Understanding the truth behind cooking with oil can feel complicated. We were told for many years to not even touch oils that contain saturated fats but now, studies have found not only are they harmless, they are actually better for us than other oils. The tricky part happens in the heating process. While raw oils may be just fine, heat can drastically change the chemical composition and turn it into an oil you should avoid.
So, if you are planning to cook something on high heat, your best bet is to use oils that don't easily go rancid or oxidize. When an oil oxidizes, it is reacting to oxygen and forming dangerous compounds and free radicals. When trying to determine how resistant an oil is to these changes, you need to look at the fatty acid content. Saturated fats have a single bond, monounsaturated fats have two and polyunsaturated fats have two or more bonds. Saturated and monounsaturated fats do well when heated while polyunsaturated fats should be avoided when it comes to cooking.
Here is a closer look at some of the most common cooking oils and how they compare:
You've likely seen a million online articles talking about how coconut oil can transform your life. Coconut oil contains a large amount of lauric acid which can help to lower cholesterol and it can stay in your pantry for months, even years, without going rancid. If consuming calories is a concern for you, you should go easy with this oil since it is high in saturated fat. Having said that, it does help to boost your metabolism and can leave you feeling fuller than some of the other oils. Coconut oil is best for meals that require low to medium heat like stews, soups, curries, baking and raw desserts.
This oil is made from rapeseed. The majority of fats in canola are monounsaturated and it contains a hefty dose of omega-3 fatty acids. The biggest drawback for this oil is that it goes through a rather intense processing method and can go rancid very quickly so be sure to store it in a cool, dark place. Canola is good for high temperatures so it is best used if you are cooking something like a stir-fry.
Olive oil is good for your heart and recent studies have found that it can actually improve your good cholesterol levels while lowering your bad cholesterol. Extra virgin olive oil tastes the best and contains the most antioxidants. When it comes to cooking, olive oil is not good for high temperature cooking as it turns into unhealthy trans fats. It is best used in cold dishes and salad dressings. Mix it with some balsamic vinegar and lemon and your salad will be heavenly.
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Butter used to have a bad reputation but it is now making a comeback since recent findings have found that butter is actually fairly nutritious containing vitamins E, A and K2. Aim for grass-fed butters or an unclarified butter like ghee. Butter is best for baking and low heat cooking since it tends to burn at higher temperatures.
Once considered healthy, we now know that vegetable oil is anything but. In recent studies, this oil has been linked to cancer and heart disease. The majority of vegetable oils contain up to 4.2% trans fats which is actually toxic. Avoid vegetable oil whenever possible. It is easy to not cook with it but be very careful when consuming processed foods. Vegetable oils often find their way into prepackaged cookies, crackers and even store bought nut milk!
What is your favourite oil for cooking? Are you on the coconut oil wagon or do you reach for something else?
If you'd like to know how to work these (and other) healthy fats into a balanced diet, the BodyRock Meal Plan can help. This plan gives you 30 days of healthy, nutritious, easy to prepare meals and snacks. Each week we will give you a detailed grocery list so all you have to do is grab the ingredients and follow the recipes. We'll make healthy eating a breeze. Get your Meal Plan here!