Good Oils vs. Bad Oils: Make the Right Choice

Saad Rana Jul 15 2014
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Some bad fats such as saturated and trans-fats lead to heart disease, cancer and other maladies. However, some good fats that have monounsaturated and small amounts of polyunsaturated fat can lower LDL (bad cholesterol) increase HDL (good cholesterol), reduce inflammation and provide cancer preventative antioxidants.
You know now that all fats are not harmful for health (Read: Not All Fats are Bad for You), but do you know which types of oils are safe to use for cooking? Don’t fret, Team HTV will clarify which oils should be tossed out and which ones should make it to your monthly shopping list.

Leave the Bad Fats at the Store

Most of us use the following oils on a daily basis. research, however, suggests that we should make a conscious effort to eliminate these oils from our diets. Let’s find out why.

Vegetable Oils

Most commercial vegetable oils are a mixture of unidentified oils that have been extracted chemically from various seeds. These are considered to be “heart-healthy” by the media and many misinformed individuals. However, new studies have linked vegetable oils with several serious diseases including heart disease and cancer. These oils are highly processed and contain unreasonably high proportions of omega-6 fatty acids. These fatty acids, when consumed in moderation, are vital for good health. Excessive quantities have the opposite effect.
They are widely used because they affordable and easily available. Vegetable oils include:

    • Soybean oil (avoid at all costs)
    • Corn oil (avoid at all costs)
    • Cottonseed oil (avoid at all costs)
    • Canola oil (rapeseed oil)
    • Sunflower oil
    • Sesame Oil
    • Grape seed Oil (avoid at all costs)
    • Safflower Oil

Palm Oil

Palm oil can be used in high heat cooking, but it is rich in saturated fats and also contains traces of trans-fats.

Partially Hydrogenated Oils

These oils are a definite source of trans-fat. Trans-fat is usually found in commercially prepared and processed food items.

Conventionally Processed Oil

Many processed foods contain vegetable, corn, peanut, or soybean oil. Conventional extraction of these oils often involves the use of a chemical called petrochemical hexane. This chemical is also found in cleaning products and is often used as solvents. To avoid the harmful effects of this oil, opt for food products made with cold-pressed, expeller-pressed, or naturally pressed oils.

Bring Home the Good Fats

The best fats are those with healthy monounsaturated fats and other important nutrients such as oleic acid and omega-3 fatty acids. Keep in mind that all oils cannot be used in high cooking because oils have a certain smoke point, (the stage at which heated fat begins to release smoke). After the smoke-point has been reached, the oil releases toxins and flavor-altering odors.
Here we will discuss which healthy oils to use for the purpose of dressing, sautéing and high heat cooking.

Dressing and Drizzling

Extra-Virgin Olive Oil: Olive oil is the healthiest oil you can buy. It contains high amounts of monounsaturated fats. Olive oil has a very low smoke point, making it an ideal choice for salad dressings and hummus or bread topping. Extra-virgin oil is made by cold pressing olives, making it the purest form of oil. The only downside is that this healthy oil can be quite pricey.

Sautéing

Virgin Olive Oil: This is also extracted by pressing olives. If you have the option then always choose the cold-pressed variety. Virgin olive oil is used for low to medium heat cooking such as in pasta sauces and for coating meats before grilling or broiling.
Safflower Oil: Now we know that this is a vegetable oil and we already established that vegetable oils are inherently bad for you. However, safflower oil is the second best option available for sautéing if you are short of options. Safflower oil is available in two variants: low-oleic and high-oleic. Keep an eye out for the high-oleic safflower oil. It is rich in monounsaturated fats and has a relatively high smoke point for medium high cooking.

High Heat Cooking

Light (or fine) Olive Oil: Light does not refer to the number of calories it has, but rather its color and taste. It has the same amount of beneficial monounsaturated fats and because of the fine filtration process, it has little of the olive oil taste, fragrance and a high smoke point. This makes it ideal for high heat cooking such as for baking.
Canola oil: Again, as a vegetable oil that we discussed previously, this is the second best option available for high heat cooking such as frying and baking. This is obtained from rapeseeds, but because they are often sprayed with pesticides, make sure you look for organic, expeller-pressed varieties of canola oil. They are a great source of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, so if you have a diet that is low in these essential fatty acids, canola oil can be used in moderate amounts.
Coconut Oil: Coconut oil is rich in saturated fat; however it has been linked with promoting weight loss and ensuring a healthy digestive tract. It is particularly rich in lauric acid, which can improve cholesterol levels and help kill bacteria and other pathogens. Use the oil sparingly for high heat cooking because despite the apparent health benefits, it is still high in saturated fat.
Peanut Oil: Half of the content of peanut oil is monounsaturated fat. Because it has a high smoke point, it is excellent for frying. Most commercial brands are chemically processed, but there are ones that are expeller-pressed, so if you’re looking for peanut oil make sure you read the labels to determine what kind of process it went through.
Note: nut allergies are common and deadly.  Avoid using peanut oil if you or someone in your household is allergic to nuts.
Avocado Oil: High in monounsaturated fats with a relatively high smoke point, avocado oil is fairly pricey. However, it can be used in high heat cooking. In addition, avocado oil can also be used as a healthy salad dressing.
Sesame Oil: Sesame oil is high in polyunsaturated fats; however it has a strong flavor so even small amounts can get the job done when cooking. This oil can be used for cooking high heat Asian cuisine. Choose dark sesame oil for seasoning and light for frying.
Sunflower Oil: This is a mild-flavored oil that is high in vitamin E and monounsaturated fats. As with safflower oil, choose the high-oleic variety.

Taking Care of Your Oils

To make sure your oils don’t go bad, there are some points to keep in mind. Don’t buy large quantities at once: buy smaller quantities so that you can use them before they get too old. When it comes to oils that are high in monounsaturated fats, it is important to keep them in an environment where they are less likely to oxidize and deteriorate. Keep them in a cool, dry and dark place, and make sure that the lid/cap is tightly screwed on.

Make The Right Choice

We’ve talked about several bad oils and good oils. Let’s take a quick recap of everything we have discussed so far.
Vegetable oils are the least expensive and more commonly found in stores but some studies suggest that they can be bad for health. Nonetheless, if you have limited options you can still use canola oil, safflower oil, sunflower oil or sesame oil. If money is not an issue and you want a superior product, your best choice is any type of olive oil. They are the highest in monounsaturated fats, and they really bring out the taste in food especially when drizzled on salads or used in light to medium cooking.
Also, make sure you read the labels for the various ways the oil was processed. Look for cold-pressed, expeller-pressed or naturally pressed oils. In addition, discard or do not purchase products that are partially hydrogenated.
With this information we hope that you will be able to pick out the healthiest oil options for you and your family. Stay happy, stay healthy and make the right food choices!

Saad Rana

Saad Rana:

As a current dental student at Ziauddin University, Saad takes an interest in health, fitness and nutrition. He writes articles based on research through on-line publications as well as consulting various doctors and nutrition and fitness experts. When he's not writing for Health TV, you can find him studying, exercising or watching some of his favourite TV shows.