Hands up who’s confused about which cooking oil is the healthiest to use? These days we are bombarded with dietary advice, and it can be confusing, contradictory and quite scary. This is partly due to the fact that we are spoilt for choice, but mainly because there is so much debate about the benefits and harm that come from different types of cooking oils.
The concern surrounds the smoke point, which is the temperature at which the oil starts to burn and the chemical structure of the particles change when heated.
Oxidation occurs – the particles react with the oxygen in the air to form aldehydes and lipid peroxides. Consuming or inhaling aldehydes, even in small amounts, has been linked to increased risk of heart disease and cancer.
While sunflower and corn oil are perfectly fine when used at lower temperatures, they have been found to generate very high levels of aldehydes when used for frying and cooking at higher temperatures.
Coconut oil (choose extra virgin) is a great choice as it has a high smoking point and comes with numerous health benefits. It is high in natural saturated fats which not only increases the healthy cholesterol (known as HDL) in your body, but will also help to convert the bad cholesterol (LDL’s) into good cholesterols. So although it’s still high in calories (around 130 calories per 15ml tablespoon) and should be consumed in moderation, it lowers the risk of heart disease and increases your heart health .
Ghee or Clarified Butter – Real butter used to be on the naughty list, but these days we understand more about saturated fats. Many studies show that it’s actually processed margarines and spreads that are the problem, and not real butter. That doesn’t mean that it isn’t fattening though!
Normally, real butter has a low smoking point and so it is better to use ghee (a secret which Indian cuisine has always enjoyed!) If you can’t get hold of shop bought ghee, it’s easy to make at home by heating the butter until it separates, letting the water evaporate and then skimming off the solids – thus clarifying the butter. This process makes the ghee extremely stable which means it keeps for much longer than fresh butter, up to 3 months in an airtight container in a cool, dark place and for 6 months in the fridge.
The much celebrated Mediterranean diet owes much of it’s success to the wonderful health benefits of Extra Virgin Olive Oil – it’s high levels of antioxidants promise to prevent cancer and protect the heart and cardiovascular system.
Olive oil’s smoking point isn’t as high as coconut oil or ghee, but it is still pretty stable when heated so it’s OK for cooking at lower temperatures as the multiple health benefits outway the concerns. Go for good quality and you can’t go wrong, it certainly hasn’t done the Italians much harm over thousands of years!
If you really want to treat yourself, then Avocado Oil is the choice for you, not only is it packed with vitamins and minerals, but it has been proven to reduce harmful levels of inflammation in the body and protect against cancer, heart disease and stroke.
Avocado Oil has a smoking point higher than any other plant oil (520 degrees). So it’s great to use at high temperatures like pan-roasting or grilling. And of course it is delicious consumed cold, so there’s nothing easier than drizzling it into salads or dressings.
Whichever oil we choose, it’s important to remind ourselves that no matter how many anti-oxidants or omegas it promises, oil is always high in calories. But when used sparingly, there is no reason why we shouldn’t enjoy the many benefits from these healthy natural oils in a balanced diet.