A Guide to Cooking Oils

A Guide to Cooking Oils

Choosing the right kind of cooking oil can be a nightmare for people looking to monitor their fat levels. With so many different oils to choose from and so much conflicting advice on what kind of oils to choose, it can be particularly challenging to know what type of cooking oil is right for you. While there are some cooking oils where opinion is split, there are also several inarguable truths about some great oils and some not so great oils.

Olive Oil

It is interesting to note that of all the oil used in cooking, olive oil is considered to be the healthiest choice, and extra virgin olive oil the best choice of all.

Not only does olive oil preserve the taste, aroma, and nutrients found in the olive, it is also high in monounsaturated fats and antioxidants. Some reports indicate that using olive oil, as opposed to the other oils available, may help protect your heart and lower cholesterol. Olive oil consumption may also reduce the formation of gallstones.

Processing olive oil is done by crushing or pressing the olives. It can be found in a couple of different varieties. The type of oil depends upon the processing that has been done to it. The types of olive oil are:

Extra virgin – the least processed of all olive oil. It is produced from the first pressing only. Once the olive is first pressed and released this oil, it will be sent for further processing.
Virgin – this comes from the second pressing of the olives.
Pure – this type has been processed further and has likely been processed and refined.
Extra light – this is the most processed of all olive oil. It has a very mild olive flavor and is often used with other vegetable oils.

The best way to care for olive oil is to keep it away from the heat and direct sunlight, which will degrade the oil and cause it to go rancid quickly. Instead, you will want to keep your olive oil in a dark, cool place with the lid tightly sealed.

If you have been cooking with olive oil because you heard it was healthier than other oils, you may be in for a surprise. Extra virgin olive oil is much better for you than butter and highly processed oils made from soybean and corn. It is a smart and healthy choice for sprinkling on your salad, but it doesn’t do well in high heat situations, losing much of its healthy effectiveness.

You have probably heard that coconut oil is healthy. Bacon grease and lard are viable cooking oil alternatives, as are palm, avocado, and canola oil. With so many options, how do you know which to use, and in what situation?

There are two things you need to take into consideration.

• The first thing you need to consider when choosing a healthy cooking oil is whether or not it can stand up to the heat of your particular cooking method.
• Secondly, you need to consider how healthy the oil is, and the level of saturated fats and other chemical additives it contains.

How Stable Is the Oil?

When you relate cooking oil to the temperature at which you will be preparing your food, you are referring to the stability of that oil. If you overheat any oil, it begins to break down.

Extra virgin olive oil is good for your heart and delivers plenty of other health benefits, but it breaks down almost immediately at medium to high heat.
When any type of cooking oil is heated to the point of oxidation, it can become unhealthy, because it bonds with oxygen, and immediately begins to form harmful compounds and unhealthy free radicals. So, you need to know the high-temperature cooking point of any oil you will be using in the kitchen.

(Just remember, all cooking oils begin to break down long before they reach their smoke point, or cooking temperature limit. The following temperatures are the absolute high point under which that particular oil should be exposed.)

Know Your Cooking Oil Temperature Limits

You have probably heard the old saying, “Where there’s smoke, there’s fire.” Remember that when using cooking oil. When oil begins to smoke, it has been damaged past the point of no return. So you need to understand the smoke point of the cooking oils you use in the kitchen.

Keep the following list handy and refer to it often. To use it effectively, never cook at a temperature that is close to or higher than the following smoke points for the corresponding oils.

• Coconut oil 350°F
• Lard 360 to 400°F
• Canola oil 225°F
• Corn oil 320°F
• Olive oil 320°F
• Peanut oil 320°F
• Safflower oil 320°F
• Soy oil 320°F
• Shortening 325°F
• Butter 350°F
• Almond oil 430°F

Taking Your Health into Account

According to the above list, you may think that almond oil or lard is the best cooking oil alternatives. However, lard and almond oil are highly processed. So, even though they withstand high heat and cooking applications, they are not as healthy as other alternatives.

Coconut oil has a high threshold for heat, meaning it is perfect for stir-fries, baking, and other high heat cooking applications. On the health side of the equation, coconuts may just produce the healthiest oil of all foods. Coconuts are high in saturated fats, but this unique type of saturated fat is resistant to high heat. It does not affect the human body negatively, like other processed saturated fats.

Avocado Oil

Avocados are slowly being recognized as something of a superfood, so it’s not surprising to see that avocado oil is amongst the best you can use. With a smoke point of 400 degrees, avocado oil is full of vitamin E, a vitamin that is heavily linked to boosting the immune system. Avocado oil is also not too far behind olive oil in terms of its monounsaturated fat ratio.

Corn Oil

Corn oil is made from the most inner part of the corn grain, and it has a monounsaturated fat to polyunsaturated fat ratio of around 1: 2.5. Compare this to the ratio in Olive oil of roughly 8: 1, and you can see the difference. Corn oil also has an Omega-6 to Omega-3 ratio that is more than ten times greater than the ideal. All of this adds up to corn oil being the wrong choice for cooking.

Vegetable Oil

Generally made from soybeans, vegetable oil is usually the cheapest cooking oil you can find, and with very good reason. Vegetable oil is heavily refined, has terrible fat ratios, and is more often than not used in heavily processed foods like snacks or potato chips. If you’re looking to keep an eye on your fat levels, you should stay well clear of vegetable oil.

Coconut Oil

Coconut butter, which is also commonly referred to as Coconut oil, is a fat that consists of more than 90% saturated fat. As its name implies, this oil is obtained from coconuts and is commonly used for cosmetics, baking ingredients, and cooking oil. The world’s largest exporter of Coconut oil, which is the Philippines, receives 7% of its total export income from this product alone.

Coconut oil is rich in fatty acid and is among the more stable of all vegetable oils. Many consider it to be a healthy product, which may increase metabolism and improve the body’s ability to fight sickness by strengthening the immune system. Once an immune system becomes weakened for any reason, the body becomes susceptible to an array of illnesses. In order to maintain a healthy lifestyle, one’s immune system must remain strong. If it ever becomes weakened, it is essential to rebuild the immune system to protect the body against harmful sickness and disease. On the downside, because coconut oil is also high in saturated fat, some believe that it may increase the likelihood of cardiovascular and heart disease and possibly even diabetes. On the other hand, some international populations who consume large quantities of coconut oil have been shown to have lower rates of heart disease.

Putting It All Together

Cooking oils high in saturated fat last longer before breaking down under high heat conditions. The problem here is that most saturated fats are unhealthy. This fact leaves one cooking oil deserving the “healthiest” label above all others.

If you take both health and cooking versatility into account, coconut oil is the hands-down winner.

If you are judging on health properties alone, coconut oil is the cooking oil winner. And since it can withstand temperatures up to 350°, it is perfect for multiple baking, frying, and other cooking recipes.

The medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs) in coconut oil comprise most of its fatty acids. Lauric acid is also present in high quantities, meaning that coconut oil can help you feel fuller longer, which could lead to weight loss. Coconut oil also boosts your metabolism, meaning that it burns more calories in your body.

When compared to other oils, coconut oil has also been proven to lower your cardiac risk factors, and it efficiently destroys unhealthy pathogens like fungi, viruses, and bacteria.

After coconut oil, consider extra-virgin olive oil, avocado oil, and palm oil as your next healthiest alternatives. Just remember, in the case of any cooking oil, consider the source. Make sure you are using unprocessed, natural, and whenever possible, organic oils. These deliver the most health benefits, the best taste, and the most significant ability to withstand heat in the kitchen.

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