There’s a debate among dietitians about how to categorize cooking oils and advise consumers on ways to employ them in their cooking. This makes healthy eating decisions a little complicated when it comes to cooking oils. In this post, we’ll break down the discussion to better explain some of the best and worst cooking oils for your health.
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Balancing the Fatty Acid Scale
“Fatty acids” are molecules that make up fats. More specifically, fatty acids are also commonly known as monounsaturated, saturated and polyunsaturated fats.
The visible difference between the three is that saturated fats (trans fats) are solid at room temperature. For example, think margarine or shortening. They have been boosted with hydrogen atoms by a process called hydrogenation. Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, on the other hand, are liquid at room temperature and have not been hydrogenated.
When rating these three fatty acids in terms of healthiness, monounsaturated fats are the healthiest, polyunsaturated fats are in the middle, and saturated fats are at the least healthy.
Saturated Fats vs Unsaturated Fats
The hydrogenation process is what causes health concerns with saturated fats/trans fats. Saturated fats do not break down easily in the body, which causes a buildup of harmful cholesterol and a stockpile of unwanted fat storage. However, unsaturated fats break down much more easily, which allows for proper nutrient absorption and bodily function.
The main point to remember is that all oils contain a mixture of saturated and unsaturated fats, but it’s the ratio of these fats in the oils that matters when it comes to your health.
Omega 6 & Omega 3
The debate gets especially heated when it comes to the Omegas. Omega 6 and Omega 3 are the specific fatty acids found in monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats that provide essential nutrient fuel for our bodies.
Omega 3’s are the champions of the fatty acid group, providing countless benefits for our bodies. Omega 6’s are equally as necessary and perform similar duties as Omega 3’s—but if they are left unchecked or unmoderated, they may cause a bit of a health backlash. There is still debate among nutritionists today around the proper amount of Omega 6’s you should intake.
The final thing to consider is how processing oils comes into play. Most monounsaturated oils do not go through a lot of processing, which enables them to maintain much of their nutritional composition. But with polyunsaturated oils, quite a bit of processing is involved, which strips them of most of their essential nutrients.
Processing oil can be a little precarious. The oil is usually heated to extreme temperatures to filter out impurities, which ultimately removes much of the nutritional composition. However, this process can also be done with the use of chemicals. This chemical processing is what really gives oil health advocates pause, as it opens up questions about the health risks these chemicals might cause over time.
The Best Oils for Your Health
Here are some of the best oils for your health. These are the monounsaturated powerhouse oils that you should feel comfortable using for any number of cooking applications!
Avocado oil is often a top choice among chefs and healthy food fans. Not only does avocado oil have one of the highest smoke points (the maximum temperature oil can reach without burning), but it is packed with plenty of monounsaturated fats.
Often times, avocado oil, like many monounsaturated oils, does not go through excessive processing. Avocado oil is also usually cold-pressed, locking in all the wonderful nutritional benefits and flavor. That flavor is moderately mild and fresh, much like that of the avocado fruit itself. It is truly a wonderful oil to cook with!
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) is the longstanding champion of both health and flavor. Known throughout the dietetic community as a superstar fat, this monounsaturated oil is a top pick for your health.
Extra virgin olive oil is, by definition, mildly processed for simple filtration and clarity, which locks in so much nutritional goodness and flavor.
Cooking with EVOO has been a staple for much of our human existence. Although it does not have as high of a smoke point as avocado oil, extra virgin olive oil can still handle itself well in the kitchen for both hot and cold applications.
There are so many nut oils you can use that are super healthy. Just to name a few, consider trying peanut, hazelnut, almond, and walnut oil.
Nut oils are rich in monounsaturated fats, along with a nice balance of polyunsaturated fats. The other benefit of using nut oils is that they don’t go through much processing. Over-processing would take away their nutty flavor, which would negate much of the purpose of the oil.
Keep in mind that while peanut oil is very versatile in the kitchen, other specialty nut oils are best left for finishing dishes or vinaigrettes.
The Worst Oils For Your Health
This is where the balance shifts more into the realm of saturated and polyunsaturated oils. Try to cut back on your use of the following oils when planning out healthier cooking habits.
Shortening is a hydrogenated saturated fat, making it a double whammy in terms of bad fat avoidance. While it does have its own culinary cult following, it is best to keep this one away from your everyday dishes when it comes to your health.
Vegetable oil is typically made with a blend of corn oil and rapeseed oil. It’s true that vegetable oil contains a higher level of polyunsaturated fats than monounsaturated fats, but not by staggering accounts. Instead, it is the processing that can make vegetable oil less healthy. Many of the vegetable oils stocked at our grocers have been majorly processed with chemicals, heat, or both. As we now know, this eliminates many, if not most, of their health benefits.
If you’re a health-conscious chef, vegetable oil should be used only on occasion. If you happen to find a moderately processed vegetable oil, consider using it as your third choice behind avocado oil and extra virgin olive oil.
Shop Tantillo Foods Cooking Oil
Understanding what makes the best and worst cooking oils for your health can be tricky. However, Tantillo Foods has a lovely selection of healthy oils available for your convenience. Our selection of extra virgin olive oils and avocado oils are carefully crafted to preserve their natural flavor and nutritional value. Purchase a bottle today!