When it comes to cooking, most of us use oils. Whether its adding oil to a cake mix or preparing to fry up a chicken breast, whether its drizzling oil over a salad or pouring a little into boiling water before adding pasta, oil is used so often and so frequently that it’s imperative that we figure out what’s healthy and what’s not. Also, there are so many varieties out there that it can be a little overwhelming—should you use canola, olive, coconut, animal fat, soybean oil, or what? We’re going to break down the list here, go over the benefits and health risks, and give you a good idea as to what you should be using.
First, let’s be clear about something: all oils are basically fats. If you weren’t aware of that, now you know, but whether its vegetable oil or olive or whatever, they’re all fats, so be aware of how much you use and why. Just as there are good fats and bad fats, from transfats to monounsaturated, the same holds true for oils.
First, the good oils. Let’s start with olive oil, which is not only an ancient fixture in recipes but is also the most monounsaturated oil there is. It has proven cardiovascular benefits (raises HDL and lowers LDL cholesterol) and also boasts of powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. It’s great drizzled on a salad, and can be used for cooking, but here you must be careful—only use olive oils at low heat. Higher heats can sour it, and ruin its health benefits.
Coconut oil is also excellent, but is frequently distrusted because of its high saturated fat content (at 92 percent, its often solid at room temperature, which is the main difference between saturated and unsaturated fat). However, saturated fats can offer many health benefits, and coconut oil can help normalize blood lipids, protect your liver from damage by alcohol, and has great anti-inflammatory and immune system supporting properties. Unlike olive oil, it’s fine with high temperatures, making it a great choice for serious cooking.
Now, one group to avoid are high polyunsaturated oils (such as corn, sunflower, canola, safflower, cottonseed, etc). The reason you should avoid them is because they oxidize easily (think about how oil can go sour if left open—that’s oxidization happening right there), and are heavily refined and processed. If you feel tempted to use these guys, go for olive oil instead. Popular oils in this group like canola oil are genetically engineered and put through a deodorizing process that converts some of its natural omega-3’s into harmful transfats.
The key lesson to take away from all this is to use natural, healthy oils that require a minimum of processing. Even animal fat is better than canola oil, because while high in saturated fat, it won’t have gone through all the artificial processes that make poly-unsaturated fats (PUFA’s) so chemically dangerous to your system. Think olive oil, think coconut oil, and stop using highly processed, hydrogenated oils like canola, corn or sunflower oil.
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