat, meaning it is liquid at room temperature. Because of this, it is highly unstable for cooking as are all of the other vegetable oils. When used for cooking, the heat denatures the proteins in the oils and makes them rancid and inflammatory. It is even best to store EVOO away from the stove and sunlight so that the heat and light do not destroy the oil.
What to do with EVOO instead? Use it as a topping for popcorn, cooked potatoes, or in a salad dressing! Take 1 part balsamic vinegar and 3 parts EVOO, plus salt and pepper to taste, for a quick and easy (and healthy) balsamic vinaigrette. Make it to order though. If you have pure EVOO, then it will harden in the fridge.
Other oils to consider for non-cooking: flax seed oil (refrigerated only), nut oils, avocado oils, etc. (Never corn, canola or soybean oils!) This goes for processed foods, too, so read your labels!
Saturated fats are bad for you, cause high cholesterol and heart disease, and should be avoided at all costs.
Saturated fats are extremely healthy and offer a number of nutritional benefits, such as CLA (found in grass-fed beef) and Vitamins A, D, K (found in butter, cream and whole milk). They provide the body with cholesterol, which is necessary for normal hormone production. (Many on low-fat diets struggle with infertility and sterility due to lacking the nutrients found in saturated fats.)
Saturated fats are also satisfying and help maintain a healthy weight and offer more energy per inch than carbs. (Check out Eat Fat, Lose Fat: The Healthy Alternative to Trans Fats.)
Saturated fats are also solid at room temperature, making them extremely stable. They do not denature when exposed to high temperatures, and are therefore, best used for cooking and baking.
Some great saturated fats for cooking, include: coconut oil (look for expeller-pressed, hexane free–I purchase mine by the gallon from Tropical Traditions.), red palm fruit oil, lard (from organic, pastured pork–not store-bought hydrogenated poison), tallow (from organic, pastured beef), and pastured butter or ghee (for those with casein/lactose intolerances).
I hope this helps clear up a few of those misconceptions. As always, when in doubt, do your own research. Just keep in mind who is really profiting from the USDA’s food pyramid–um, processed foods, anyone? And yes, that includes all of those low-fat concoctions they recommend that are never ever found in nature.
Think and act. . . and if you arrive at the same conclusion that I have, then making a few adjustments to your cooking oils may be a good place to start.
What’s your favorite cooking oil?