With the availability of so many cooking oils out there, it can be quite a difficult endeavor to pick out the best option. The primary cause of concern that shifts the consumer’s focus towards oil is weight monitoring and heart health.
All cooking oils are made up of three types of fatty acids: monounsaturated fats, polyunsaturated fats, and saturated fats. Each oil is categorized based on its fatty acid composition. For instance, coconut oil is made up of saturated fat, predominantly. Olive and canola oil consist of mainly monounsaturated fats. Similarly, soybean oil is rich in polyunsaturated fats.
These fats have been a subject to considerable scrutiny concerning its harmful effects. Research suggests that by substituting saturated fats with unsaturated fats, one can significantly improve heart health.
Unsaturated fats are a healthier option that has been shown to result in improved heart health, reduced cholesterol, and LDL, as well as better brain health. These unsaturated fats are further made up of monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats.
Dietary guidelines recommend the consumption of certain essential fatty acids daily for sustenance. There are two polyunsaturated fatty acids that the human body cannot produce. These include linoleic acid and alpha-linolenic acid. These fatty acids are essential omega-3 fatty acids necessary for multiple body processes.
Omega-3 fats are abundant in fatty fish, flaxseeds, walnuts, chia seeds, and soybeans. They are an essential health requirement as they are associated with a reduced risk of developing high blood pressure and triglyceride levels. Research has also found substantial evidence that omega-3 fats help rheumatoid arthritis. In addition to heart health, these fatty acids are also incredibly beneficial for the brain as well as asthma, depression, anxiety, cancer, and psoriasis.
Top 5 Oils For Better Health
This article will take you through 5 best oils you should use for better health. All the good oils have a low content of saturated fat, and are composed of healthy, unsaturated fats.
1. Avocado Oil
Avocado oil is a rich source of monounsaturated fats (70%) falling second only to olive oil. Similar to olive oil, avocado oil is also low in polyunsaturated fats (10%). Although avocado oil has a high saturated fat content (20%) compared to other vegetable oils, its saturated fat percentage is much lower than that found in butter, lard, coconut, or palm oil.
Avocado oil is unrefined like extra virgin olive oil; however, it has a higher smoking point. This quality makes avocado oil an excellent oil for cooking at high heat. It has a mild flavor, which makes it very versatile for multiple purposes such as dressings, frying, sautéing, etc. In addition to the rich monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids content, avocado oil is also rich in vitamin E and antioxidants that help lower cholesterol, improve heart health, and assist in the absorption of beneficial nutrients. If you are on a budget, avocado oil would not be of much help. However, if you are looking to eat healthily, avocado oil is one of the best ones out there.
2. Coconut Oil
Coconut oil is extracted from the fruit of the coconut palm tree. Raw coconut oil is a white solid at room temperature and has a consistency that matches shortening as opposed to traditional oil. Therefore, it is often advertised as a healthier alternative to butter. Coconut oil is, in fact, high in saturated fat (92%), which is why experts recommend it for moderate use.
There has also been an ongoing debate about coconut oil’s benefits towards heart health. A 2016 study deduced that people who consumed more coconut oil exhibited a higher level of total and LDL cholesterol compared to those who used butter. However, multiple studies have observed the effects of saturated fats and whether they are as harmful as they are assumed to be.
Aside from the high saturated fat content, coconut oil harbors various benefits. It has antibacterial and antifungal properties which help the body stay protected. Additionally, it helps the body burn more fat, is energizing and helps improve digestion. What makes it an excellent choice of oil is its high smoke point. The high smoke point makes it great for high-heat as it is less prone to oxidation.
Related article: 8 Amazing Health Benefits of Coconut Oil
3. Peanut Oil
There is an array of nut oils to choose from. Peanut oil is the one with the highest monounsaturated fats content. Nutty and flavorful, peanut oil is excellent for high-heat cooking. Its high smoke point reaches approximately 450 degrees Fahrenheit making it ideal for frying.
4. Sesame Oil
Sesame oil is a staple ingredient in Asian cuisine. It contains the right mix of monounsaturated (40%) and polyunsaturated fats (46%) as well as a small percentage of saturated fats (14%). Sesame oil has a nutty flavor that is hard to replicate. Although it does not have a very high smoke point, it is still an excellent oil for sautéing as well as salad dressings.
5. Olive Oil
Olive oil is a staple in many countries, especially Mediterranean food. It has the highest percentage of monounsaturated fatty acids amongst all other cooking oils. A rich source of antioxidants known as polyphenols, olive oil has been studied to improve heart health. Olive oil is chemically processed but is excellent for high-heat cooking as it has a high smoke point of approximately 465 degrees Fahrenheit. It is incredibly versatile and is an excellent pick for all uses.
Extra virgin olive oil is the first product extracted after the olives are first pressed. It has a strong flavor and a fruity scent to it. This unrefined variant of olive oil – although relatively more pricey – is an excellent source of antioxidants. A study observed the effects of the Mediterranean diet, i.e., rich in olive oil, on patients with a high risk of heart disease. The results exhibited a significantly reduced risk of developing a heart attack in patients who were on a Mediterranean diet as compared to those who were on a generally low-fat diet.
Related article: 10 Essential Benefits of Olive Oil
Now that we have discussed the oils that are beneficial for our health, let us move on to the ones that are not as beneficial as we may perceive them to be. There are three main questions you should always keep in mind when examining cooking oils. These include:
- What is the ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids?
