Guide to Cooking Oils

By Andrea Tritschler

Cooking is one of life’s great pleasures. Most of us strive to cook with healthy ingredients, but using the wrong oil can destroy a healthy meal. There are a lot of oil options to choose from, and sometimes oils that are good for you, aren’t good for cooking.

When cooking with oil, an important thing to take into consideration is the smoking point (literally the point at which the oil begins to smoke). When oils are heated to the smoking point, they begin to chemically break down creating free radicals and other harmful compounds.

We always hear that we should avoid saturated fats, but when cooking with oil, those with more saturated fat are more stable, meaning they have a higher smoke point. Oils high in polyunsaturated fat (high in omega-3 and omega-6) are less stable when heated and therefore have a lower smoking point.

We all know that extra virgin olive oil is one of the healthiest oils out there, but it isn’t the best oil to cook with like you would think. Although it’s extremely good for dressings and dipping, olive oil is high in chlorophyll, which can go rancid when cooked at relatively high temperatures. Also, the low amount of saturated fat means that the oil is unstable. You can cook with olive oil, but just use a small amount and don’t heat to high temperatures.

The best oil to cook with is coconut oil. It’s high in saturated fat, so it has a high smoking point and can be used for almost any type of cooking such as sautéing, frying, baking, anything.  Coconut oils can vary in the types of coconut and manufacturing processes. Many commercial coconut oils are refined, bleached and deodorized, and can even contain chemicals that are used in processing. Be sure to use extra virgin coconut oil to ensure a high-quality source.

What about the worst oil to cook with? Dr. Joseph Mercola stated that polyunsaturated oils, which include vegetable oils like corn, soy, safflower and canola, are the worst oils to cook with because of the trans-fatty acids introduced during the hydrogenation process. Those fatty acids can increase the risk of diseases like breast cancer and heart disease.

Vegetable oil is by the far the worst. It is made from the ‘leftover’ oils, which means it is a combination of all the oils you should avoid. So, although it has the word vegetable in it, don’t let that fool you into thinking it’s healthy.

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