Monday, 27 February 2012

What are the healthiest oils to use in the kitchen?

I found all these in my cupboard today, and there was also some hemp and flaxseed oil- are they the right oils or not?? Find out below...

I've been doing a bit of research lately into which oils are the best (ie: the least harmful and most health-promoting) to use in the kitchen, and which oils to avoid. There is a lot of confusing and conflicting information on the subject out there, and it has taken me quite a long time to sift my way through it, but I persisted, as I really wanted to know what's safe and what isn't, and if there are any ways to save money and still buy the healthiest oils. If you would like to know more, I have included links to my main sources of information, but here's a simplified version of the basic facts I came up with:
It strikes me that there are two main points of concern with edible oils: 1) The nutritional profiles of the unheated oils per se, plus the balance of saturates, monounsaturates and polyunsaturates with all the health implications that brings. 2) The effect of heating on the various types of oil. Don't expect any of the nutrients in an oil to remain intact when heated; if you are buying an oil for its nutrients, then stick to using it uncooked in salad dressings or drizzled on baked potatoes. Frying and cooking with oils is really more a matter of damage limitation than positive nutrition. Heating will eventually result in hazardous chemical changes in the oil, but some oils will stand higher temperatures than others before this happens, and that's where making the right choice of oil for cooking comes in.
  • Frying: Oils which are to be heated are potentially dangerous because when heated, all oils will oxidise and eventually get to a temperature at which they start to degrade and break down into harmful substances. (These are free fatty acids/ free radicals which are mainly produced by oils high in polyunsaturates, and are highly carcinogenic. A recent study showed that people who eat a packet of crisps every day, especially women, have a much higher risk of cancer.) This is called the smoke point. As the term implies, you can tell when an oil has reached this stage because it givers off blueish smoke and smells bad. It can also make your eyes smart. To find more info on the smoke points of various oils, go to: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Smoke_point. Obviously, it is important to choose an oil with a smoke point well below the temperature to which you are going to heat it. Here are a few examples of the smoke points of various oils: sesame- 210C, canola (rapeseed)- 204C, extra virgin olive oil 191C, extra light olive oil 242C, unrefined coconut oil 177C, refined coconut oil 232C, refined peanut oil 232C, refined sunflower oil 227C,  rice bran oil 254C and ghee 250C. The more refined an oil is, the higher its smoke point and the less risky for cooking it is, so forget your extra-virgins and cold-presseds here.The average temperature for frying is about 170-190C, so you can see that all these oils must be okay for frying, right? (Especially if you have an electric deep-fat fryer and can control the temperature.) -wait: not so fast! To truly minimise the health risks when cooking, you have to choose oils that are not polyunsaturated (as these break down less readily than polyunsaturates when heated), such as rice bran oil, olive oil or ghee, for example. It turns out that saturated fats are definitely not always the baddies they have been made out to be! You can find a great article on the subject here. Now I've ruled out sunflower oil and canola oil from my shortlist. Another tip about frying: don't reuse your high smoke-point oil more than once, or a couple of times at most- watch for colour and smell changes to tell you that it's no longer safe.
  •   Remember that If you are baking or roasting above 200C, however, you can see that only some of the above oils are okay. Armed with my new knowledge, I'd now favour ricebran and peanut oils, and refined coconut oil for this, although I'm sure there are others. My reasons for this choice are also economic, as where I live in the UK they are relatively cheap compared to some other oils. So, you can fry, bake and roast more safely without it costing too much money; so far, so good...
  • Oh, and throw the highly refined mixed "vegetable oil" out of the window for all purposes (except to fuel your car) as you can't tell how safe it's going to be because of the mixture. It also tastes and smells horrible!
  •  Trans fats and and margarine: Once, polyunsaturated hardened fats (aka trans fats or hydrogenated fats) were considered better for you than saturates such as butter, but we now know about their great dangers (see "Frying", above) and they are even banned in some countries. However, you can still buy margarines which contain trans fats in most places, and these should be avoided at all costs. I do sometimes use an unhydrogenated vegan margarine for baking, but usually only the soya variety, as sunflower oil has a slightly lower smoke point (though both are within safe limits for baking). One other thing I've learnt: vegetable ghee is not safe like butter ghee as it is hydrogenated, so avoid it!
  • Fats and oils are essential for your nutrition!- But choose the right ones. These oils are not going to be heated, so cold-pressed, extra- virgin oils are the ones to use for boosting your health. they are best kept in the fridge, or at least in opaque bottles in a cool place. There is no space to go into detail about all the good oils, but Patrick Holford's "New Optimim Nutrition Bible"  has lots of  information and an easy-to-understand visual approach to this subject. (Although he does not advocate an exclusively vegetarian diet, his concept of  personalising diet and nutrition is great.) Basically, your body needs a good balance of omega oils and polyunsaturates to function properly. If you are choosing the safest oils for cooking, you won't be using polyunsaturates, so make sure you get them in your uncooked oils.You don't need fried food for the oil, but you do need these oils, so make sure most of your fats come from them. As well as salad dressings, you can have ground seeds and seed butters, nuts and nut butters, avocados, etc. Monounsaturated fats reduce harmful chloresterol levels in the body, whilst boosting "good" chloresterol (known as HDL). Polyunsaturates lower overall chloresterol but don't boost your HDL levels. Current views  now state that some saturated fat is okay, but you will be having plenty of that if you cook with oils anyway. Some examples of good uncooked oils are: flax, hemp, extra-virgin coconut (but this contains a LOT of saturate although some of them are said to be better for you than most types of saturate, so limit its use if this is a concern for you) ricebran, extra-virgin olive,  cold-pressed sunflower, hazelnut and pumpkin. Read more: http://www.livestrong.com/article/410535-are-cooking-oils-healthy/#ixzz1mg7frfFr 
  • Other useful links :  Daily mail article: Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-499546/The-cooking-oils-make-healthy--dont.html#ixzz1mg0mwunJ     Wiki answers article 
My conclusion? -Well I do seem to have the right oils in my kitchen already, as long as I make sure I use them for the right purposes, and don't heat the ones with lower smoke points than the temperature to which I am going to heat them. Oils don't always come in a bottle or jar, and it's a nutritionally better option to get them from nuts, seeds, etc. And if I had to choose just one all-purpose safe and nutritious oil? It would be rice bran oil for its excellent nutritional profile when cold (it is rich in vitamin E and antioxidants) in addition to its very high smoke point and relatively low cost. Ideally, though, I would use it in conjucntion with extra-virgin olive oil in salad dressings for extra flavour and nutrition, as it is very bland. I would also supplement omegas in other oils or seeds. (Butter ghee would be another great oil for cooking if you are not vegan. The Ayurveda also states that it is "Sattva Guna", or in the Mode of Goodness. I always keep some in the house for offering to Krishna either in the form of a ghee lamp or on food offerings.) 
So there you have it! What oils do you favour using? Are they safe? What nutritional benefits do they have?































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