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Updated: Nov 20, 2023

Healthy cooking oils and ones to avoid….

Avocado. Sunflower. Olive. Virgin. Extra-Virgin. Which one to choose? With a growing market of cooking oil choices, long gone are the days of simply having one or two options to choose from to whip up a meal or dress a salad. However, with great choice comes great responsibility – knowing the difference between your cooking oils is the first step to creating regular, healthy cooking habits.

The lowdown on cooking oils

Before you decide which oils to put into your shopping basket, there are some important factors to consider first.

For example, you’ll often find that cheaper refined oils (eg. vegetable, rapeseed, corn, sunflower) are often purified, treated and deodorised with toxic chemicals like bleach and hexane. This is to produce an oil with a higher smoke point. They also oxidise (which is bad) easily during the refining process, making them go rancid and turn into trans-fats which have been shown to contribute to various inflammatory conditions. So while they are perhaps more cost-efficient, they also may come at a cost to your short- and long-term health.

Another thing to consider is artificially produced trans-fats. These are made by food manufacturers to extend shelf life, and are created by adding hydrogen molecules to liquid vegetable oils to make them solid (a process called hydrogenation). You may find this type of trans fat in:

  • margarine

  • refined vegetable oils

  • baked products (such as biscuits, pies and cakes)

  • and processed foods (all the guilty pleasures like doughnuts, fried chicken, microwave popcorn, crisps, frozen pizza and French fries)

So what oil to use?

Saturated fats (coconut oil, butter, ghee)

These are considered more stable and less prone to oxidation and rancidity, so are better for cooking as they can tolerate being heated.

Monounsaturated fats (extra virgin olive oil, avocado oil) These do oxidise at higher temperatures. However, they can be used for cooking (up to around 180°C) due to the naturally-occurring antioxidants in these oils.

Polyunsaturated fats (unrefined e.g. flaxseed, rapeseed)

These oxidise when heated and produce free radicals that damage cells. Mainly, they should only be used in their raw, cold-pressed form for their health-giving benefits and poured over cooked or raw foods.

And the winner is...

Extra-virgin olive oil (EVOO)

This is probably your most useful oil to keep in the store cupboard. It's loaded with beneficial compounds and there have been many trials supporting wide-ranging health benefits – from heart, brain to gut health.

A recent study compared the effect of consumption of tomato products prepared with and without extra-virgin olive oil. The results show that consuming tomatoes with EVOO raised the body’s antioxidant activity significantly, especially when cooked. The olive oil is thought to help our body better absorb the compound found in tomatoes called lycopene. Lycopene has been shown to help our skin’s defence against the sun, improved cardiovascular health and lower risk of prostate cancer.

However, be careful to choose the right olive oil.

Some refined olive oils have been shown to contain trans-fats as well as to be lower in antioxidants and flavour. EVOO is minimally processed, it's literally the juice ‘squeezed’ out of the olive flesh! Do not be misled by the term “light” – this means refined olive oil – not lighter in calories.

Unlike wine, olive oil does not get better with age. Before making a purchase, scan the label for terms like ‘bottled date’ or ‘harvested date’. This ensures the product is traceable to the farm and crop and although it's not a 100% guarantee, it certainly increases the likelihood that it's legit. Olive oil maintains peak freshness for about 1.5 years. If you see an expiration date with an accompanying harvest date, there's a chance the oil is old. The good rule of thumb is to stick with a cold-pressed EVOO that was harvested or bottled within the past 18 months. Be picky about bottles. Dark glass bottles and non-toxic tins are the safest EVOO packaging options. Clear bottles let in light while plastic bottles are too porous to protect against heat, light and moisture — all of which can spoil your EVOO.

Make sure you store your oils in a dark, cool cupboard — we so often keep them out beside the cooker, which is exactly where they shouldn’t be!

What makes cooking oils so important is that they are prevalent in all our meals. From breakfast to dinner, from curries to quesadillas, your choice of oil could make the world of difference to not only the taste quality, but also the health quality of your diet.

Want to know more about making the best food choices, without sacrificing their tastiness? Get in touch for a free 1-to-1 consultation today!

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