Is your cooking oil safe?

Get the real deal on common oils today, and get the nutritional break down to learn what might be a better heart-healthy and anti-cancer choice.

Over the last weekend, some of my friends and I were talking about cooking oils as people were bringing food and cooking away at a gathering. It got me thinking – there IS a lot of confusion out there about types of oils for cooking, and dressings, and if you don’t have a chemistry background or nutritional background you may not know what the differences are and why they DO matter to your health. There IS a nutritional difference, and especially a breakdown difference of oils in your body. So let’s get into it.

What’s the Point of Oils?

We do need and use oils in our diet for sources of fat. We all need fat in our diet, but not ALL fat and not ALL oils are created equal in how they are used and what their effect is on our body. Oil types consist of monounsaturated, polyunsaturated, saturated, and partially hydrogenated/transfat (THE WORST).

Types of Fat

Monounsaturated Fats

These are oils that have one unsaturated carbon bond in the molecule. These are liquid at room temp and when chilled become solid. These oils are generally considered “healthy” and are protective against heart disease by raising HDL levels (which clean up cholesterol molecules we don’t want to keep), and helping with Vitamin E as many of the oils that contain monounsaturated fats have higher levels of Vitamin E.

Polyunsaturated Fats

These are fat molecules that have more than one unsaturated carbon bond. These are also considered heart healthy with monounsaturated fats and help assist in similar ways to monounsaturated fats. These help with the omegas in your body.

Saturated Fats

These are the fats that everyone has heard about and talks about. BUT I want to say first off that we absolutely need saturated fat and the consumption of saturated fat can be HEALTHY in your diet. It along in the actual real food form is very good for you. The problem and where the hype comes from is inside of processed foods with other chemicals or modified fats that produce inflammation which can then lead to heart issues. It’s NOT the saturated fat in the raw itself. Now, what is it…

Saturated fats are fat molecules that are filled with hydrogen (saturated) and have no double bonds of the carbon like the other oils above. It is made of glycerol and fatty acid.

Partially hydrogenated/trans fats

This is mad-made fat. This is not something that comes from nature. This is/was used in foods for shelf life, taste, and more. They are very unstable and should not be consumed. They are pro-inflammatory and can increase heart disease risk.

Ok now that we kind of get the idea here about what fats let’s talk about how we consume them in oils and break it all down.

Popular Oils

Olive Oil

Still one of the healthiest oils out there for your heart. It is different than other oils and VERY different than vegetable oils and canola oil. This is made up of primarily oleic acid. This acid reduces inflammation and helps with HDL numbers. This is the cholesterol that cleans up stuff we don’t want – therefore we want to have a lot of HDL. This means it’s primarily monounsaturated fat, with some polyunsaturated fats and just only 2 percent of saturated fat.

What’s the difference between regular and extra virgin? There is more processing in the regular and the extra virgin means it is closer to the pure state. 

A recent study found that using extra virgin olive oil regularly lowered blood pressure and cholesterol levels. Another recent study found that it also has bone protective effects.

Warning: With olive oil, you want to only use low heat, or raw. Heating olive oil can create an oxidative effect in the body after and that is negative. We want to be anti-oxidant. So if you want to use this – you can add it at the end of cooking and let it heat through in a pan on low or off, or add raw to salads and dressing.

Coconut Oil

This has become very popular in the last 5-10 years. This is saturated fat. Now catch yourself here and remind yourself the information from above – NOT ALL SATURATED FAT IS BAD! This particular type of saturated fat actually also helps your HDL levels. Remember that is the cholesterol you WANT to have. It cleans up the messy stuff. It’s heart-protective! Half of the fat is lauric acid in this oil. 

This also comes in the raw and unrefined, or you can get a refined version (like the virgin or not in olive). Of course, you would rather get as close to raw as possible with the oils. This is due to the fact that important nutrient values can be decreased during refinement. 

A recent study showed that using coconut oil (unrefined) helped improved some aspects of kidney function in diabetic patients. Another recent study showed that coconut oil may have anti-cancer properties that assist in cancer cell death.

Note: This is an oil you can cook with at high temperature. Great for baking, and high temperature use when you can’t use olive oil.

