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How to Use Cooking Oils Without Risking Your Health

The Ultimate Guide to Choose your Cooking Oils

Have you ever wonder what is the best oil to use for cooking? 

I beg you've met lots of conflicting information about what is the healthiest option.

Are you still confused? It isn’t your fault.

Promise: by the end of this article, you will be able to confidently choose the best alternative for you.

The best cooking oil

 

To be honest, I’ve always found the information about fats confusing. There is always a new, better, healthier alternative. The latest “best” is coconut oil. I have the proof: even my mum use it. We’ve had a lot of “best” cooking oils since the second world war starting with margarine through olive oil, sunflower oil, palm oil and butter to coconut oil? Which one is the best to use them at cooking?

There are plenty of articles campaigning for one or other emphasising their health benefits but what is the truth?

So I made my research on cooking oils and here is most important finding:

There is no one ultimate best cooking oil. The question is not Which one is the best? rather: What we should use, when and how?

This makes thing a bit more complicated but by the end of this article, you will be able to choose the best alternative in every situation: at cooking, in a restaurant or in a shop.

Exercise Step 1: So, grab a pen and list the cooking oils you use often leaving space to further notes on the right. (3 more columns)

The place of fats in our diet

Nearly every food contains fat – in a different proportion of course: vegetables, fruits, grains, meat, fish, dairy products etc. Practically it is impossible to achieve a completely fat-free diet but this is not desirable at all – as they have a really important place in our diet. They provide energy, promote growth and development, regulate our body functions and transport and absorb fat-soluble vitamins. So at least 15% of our diet needs to be fat.

But we have to be careful as fat is much easier to overeat because it is energy-dense. This means that there are more calories per gram in fat than any other food (9 calories per gram compared to 4 calories per gram in carbohydrates or protein). So if you have a tendency to eat until having a full stomach, you’ll struggle with high-fat foods. 

From the media we know well, that there are ‘good’ fats and ‘bad’ fats: saturated fats are the bad boys because increasing the level of bad cholesterol (LDL) and lowering the good cholesterol (HDL) put us in a risk of obesity, heart disease and cancer. So we learned that saturated fat is not good for heart health. But we have to be aware that even more health disease comes from obesity and basically every kind of fat is stored by our bodies easily, so we have to be really careful with the amount of fat in our diet.

We have to think about not just the butter on our toast, but the hidden fat in certain cuts of meat, in dips, even in sweet foods (chocolate, cakes etc).

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I would just encourage everyone to limit deep or shallow fried food to an occasional consumption in their diet. And this is not just because of the calorie content. During frying when cooking oils are heated for a long time and/or go over the smoking point they release free radicals and harmful compounds like HNE (a causal agent of numerous diseases).

Frying meat, or other proteins, is also not recommended, as during the browning process cancer causing compounds are created. This happens during barbequing, grilling and searing.

If you buy fried food from takeaway shops or in restaurants you have to know that they usually reuse cooking oil. This is a problem as the more they reuse the oil the longer it is heated and which  means that the harmful compounds accumulate in the oil by time.

So these are 4 good reasons to say goodbye to fried foods and find other healthier techniques in food preparation.

But once you get there, you should be able to confidently choose the right cooking oil.

What are the most important criteria when you choose your cooking oil?  

We are prone to check the calories and decide based on this information but is probably last criteria what we should consider in the case of cooking oils.

In reality, some oils are better for cooking than others. Why?

Simply because they can handle heat better than others – creating less harmful compounds when heated. When we heat the fats saturated fats are more heat resistant and do not emit a toxin as opposed to unsaturated or polyunsaturated fats which do.

So in the case of high heat cooking, saturated fats are a better option.

Which oil is the best option depends on what you would like to use it for. Here are the most important criteria:

#1 Health benefits

 Which oils are healthy – it depends on how you look at them. If the context is heart health than the saturation level is the most important criterium, if weight loss then the calorie content. However, oils are not just empty calories – most of the natural oils loaded with antioxidants and vitamins too. It is the best not to narrow the number of different kind of oils too much in our diet – but to eat a wide variety in moderation.

Are you a constantly tired Mum?

Follow this free action plan

to get your energy back!

