Oils are a controversial topic in the health spaces today, with some people avoiding them completely and other using them liberally. Everyone should decide what route is best for them with all foods, including oils, depending on how their bodies tolerate them. The important thing when selecting oils to consume, however, is to be sure you’re not taking in damaging oils that can lead to heart disease, diabetes, and inflammation.
Most processed foods on the market are preserved using high heat methods that are meant to kill bacteria that can develop over time in foods that sit on shelves at the store. However, during this process, some of the ingredients in these foods such as oil change in their chemical structure which in turn changes how your cells react to them. (This is similar to the effects of highly heated proteins that cause the amino acids to become denatured and make them less beneficial; with oils, it’s similar though potentially more harmful.)
When certain oils are heated through production methods in foods like granola bars, chips, candies, protein bars, salad dressings, and many other highly processed foods on the market, it causes them to go rancid. You may have heard that you need to keep certain oils in your fridge, and this is the exact reason why. Rancidity means the oils have went under oxidation, meaning they not only become inflammatory to the cells but also taste poorly too. Oxidation causes free-radicals in the body, which explains the meaning behind the term, “antioxidants.” Antioxidants fight off free-radicals in the body that can develop through environmental factors and dietary factors such as taking in toxic foods like oils, along with sugars, and chemical-based foods.
Things to Remember About Cooking With Oils and Choosing the Right Ones
Cooking with a heat-sensitive oil can also cause rancidity and oxidation, changing the nature of the fats in an oil completely. This makes it important to know what oils to choose to cook with so you can get the great flavor you’re looking for without any harmful side effects. You can also use a dab of oil to coat baking pans with instead of using non-stick sprays that are made with chemicals when you choose the right oil.
So, let’s take a look at some of the healthiest oils to cook with that hold up well to high temperatures.
1. Avocado Oil
Avocado oil isn’t a cheap oil, but like most of the top quality oils, it is one of the best to cook with. Avocado oil has a high smoke-point similar to that of coconut oil. You can cook vegetables with it, bake with it, or even use it as a salad dressing in place of store-bought options. Of course, avocados are a better source of this healthy fruit’s fats and vitamin E content, but avocado oil lends a mild, yet rich flavor to cooked dishes, making it a nice option to use on occasion. The oil also offers up a potent dose of antioxidants such as vitamin E, and its greener color even denotes its natural sources of chlorophyll.
2. 100 Percent Extra-Virgin Olive Oil
Olive oil has been a long-time favorite oil to cook with for many people all over the world. But we’re starting to learn that food producers are taking advantage of this oil’s well-known benefits and popularity by diluting olive oils with vegetable oils that are cheap and rancid. It’s best to stick to 100 percent extra-virgin olive oil and then check the country of origin on the back of the label. The highest quality oils will come from areas such as Italy, Spain, or California where this oil has traditionally been produced. Olive oil can be used to cook vegetables with, but try not to bake with it at temps higher than 400 degrees Fahrenheit since it’s a bit more sensitive than some other options. It also makes a great oil to use in salad dressing in place of processed options.
3. Coconut Oil
This popular oil is one many people prefer to cook with today because of its saturated fatty acid profile that enhances its stability to heat. It’s also a great immunity-boosting oil that has literally dozens of uses. Coconut oil is hard at room temperature because it’s an incredible stable oil that can change temperatures without causing potential harmful effects like oils that remain liquid at room temperature. Which is why you don’t need to keep coconut oil in the fridge or it will become hard as a rock! Coconut oil is best bought organic and even cold-processed if you don’t cook at high temperatures with it, but if you’re going to bake with it, even expeller-pressed oils that have been processed with higher heats will be fine to use—some people even prefer these since they don’t have that intense coconut flavor like cold-processed or raw oils do.
Coconut oil will hold up in baking, cooking, and is excellent to coat your pans with (you can even use it as a nice hand moisturizer during the process!). When choosing coconut oil at the store, try to select those that are made by organic or fair-trade companies since many food producers have latched onto this oil’s popularity and sourced coconut from unsustainable, unreliable sources for profit (much like palm oil).
4. Sesame Oil
Sesame seed oil is another option for cooking vegetables with at a high heat that you can choose if you like a nutty flavor. It’s often used in Asian cooking and imparts that same classic flavor sesame seeds do. (If you enjoy tahini, you’ll love it!) It works great with rice, tempeh, tofu, veggies, but is not the best option for baking since it has a savory versus sweet nature. Like other oils, always choose unrefined sesame oil whenever possible.
5. Sunflower Oil
Sunflower oil is a great option that’s easy to overlook but worth trying out when you get the chance. It also has a higher smoke point than some other nut and seed oils (walnut, almond, etc.). Sunflower seed oil can be used in similar fashion to sesame oil and has a milder flavor if that’s something you prefer. When choosing sunflower oil, be sure to select a top quality brand to prevent buying an oil that has possibly been diluted with a cheaper oil, and avoid refined oils when possible for the best flavor and benefits. Sunflower oil is rich in mono-unsaturated fatty acids, vitamin E, and is filled with a rich, nutty flavor. It’s particularly a great oil to choose for cooking vegetables with on the stove, drizzling over them before roasting them, and makes a nice salad dressing oil if you enjoy making your own at home.
Other Oil Options
Stick to these oils for cooking, but feel free to try almond, walnut, and even pumpkin seed, hemp seed, grapeseed oil, or flax oil on salads and recipes that don’t undergo high temperatures. These oils should be kept in the fridge to keep their fats stable and make tasty options for a variety of salad dressings, dips, or spreads. All the other oils mentioned here should also be kept in fridge (except for coconut oil) if you won’t be consuming them within a few months. To prevent liquid oils from turning rancid, make sure they are in a dark container in a cool pantry (less than 72 degrees Fahrenheit), sealed tightly, and are used within 3-4 months. Otherwise, they’ll need to go in the fridge and be brought back to room temperature 30 minutes before using.
Try out some of these oils whether you use them here and there or a little more often. Let us know if one of these is a favorite of yours!
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