When cooking for our family, we tend to choose the best ingredients we are able to. Organic produce, non GMO vegetables, hormone free meat, the list goes on. However, one of the most overlooked parts of cooking is the oil that we use to prepare these healthy ingredients. There are many different oils out there, and one of the most frequently asked questions I get is which oils I cook with. I typically use extra virgin olive oil, avocado oil, and occasionally coconut oil.
All of the different oils have different ways they can be used and things that they should be used for. There are many things to consider such as taste, nutritional value, and smoke point, all of which I will dive into in this post. I will also talk about which oils to avoid and what to use instead. Let’s get going!
What to Avoid
Before we get into the good oils, I want to discuss the not so good oils that should generally be avoided. Corn oil, vegetable oil, and canola oil are the three oils that are best left on the shelf at the store. These oils are very high in omega 6 fatty acids. These types of fatty acids are linked to inflammation in the body which is the root cause of many common diseases today. 6o years ago, the ration of omega 6 (bad) to omega 3 (good) in these oils was 1:2. Today, it is 25:1. This is likely due to the way that these oils are processed, which is called RBD: refined, bleached, and deodorized. This method of processing reduces the amount of healthy omega 3 fatty acids, which are important for brain health and development.
While the FDA doesn’t find any issue with this method of oil making, I prefer to give my family food that has the least amount of processing done as possible. Corn oil is also a genetically modified food, which has been linked to various health problems. GMO’s are still fairly new, and there is not enough data out on them to officially deem them safe to consume. Long term studies on their effects have yet to be conducted, so it’s a choice I make to avoid these types of foods for my family.
Now, let’s talk about the good stuff!
First up is avocado oil. This is my preferred oil for roasting vegetables. It has a very high smoke point of 520 degrees, making it oven safe. It also has a very light taste so it’s a good option for baking as well. I use it in cakes, cupcakes, and pancakes specifically. The main fatty acid in avocado oil is called oleic acid. It makes up almost 70% of the oil. This acid helps fight inflammation (unlike omega 6, which contributes to it!). Avocado oil also contains Lutein. Lutein is not made by your body and therefore must come from your diet. It is essential for eye health and can even prevent and reduce the risk of developing common eye diseases such as cataracts and age-related macular degeneration (let’s work to avoid those reading glasses when we are old!) It also makes up the main pigments in the part of your retina that protects the macula from damage due to blue light—a very important part of our body during this crazy age of working from home!
Adding avocado oil to your fruit and vegetables increases the amount of nutrients absorbed by the body. Adding lipids (fats) has always been known to increase the bioavailability (your body’s ability to process something and use it), and a recent study found that adding avocado oil to salads and salsa increased the absorption of nutrients in the body. It also has been shown to neutralize free radicals. Free radicals can damage cell mitochondria in your body, so neutralizing them prevents this from happening and helps keep you healthy.
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Extra virgin olive oil is my choice for salad dressings and dinner recipes that don’t need to be cooked above 350 degrees. I don’t use this for roasting or sautéing, as that would heat it above its smoke point of 350 degrees. Oleic acids (which we learned about earlier) make up 73% of this type of oil, making it a healthy choice for reducing and preventing inflammation. Extra virgin olive oil is high in antioxidants which has been shown to be beneficial due to their anti-inflammatory and anti-microbial activity. Both systolic and diastolic blood pressure are also lowered significantly by consuming a diet that includes extra virgin olive oil.
The “extra virgin” part of extra virgin olive oil refers to the way it is processed. The oil is cold-pressed and no heat is applied. This is where it gets its deep color from! When the olives are cold pressed and do not meet purity standards, it is heated, purified, and mixed with a bit of cold pressed oil that did meet the standards to create olive oil. As I tend to avoid processing as much as possible, I opt for the extra virgin version. Plus, it tastes better!
Coconut oil is a great choice for baking. I tend to use it in recipes that call for vegetable oil that are also sweet (freshly baked brownies anyone?) It has a slight coconut flavor due to it being unrefined, so it’s not great for things that you don’t want any sweetness in. Its smoke point is 350 degrees so it shouldn’t be used for roasting or sautéing.
Coconut oil is good for brain health and is also a great source of quick energy for your body. It also has antimicrobial features making it great for helping to boost your immune system.
While these are the normal oils I use in the kitchen, there are tons of different fats out there! Some good, some bad, and some alright. Here is a list from Dr. Tyler Jean at @functional.goods on Instagram to help you know what oils are best:
- Extra virgin olive oil
- Unrefined avocado oil
- Virgin coconut oil
- Organic almond oil
- Macadamia nut oil
- Grass-fed ghee
- Grass-fed butter
- Yak butter
- Unrefined palm oil
- Cocoa butter
- Walnut oil (caution with heat)
- Flax oil (caution with heat)
- Sesame oil (caution with heat)
- Fatty fish (caution with heat)
- Cold-pressed olive oil (caution with heat)
Okay, But Not Great:
- Organic peanut oil
- Refined avocado oil
- Refined coconut oil
- Refined olive oil
- Artisanal grapeseed oil (common in restaurants)
- Rice bran oil (common in restaurants)
- Soybean oil (common in restaurants)
- Corn oil
- Cottonseed oil
- Safflower oil (common in restaurants)
- Sunflower oil
- Canola oil (common in restaurants)
- Rapseed oil
- Refined palm oil
- Hydrogenated oils
I hope this blog post answered any questions you might have had about oils and how to use them in cooking. Drop your favorite ways to use healthy oils in your cooking in the comments below!