Avocado Oil

This is a newer oil to the health scene. But it is WELL worth it. Again you are looking for the unrefined version, and this is another monounsaturated, with polyunsaturated and also vitamin E. This is primarily oleic acid (like olive oil) with some omega 6. Omega 6, when balanced with 3, is a great thing, but one thing to be aware of – if you are eating many processed foods still you are currently overloaded with omega 6. Omega 6 alone without the proper balance can cause inflammation (it’s pro-inflammatory). With the right balance with 3 – which is anti-inflammatory – it is a good thing. But unfortunately most packaged products on the shelves today are highly inflammatory, and you are overloaded with 6 from other types of oils used in their creation.

You can cook with high heat with avocado oil, so it’s great for oven, grilling (in a pan or basket), and stir-frying. It’s healthier than vegetable oil (coming up in the fact that it isn’t a highly processed or GMO filled oil). There is some evidence that avocado oil may help with high cholesterol, but there haven’t been a lot of studies as to avocado oil and dietary benefits at this time. When this is the case, I always go to the nutritional makeup, chemistry, and values to see how they compare to already studied items. In this case, it is very similar to the structure of olive oil – which has been widely studied and shown to have health benefits.

Flaxseed Oil

Now, this is a different one (linseed oil). This is generally taken in a supplement form. This is an alpha-linoleic acid and is high in omega 3 (remember you can’t really get enough or too much of this and it is protective for your heart). Flaxseed oil has been studied exactly for this (link above) and has been shown to benefit. It is also very good for your skin, and I personally take this supplement daily. It does have a bit of omega 6, but again when eating a NON processed food (real food) diet, and balancing plenty of omega 3, you will be just fine.  This is dressing in liquid format ONLY. Absolutely no heat can be applied to this oil in liquid format

Vegetable Oil

This is one of the 1980s and beyond toted “healthy oils” – HOWEVER, more study and research as decades have passed have proven this to be among the less healthy options for oils. 

Vegetable oil can be made from any of the following – canola, corn, soy, safflower palm, or sunflower oil. These are ALL HIGHLY processed plants, and some of them are genetically modified (i.e. GMOs).  These are made of polyunsaturated fats primarily, with a few monounsaturated and they are HIGH IN OMEGA 6, and low in omega 3. (Remember what I said above about what you are overloaded with and what is the least protective of your heart health). 

These oils are NOT STABLE UNDER HIGH TEMPERATURE (are you frying with them?). These oxidize and with repeated heating and consumption you can end up with a host of different issues such as cancer, Alzheimer’s and more.

Note: Be aware that some vegetable oils on the market may actually be partially hydrogenated. This is a man-made fat version that is often shared as vegetable oil. Please read if you are going to purchase this, but why bother? Just go with something safer and more stable like avocado! There are options and better choices over this type of oil today.

Canola Oil

This is very similar and can be what a component of vegetable oil is – so this is made from rapeseed. This is a HIGHLY processed oil, and processing can use hexane which has been shown to potentially cause cancer

This is another oil that you DO NOT want to cook with under high heat repeatedly! This can become very unstable, and then the omega 3 that MAYBE were left after processing will no longer be available. The questionable processing alone, along with the fact this is another low omega 3, and high omega 6 option should just be a no thank you. There are so many other safer options for oils with more nutritional benefit.

Oils in Conclusion

 We are truly blessed to have so many options for oils today. Which also means that we do have the choice to ditch the unstable oils that could lead to potential inflammation and heart health issues. Sure nutritionally many of the oils above are similar in total fat levels, similar in their monounsaturated to saturated fat ratios, but they are all chemically different from each other and THAT is where the HUGE difference is. Our body processes different fatty acids differently and our response to those is what makes one oil healthier than another.

We use olive oil for dressings and even in cooked sauces, but we wait until it’s done and add the oil at the end, and we also use avocado oil for high heat or creating our mayo and similar items. We use coconut oil on occasion for some homemade granola bars and in our body products.

Tell me what’s your favorite oil? And did you know all this before?

2 thoughts on “Is your cooking oil safe?

    1. You could use coconut oil, or avocado oil for stir fry. I would personally use avocado for that. It is very neutral in flavor and at the very end when you go low heat or turn off you could toss in sesame or olive oil for more flavor. Grapeseed oil is high in omega 6 … which we already have a TON of in our diets and is one of the things that if left out of balance with omega 3 can lead to heart disease. This is also a highly processed oil, there is no other way to get the oil from the grape seeds… I wouldn’t recommend this just due to the omega 6 content. It’s highly polyunsaturated fat as well – and you want to go with more monounsaturated. Hope that helps.

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