We are more conscious of the ingredients we use to create our meals and fuel our day than ever before. One key ingredient that is under increasing scrutiny is our cooking oil. It is one of the most common elements in cooking, and yet there is seemingly no definitive answer as to which is the healthiest to use.
Saturated vs Monounsaturated vs Polyunsaturated Fat
There are three main categories that oils come from: saturated, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated. A quick way to tell the difference between saturated fats and unsaturated fats is that only saturated fats remain solid at room temperature. Unsaturated fats are liquid at room temperature but will turn solid when chilled.
Saturated fats include butter, goose fat and lard. These oils are medically the worst for you, increasing your risk of heart disease.
Monounsaturated fats include olive oil, avocado oil and peanut oil. These are considered healthier than saturated fats. The popular “Mediterranean Diet” promotes these oils as instrumental to reducing your risk of heart disease.
Polyunsaturated fats include sunflower and corn oil. They also occur in fish and nuts. Replacing saturated fat for polyunsaturated can help to lower your cholesterol levels.
Medium Chain Triglycerides
Coconut oil and palm kernel oil are high in Medium Chain Triglycerides (MCTs). This boosts their health benefits and makes them a great choice for cooking. MCTs are like cell fuel. They boost your body’s fat-burning potential and also help with cognitive function.
This makes them a great oil to use, particularly in preparing your pre- and post-workout foods.
Which Oil Is Better At High Heat?
If you are frying or cooking at a high temperature, studies suggest that saturated fats could be better for you overall. When oils are exposed to a high heat they oxidize and create potentially harmful aldehyde. Aldehydes are a cancer-causing compound. While the amounts of oil an average person would consume have not been linked officially to a cancer risk, it may be worth steering clear of those oils when frying.
This is much more pronounced in oils such as sunflower oil and corn oil and so these are ones to avoid if cooking at a high temperature (over 180 degrees).
In this case, coconut oil or olive oil would be better for you, as they do not oxidize as much at high heat.
Should I Cut Oil Out Of My Diet?
Oil is a common ingredient to be cut out of reduced fat diets. However, it is important to remember that fat is a key element of a healthy and balanced diet. While a high-fat diet is not healthy, equally banning it from your kitchen altogether is not sensible or sustainable.
Moderation is essential – use just enough to cook your food and do not drown your food in oils. This is also important if you are on a calorie controlled diet. Butter and oils are often very high in calories so you can waste a surprising amount of your daily intake just in the cooking process.
However, it is important to remember that the body does not naturally produce the essential fatty acids in monounsaturated and polyunsaturated oils, and so consuming these is important to overall health. Without these healthy fats, your body will not be able to absorb essential vitamins and minerals, and your cells will not be able to function to their full potential.
Ways To Reduce Your Oil Intake
Simple ways of reducing your oil intake include buying a pouring lid for your oil to reduce the amount of oil that can leave the bottle in one go.
Additionally, you can use a spray bottle to create a thin layer of coverage on your cooking utensils. For saturated fats, use a small spoon to measure out the amount you will need. Remember, you can always add more if you really need it.
Furthermore, avoid recipes that involve a high level of oil or fat, such as deep fried items. Finally, if you pour too much oil in your pan, either pour it back into its container or mop it up with kitchen roll before you begin cooking.
Are Cooking Oil Sprays Healthy?
Many people use cooking oil sprays to help reduce their calorie intake and avoid over-pouring. The health benefits of this are almost entirely dependent on the ingredients list on the spray. Many of these are very heavily processed, including “propellants” to ensure they spray easily.
For a more natural spray, buy a mister or reuse a cooking spray bottle and fill with olive oil or another oil of your choice. This will have to be an unsaturated oil, as saturated oils are naturally solid at room temperature and so will not spray.
There isn’t one definitive healthiest cooking oil. Have a couple of options handy to use depending on your needs and your cooking style. Have a saturated fat such as coconut oil for higher temperature cooking and an unsaturated fat such as olive oil for all other types of cooking. This will help to reduce your risk of heart disease and cholesterol related issues. As always, the key is enjoying in moderation.