Modern food preparation has done us at least as much harm as it has good. Inorganic farming, fruits and vegetables stuffed with harmful preservatives, juices rendered counterproductive by vast amounts of sugar, and the big one: partially hydrogenated cooking oil. Partially hydrogenated cooking oil refers to the all those vegetable oils that have been infused with hydrogen that acts as a kind of shortening. It gives baked good a desirable texture, it’s cheaper than animal fat, and it can be stored for a long time. It’s also terrible for our bodies.
You may know partially hydrogenated cooking oil by its more sinister-sounding name: trans fat. Trans fat plays a major role in raising our LDL cholesterol, packing on the pounds and compromising our heart health. It’s found in many baked goods and is almost ubiquitous in the junk foods produced by giant corporations - foods like potato chips, candy bars, etc. It’s the lifeblood of fast food chains and the deathblood in your veins.1
Thankfully, we are living in an era that is questioning and challenging industrial agriculture and food production. Many of us now know to avoid trans fat. Several U.S. cities have even banned trans fat, and the FDA is seeking greater restrictions on its use. Health researchers and consumers are also realizing that nature has provided us with many cooking oils that are not just “not bad” for you but that can actually do our bodies plenty of good. Let’s take a look at the best cooking oils you may have never heard of.
The Ground Rules
First, there are a couple things to know about oils.
Smoke point. Much like water's boiling point, all oils have a smoke point. At a certain temperature, an oil will begin to smoke, which may produce the sort of free radicals that can damage cells (Kaneka Ubiquinol's antioxidant properties help fight free radicals). Oil can also catch on fire at its smoke point. Generally, the higher an oil's smoke point, the better that oil is for high-heat cooking to avoid smoking, burning and producing carcinogens and free radicals. Some of these oils—like walnut oil—should not be used to cook with because they are best served cold.
Fat. Oil is inherently fatty, but we need not be as concerned about that as you might think. Grapeseed oil, for example, has 14 grams of fat per tablespoon, but more than 90 percent of this is unsaturated. Check your labels.
Organic. Pay attention to the organic label. This can help ensure that the product is not tainted by harmful fertilizers or preservatives.
Here is a list of oils you may not have thought to use as an alternative to traditional cooking oils. Following this list are specific health benefits you might be seeking and which oils can help. In no particular order, the oils are:
- Pumpkin seed oil
- Coconut oil
- Flax seed oil
- Ghee oil
- Grapeseed oil
- Hemp oil
- Olive oil
- Sesame oil
- Walnut oil
- Safflower oil
- Canola oil
- Flax oil
- Avocado oil
- Peanut oil
- Apricot kernel oil
Many plant-based oils have properties that can benefit your heart, including omega fatty acids.
Canola has the least saturated fat of all cooking oils!
Coconut oil is high in saturated fat, yes, but it also elevates HDL (good) cholesterol, thus helping to prevent heart disease. It’s a good choice for someone who is not trying to lose weight.
Flax seed oil is full of omega-6 and omega-9 fatty acids
Sesame oil can help lower blood pressure and is so flavorful you don’t need very much of it.
Ghee is a nice butter substitute for people who are not trying to lose weight. While it is high in saturated fats, it has none of the impurities and cholesterol of butter.
Safflower oil is available in two types: one for cooking and one that shouldn’t be heated. The bottle will tell you which is which.
Antioxidants help prevent damage caused by free radicals and oxidation. These oils are packed with antioxidants:
Walnut oil contains ellagic acid, which can help prevent cancer.
Sesame oil contains phytic acid, which helps prevent cell damage. It’s a great partner to Kaneka Ubiquinol's antioxdiant benefits.
Hemp seed oil is full of omega-3 fatty acid and should be used cold.
Best Served Cold
The following oils are best used cold and make a perfect substitute for olive oil in salad dressings:
Flax seed oil is great in cereals, shakes, and other dairy products.
Safflower oil is delicious in salad dressings
Sesame oil goes great with Asian salads.
Walnut oil should only be used cold because it turns very bitter when cooked.
By the Vitamins
What vitamins are you lacking? No matter what vitamins you'd like to get more of, there is bound to be an oil that’s right for you.
Vitamin A: Apricot kernel, avocado, pumpkin seed oils
Vitamin B: Flax oil
Vitamin C: Walnut oil, grapeseed oil
Vitamin E: Avocado oil, canola oil, coconut safflower oil, sunflower oil
Vitamin K: Olive, coconut, cottonseed, soybean and canola oils
Many oils offer other health benefits, and a little online digging can reveal the oils that are right for you. Here’s a sampling:
Skin conditions like acne and psoriasis have been shown to be helped by grapeseed oil.
Blood pressure may be lowered by upping your intake of sesame oil.
Immune systems may benefit from lauric acid, and one of the only dietary sources of this is coconut oil.
Have some fun experimenting in the kitchen while you cut out partially hydrogenated oil and give yourself some additional nutritional benefits. Here's a list of further reading about great alternative oils:
- Today Food. Beyond the olive. http://www.today.com/food/beyond-olive-9-healthy-oils-cooking-dressing-dishes-1C8563746
- Huffington Post. http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/06/05/oil-health-benefits-_n_1563407.html
- MIT. Optimizing Your Diet. http://mitathletics.com