- The method of processing oil
- Does it contribute to inflammation?
Inflammation is the sole cause behind an array of illnesses, including diabetes, heart disease, arthritis, cancer, metabolic disease, and more.
Causes Of Inflammation:
Some of the most significant contributors to inflammation include:
- Inflammation-inducing foods such as processed foods, sugar, fast food, alcohol and more
- Oils high in omega-6
- Lack of sleep
- Environmental toxins
- Chemicals in cleaning products
Thus, if you wish to reduce the occurrence of disease, the key is to reduce inflammation effectively. It is critical that you avoid things that may contribute to inflammation.
Omega-6 Fatty Acids And Inflammation
We all know about omega-3 fatty acids. They are essential fatty acids that are imperative for various body processes, including brain health, fetal development, and cardiovascular health, among others. Both omega-3 and omega-6 are polyunsaturated fats that play a critical role in cellular function. While omega-3 harbors beneficial attributes, omega-6 has been studied to cause inflammation.
Studies show that an excess of omega-6 fatty acid results in clogged arteries and thus an increased risk of heart disease. Additionally, its inflammatory effects may also increase one’s risk of developing cancer. According to the WHO, the recommended ratio for omega-6 to omega-3 should be 4:1. This means that for every one portion of omega-6 fatty acids, you should take four portions of omega-3 fatty acids. At present, the average ratio found in Americans lies between a staggering 10:1 to 25:1.
Therefore, when considering oils, it is crucial that you take into account its omega-6 content. The high omega-6 content is thus unhealthy and may contribute to inflammation in the body.
Related article: 16 Health Benefits of Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Oil Processing: Why Does It Matter?
Oil processing often results in making cooking oils unhealthier. Various oils are extracted from seeds or beans that are not necessarily easy to attain. Thus, industrial power is employed to extract these oils. Extracting the oil using intense heat often leads to their oxidation, which results in the production of free radicals. Many studies show the negative health effects of free radicals. Additionally, these industrial processes often use chemical solvents like bleach or hexane to mask the smell or flavor of the oil following extraction. These solvents have been studied to possess carcinogenic properties that contribute to an increased risk of developing cancer.
Top 5 Oils You Must Avoid
1. Grapeseed Oil
Oil manufacturing companies market grapeseed oil as a healthier alternative to regular cooking oil; however, the truth is far from that. Approximately 70% of grapeseed oil’s composition is omega-6 fatty acids. These fatty acids result in heart disease, autoimmune disorders, and cancer. Additionally, industrial workers process the grapeseed oil with the help of carcinogenic solvents, such as hexane. Traces of these solvents may be present in the final product.
Research suggests oils high in omega-6 are more prone to oxidation. Oxidation results in the production of free radicals which contribute to disease by instigating inflammation, thyroid damage, hormonal imbalances, and cancer. For those whose diet contains a significant amount of omega-6 (processed foods, corn, soy, etc.) must try to cut down the intake and instead opt for foods that are rich in omega-3 such as seafood, flax, chia, etc.
2. Canola Oil
Canola oil comes from rapeseeds. For that purpose, the crude oil extracted from rapeseeds is refined, bleached, and deodorized. The high processing heat used to obtain the oil results in the oil smelling rotten. Industrial carcinogenic deodorizers and bleaches like hexane are then used to mask the smell. Rapeseeds are potent sources of omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3, however, is relatively fragile and thus easily subjected to oxidation through heating. Oils with high omega-3 content are not suitable for cooking as they are heat-sensitive.
According to a research study observing the effect of canola oil on farm animals, canola oil has a negative impact on coronary health unless balanced with a sufficient intake of saturated fats. This proves that not all saturated fats are detrimental to health.
3. Vegetable Oil
The major component of vegetable oil is soybean oil; therefore, the name can be quite misleading. Soybean oil is approximately 55% omega-6, which is not the best option if you wish to be healthy. Soy is a potent source of phytic acid and phytoestrogens. Phytoestrogen mimics estrogen and disrupts normal hormonal function, thereby increasing one’s risk of developing cancer. Additionally, soy contains trypsin inhibitors which impede the absorption of various proteins, minerals, and vitamins. For these reasons, nutritionists recommend eating soy in its fermented form such as soy sauce, natto, tempeh, etc.
4. Butter Substitutes
Butter substitutes such as margarine or vegan butter, such as earth balance, are generally a mix of soybean and canola oils. Both of these oils are high in omega-6 fatty acids and thus are not suitable for the body.
5. Corn Oil
Among all the genetically modified crops, corn makes it to the top ten. Corn oil is 58% omega-6 fatty acids which contribute to various health issues.
When it comes to beneficial oils, it is important to make your pick in accordance with your needs. Different oils possess different qualities that make them a better pick for different uses. A neutral oil with a high smoke point is best for baking. For sautéing, a nutty, flavorful oil with a low smoke point is excellent. As for salad dressings, keep it neutral or nutty: the choice is yours.
Additionally, it is always good to bear in mind which oils are beneficial for you. In addition to our top 5 picks, there are many other beneficial oils as well, including flaxseed oil and walnut oil, among others. Finding the best cooking oil is a lot harder than you may think, so do your research. Rule out the unhealthy ones and treat your body well.
Also read: 10 Ways To Eat Healthy In A Busy World