Whether you consider yourself a foodie, or not - cooking oils are a kitchen staple! There are plenty of cooking oils to choose from, and each type of oil comes with its own benefits and specific uses. Some people favour particular oils because of the taste, while others are more interested in the most affordable option. Because they seem to play a relatively small role in the creation of our meals, we may not pay too much attention to their nutritional value, or how they could be impacting our health long-term.
With the latest research and nutrition advice, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed with the seemingly endless list of foods that have been found to contribute to poor health. It feels like every week we’re being told to cut out another ingredient, or avoid a certain food group. But it’s true that the research surrounding cooking oils is pretty clear, and it makes a whole lot of sense if you really think about it. The consensus is that vegetable oils like canola, rice bran and soybean oil are the ones we need to be weary of. It’s become commonplace to find these highly processed oils in our pantries and throughout grocery stores because they’re cheap to make, they’re usually quite flavorless and easy to add to any meal. Because they’re so affordable and easily accessible, you can almost guarantee these oils are being used in most of the restaurants’ and cafes’ you go to. These situations are pretty unavoidable, and if you follow the 80/20 rule, it’s all about what we do 80% of the time that makes a real difference to our health long term. But if you’re using vegetable oils in your home too, you may want to think about how this could be contributing to your health!
It may be surprising to hear that oils like canola or rice bran can cause so much damage, but it’s important to know the impact they have on our health so you can make an educated choice as a consumer.
The problem with vegetable oils is their ability to throw us off balance when it comes to the ratio of our fatty acids. Refined vegetable oils like canola are particularly rich in omega-6 fatty acids, and this can cause some serious damage when we consume them in excess. Both omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids are essential fatty acids, meaning that the body doesn’t produce them so we need to obtain them through our diet. We need both, and historically the ratio that we would usually maintain for optimal health would be 1:1. With our typical western diet, it’s now estimated that this ratio has shifted to about 20:1 with the increase in highly processed foods! Along with the consumption of processed foods, a large cause of this imbalance is due to the increased exposure of omega-6 fatty acids that we consume from vegetable oils alone. Research suggests that having too much omega-6 in relation to omega-3 contributes to chronic inflammation, which is an underlying cause of many health concerns.
Another reason why you might want to avoid vegetable oils is because they’re pretty harshly refined, and they often contain additives and chemicals to help maintain their shelf life. They’re also easily oxidized, which only contributes to more inflammation within the body. Oils are susceptible to oxidation when they’re exposed to high heat, oxygen and light. The more stable an oil is to withstand these factors, the less likely it is to become oxidized and produce harmful chemicals. When vegetable oils are manufactured, they’re exposed to high heat, pressure and chemicals to bleach and neutralize the oils. Not only does this process strip the oils of their natural antioxidants, it also lowers the oxidative stability of the oils before they reach the supermarket shelves.
You may have heard of the term smoke point, and how this refers to the stability of different oils when they’re heated at high temperatures. An oil with a high smoke point is better able to withstand high temperatures, and is less susceptible to breaking down and creating oxidative damage during the cooking process. It’s recently been suggested that instead of focusing on the smoke point, a better measure is to consider the oxidative stability. One study actually revealed that coconut oil had the highest smoke point and the highest oxidative stability in comparison to many popular oils you might consider - from canola oil to olive. This is largely due to the high content of saturated fat, making it incredibly stable when exposed to heat.
So if you’re looking to replace your standard cooking oils with a healthier alternative, the research shows us that coconut oil is a safe and healthy option - especially when it comes to high temperature cooking!
Because of the high concentration of saturated fats, studies show that coconut oil maintains its structure and ability to resist oxidation - even after 8 hours of continuous deep frying! This means that there’s less risk of chemical exposure from the cooking process and the structure of the oil isn’t damaged, giving you all the amazing benefits from the coconut oil itself.
Although it can withstand high heat, it’s important not to go overboard when deep frying with coconut oil to avoid exceeding its smoke point. It might pay to get a cooking thermometer to monitor how hot the oil gets, so you can stay within the smoke point range.
In terms of which coconut oil is best, flavourless coconut oil may be a better choice for deep frying. This is because the taste is slightly more versatile and it’s easily adaptable to different dishes. Pure Coco Flavourless Coconut Oil also has a smoke point of 177°, perfect for high temperatures.
We know that deep fried food isn’t the best for us, and it’s definitely something to consume in moderation. But it is true that coconut oil is one of the healthiest choices for deep frying if you do need your fix!
Naturopath & Medical Herbalist