The Best 7 Nutritional Swaps To Be an Energetic Mum

With a printable reference.​


#2 Taste

There are natural taste oils and really characteristic ones. Unrefined oils can raise a dish to the next level and give it a fantastic base. Many unrefined oils are packed with minerals, enzymes, and other compounds that don’t play well with heat. Extra virgin olive oil, nut and seed oils belong here. They are tasty and healthy, but they aren’t the best for cooking – especially not at high temperature. They lose all their goodness by heating and form harmful compounds. They are a perfect choice in dressings and dips, though.

#3 Saturation level

Every oil contains a mixture of saturated, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats – just in different proportion. We know, that the healthiest oils are monounsaturated oils like olive oil, rapeseed oil, nut oils, avocado oil. Oils rich in omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids (polyunsaturated oils) are also often recommended as healthy options: vegetable oils, walnut oil, flaxseed oil or soyabean oil. But when it comes to heating oils to high-temperature they are not all equal. Polyunsaturated fats become unstable on high temperature and release more free radicals than saturated fats.

#4 Smoking point

There is a temperature at which the oil starts smoking. Just think of a situation when you put the pan on the heat with oil then you got distracted and the next what you experienced is smoke, watering eyes, and a stinky kitchen… Then the oil passed the smoking point. the problem is with this that when the oil passed its smoking point it releases free radicals and form harmful compounds. Obviously, high heat cooking needs oils with a higher smoking point to stay at the safe and healthy side.

How to use cooking oils

 

1. High heat cooking

Hight heat cooking - healthy fats

What is high heat cooking?

Sauteing, frying, stir-frying, grilling, pan roasting, searing, caramelising

The best choices for high heat cooking oils:

  • with a low percentage of polyunsaturated fat: 15% or below
  • with a high smoking point: 160 oC or above

This means that we need to know the smoking point and the saturated fat content of oils to choose the best oil for high heat cooking.

Exercise Step 2: Now, if you already listed your cooking oils you can make a note of the smoking point next to them using the infographic below.

Smoking points of cooking oils

You can check the saturation level of cooking fats here:

Fat Composition in different Cooking Oils

The best choices

  • for Searing: a neutral fat with a high smoke point like corn, or vegetable oil
  • for Deep-Frying: a high smoke point, neutral fat like refined coconut oil
  • For Stir-Frying: a really high smoke point oil, like peanut, avocado oil
  • For Sautéing: olive oil and other medium smoke point fats

2. Medium heat cooking

using oil at baking - healthy fats

What is medium heat cooking?

Gentle saute, stewing, baking, braising

The best choices

All oils what are good for high heat cooking and butter.

Are you a constantly tired Mum?

Follow this free action plan

to get your energy back!

The Best 7 Nutritional Swaps To Be an Energetic Mum

With a printable reference.​

3. Non-cook consumption

Olive oil on feta - healthy fats

What is non-cook consumption?

Drizzling oils over dishes, dipping, adding to salad dressings

In this case smoking point obviously doesn’t play a role, so we can choose the oil by taste and health benefits.

When you do not need to heat the oil, choose tasty oils high in Omega-3 fatty acids since they promote healthy cells and decrease the risk of stroke and heart attack.

The best choices

unfiltered extra virgin olive oil and unrefined or toasted nut and seed oils (pumpkin seed oil, walnut oil, flaxseed oil)

Exercise Step 3: Looking at the list of cooking oils in your household and make a note how you use them now: high heat, medium heat cooking or non-cook consumption?

How to buy and store cooking oils?

Oils cannot be stored forever, they can become rancid. Rancid oils – just like reused oils – harmful to our health containing destructive free radicals, so they should not be consumed. Light, heat, water, and air are the enemies of cooking oils.

What can we do?

– Do not use rancid oil – I know it is hard to throw-away treasured oils, but they make more harm the good.

– Buy small batches – so oils won’t be stored for long and get rancid.

– Keep your oils in a cool, dark place away from direct light. If they come in a translucent bottle, consider wrapping them in tin foil to extend their shelf life. So, even they look good in lovely bottles displayed on the shelves – they should be kept in the cupboard.

– Keep oils tightly sealed: oxygen can speed up the rancidity process. So tighten the lid before storing.

Exercise Step 4: Check your notes and the smoking point and saturation level of the oils what you use often. Based on the information above: do you need to make changes? Do you use the best alternatives?

 

Are you a constantly tired Mum?

Follow this free action plan

to get your energy back!

The Best 7 Nutritional Swaps To Be an Energetic Mum

With a printable reference.​

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