I generally stick to two types of oils: coconut oil for cooking and olive oil for dressings, but once in awhile I like to experiment with a few others. That being said, most of the oils on the market are off my radar and I will explain why.
With so many cooking oils on supermarket shelves, telling them apart, understanding which fats are useful in improving our health and knowing how to best use them is tricky. Clearly, not all oils are equal, and some are more beneficial to our goal of youth prevention and feeling good.
In this post, I’m going to run through the basics of fats, before examining just five of the many types of oils available.
Fats: the basics
Fatty acids are often categorised into one of two groups: unsaturated and saturated. An easy way to remember the difference is that unsaturated fats are usually liquid at room temperature and come from seeds, fatty fish and vegetables. Saturated fats are solid at room temperature and are found in animals and tropical plants.
Saturated fats raise your total blood cholesterol level and increase your risk of heart disease. Unsaturated fats, which include monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, are known as good fats and can have positive effects on your body, helping to protect against type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and age-related brain decline.
Omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids are types of polyunsaturated fats and are required by the body for many reasons. They build healthy cells and help to maintain the brain and nerve functions. These essential fats are only found in food – the body can’t produce them.
One of the most important factors to consider when choosing which oil to cook with is its smoke point – the temperature at which the oil begins to smoke when heated. You’ll often want your pan nice and hot, but when oil is heated beyond its smoke point, the fats start to break down, releasing free radicals and a chemical called acrolein. This substance gives burnt food its bitter aroma and flavour.
Let’s examine the facts behind five oils found on supermarket shelves.
Due to the popularity of the heart-healthy Mediterranean diet, olive oil has become one of the most researched cooking oils. There are many different types of olive oil, each suited to a different purpose. Whether you’re using it on your skin or drizzling it on salad, the source of your olive oil is important because some lower-quality kinds may have been diluted with cheaper oils or may even have been extracted using chemicals.
The more “virgin”, or less processed, the oil is, the more polyphenol compounds it contains. This antioxidant can protect the body from free-radical damage as well as control the rate at which we age.
Made from pressed hazelnuts, this oil is pale yellow and has a sweet, nutty taste. In the kitchen, hazelnut oil can be used in salad dressings, to enhance grilled meats and fish and is perfect as a bread dip.
Hazelnuts are high in healthy polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats and low in unhealthier unsaturated fats. They are a rich source of vitamin E – one cup of hazelnuts offers about 86 per cent of the daily vitamin E requirement. They are also an excellent source of vitamins A and C. The antioxidant properties of these vitamins can help to prevent the onset of premature ageing.
Hazelnut oil is a mild astringent that can help to tighten pores and regulate the excretion of oils by the skin’s glands.
Unrefined extra-virgin avocado oil is produced by pressing the pulp and separating the natural oil in a centrifuge, making it one of the few edible oils that is not derived from seeds. Buttery tasting, avocado oil has an extremely high smoke point of approximately 270°C, making it adaptable in the kitchen for stir-frying, baking and salads.
Green avocado oil has a similar fatty profile to olive oil, so it’s high in monosaturated fats. When eaten in moderation, replacing saturated and trans fats, it can have a beneficial effect on blood pressure.
Studies have shown that avocado oil’s polyhydroxylated fatty alcohols reduce skin damage and inflammation from ultraviolet light exposure.
Antioxidants found in other fruits and vegetables are known to neutralise free radicals, but research suggests that avocado oil’s benefits may be able to affect mitochondria, something imperative to arresting the ageing process.
Extracted from the meat of matured coconuts, the sweetness of coconut oil makes it ideal for baking and sautéing. It has a low smoke point, so it should be avoided for high-temperature cooking. Research into the many potential health benefits of coconut oil has led to over 1,500 studies.
Almost half the fatty acids in coconut oil are made up of lauric acid, a substance linked to many potential benefits. Once absorbed by the body, it morphs into monolaurin, an antimicrobial agent that is able to fight viruses, bacteria and other pathogens.
Coconut oil, like other plant-based oils, doesn’t contain cholesterol. More than 85 per cent of the fats in coconut oil are medium-chain triglycerides.
With anti-inflammatory benefits, digestive aids, essential antioxidants and cholesterol-lowering properties, it’s obvious that using the right oil, in the right way, can have a major impact on living a longer, healthier life.
One final note on storing and reusing oil – did you know that all cooking oils eventually break down over time and become rancid? If you have oil in your cupboard that has been there for a long time, give it the sniff test. Rancid oil has an unpleasant odour and flavour, and while it might not immediately harm you, long-term consumption has been linked to problems such as obesity, cancer and early ageing. Store all your cooking oils in a cool, dark place, away from heat sources. This will help to prolong their lives.
No matter which type of oil you are working with, don’t be tempted to reuse it. Using the same oil, again and again, creates free radicals, which in turn can cause cancer. Other potential problems with this practice include atherosclerosis, heart disease and Alzheimer’s disease.
I usually find the best oils and the widest variety at SpiceBox Organics. I trust their quality and am never disappointed that they’re out of stock. Pop into their shops on Caine Road in Mid-Levels or in Kennedy Town at any time, and don’t forget to chill out while you’re there with a healthy smoothie or a cup of turmeric tea.