Healthy Cooking Oils

woman cooking at stove with oil
December 16, 2014
Leigh Erin Connealy, M.D.

Food is my favorite medicine and my favorite drug, all at the same time. That’s why I tell my patients to cook for themselves as often as possible—with healthy cooking oils, used properly!

You don’t have to eat at home every day. But if you have weight management problems, or a chronic health issue, like diabetes or heart disease, what you eat can make a tremendous difference in these conditions.

When you cook your own food, you have better control over what you’re putting in your body. And that includes the type of cooking oil used to make the meal.

Why does cooking oil matter? Certain oils provide health benefits, while others don’t. In fact, use the wrong cooking oils and you could be putting your health at risk. Here are the oils that do not belong in your pantry:

  • Corn
  • Soy
  • Safflower
  • Canola
  • Sunflower
  • Cottonseed

These well-known industrial oils are mainstays with the fast and processed food industries. Most Americans consume far too many of these, and miss out on the benefits of truly healthy cooking oils.

What are those benefits? As I explained to my patients, the oils you consume become part of your body, starting with your cell membranes. If you only eat commercial cooking oils, your cells are likely to be stiff and prone to inflammation.

These everyday oils contain high levels of omega-6 essential fatty acids. And while you do need some omega-6s, they should be in the appropriate ratio (about 1 to 1) with omega-3s.

The current Standard American Diet (SAD) is so skewed by the overwhelming omega-6s in processed foods, that the typical American is consuming a ratio closer to 20 to 1. The result: Runaway inflammation, the gateway to nearly all diseases.

And yes, throw out the canola oil! It’s derived from the rapeseed plant, a member of the mustard family. Conventional rapeseed contains erucic acid, which can be toxic. So growers developed a genetically manipulated rapeseed that produces little or no erucic acid.

Promoters of canola oil insist it’s safe for human consumption. But I avoid canola oil whenever possible and tell my patients to do the same.

Canola oil may be safe, but I think there are better choices available. Olive oil is a good example, but you could be losing out on the health benefits if you’re not using it correctly.

In ancient Greece, olive oil was known as “liquid gold” because it was so treasured. Olive oil has the ability to lower bad LDL cholesterol and raise good HDL cholesterol.

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It also contains antioxidants and health-promoting flavonoids that can improve your immunity. Olive oil also protects against cancer, high blood pressure, and even rheumatoid arthritis.

To maximize the benefits, though, do not use olive oil when cooking at high temperatures, such as frying. That’s because olive oil has a low smoke point (the temperature at which oils burn and start producing damaging free radicals). So you get the most benefits from olive oil when it’s used for sauces, sautés, and salads.

Many times, my patients are surprised to learn that olive oil loses its health benefits if it’s overheated, and wonder what to use instead. My recommendation: grapeseed oil.

A by-product of the winemaking process, grapeseed oil has a much higher smoke point of 485 degrees. It’s also a great source of heart-healthy substances. For example, grapeseed oil has a special ability to raise HDL cholesterol while lowering the bad, LDL version.

And it’s an outstanding source of vitamin E. Just one tablespoon of grapeseed oil delivers nearly the entire RDA of this hard-to-get nutrient.

What about coconut oil? Once banished because of its saturated fat content, it’s now considered a good source of lauric acid, a saturated fatty acid with antiviral and antibacterial abilities.

Research shows that lauric acid inhibits the inflammatory COX-1 and COX-2 enzymes, and slows the growth of listeria, a bacteria responsible for a particularly nasty type of food poisoning.

Coconut oil also kills Candida albicans, a common fungal infection that can enter the bloodstream and cause serious problems, particularly for people in poor health.

Coconut oil’s health promoting abilities comes from its medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs), which your body metabolizes differently than other saturated fats.

MCTs go from your digestive tract straight to the liver. From there, they’re used for a fast energy boost or transformed into ketone bodies, substances that are being studied as a potential way to treat brain malfunctions, like Alzheimer’s or epilepsy.

One last tip: Look for oils that are “unrefined” or “cold pressed” on the labels. Avoid those that have been refined or processed with heat, bleach, or chemicals. And please look for organic versions of these products to avoid the harmful pesticides used to grow conventional versions.

Upgrading cooking oils is such a simple way to improve your health, starting at the cellular level. Healthy cooking oils may cost a bit more, but—as I tell my patients—good health is worth every penny it takes.

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  • Ariel Gail MacLean

    But what about Avacado Oil, Dr. Conneley? Large bottles of Avacado Oil can now be purchased for a great price at COSTCO, Walmart and other big box and grocery stores, and my research tells me Avacado has an even higher smoke point as well as an even better Omega profile. Please let us hear back on this important question because although I also buy Organic Raw Coconut Oil in big tubs at COSTCO, many cooking applications are not conducive to using Coconut Oil and I am now using Avacado due to its reduced price compared to EVOO.

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