There are good fats and bad fats. Knowing which is which sometimes seems like a chore. What’s worse is that some vegetable oils that have been touted as healthy are NOT.
Here’s an outline of what to look for and what healthy oils to use to get your share of good fats and avoid the bad ones.
Oils marketed as “vegetable” oil really come from the plants’ seeds, not from the vegetables themselves. They are molecularly unstable because they are chemically processed, resulting in “trans” fats (bad). Trans fats have been shown to increase the risk of dementia, cardiovascular disease, obesity, and cancer.
As contributors to chronic inflammation, they are also partly responsible for a host of other maladies as well, such as arthritis, diabetes, and colitis. They have been banned in other countries, New York City, Philadelphia, and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has proposed its complete elimination from the food supply. You know it must be bad.
In the North American diet, an average of 9 percent of our daily calories comes from vegetable (trans fat) oils like corn, soy, canola, and sunflower. The American Heart Association’s dietary recommendation is less than 1 percent of total daily caloric intake—that translates to 20 calories per day from trans fat.
Canola oil came to market in the 1970s as a healthy alternative to corn oil. There is no such thing as a “canola” plant—the oil comes from rapeseed and “canola” is really an acronym for CANadian Oil Low Acid. The oil was named so to detract from the perceived negative of the genetically modified rapeseed. Canola oil is made via a high-temperature process that includes refining and bleaching. There is virtually no nutritional benefit and canola is a bad fat, found in almost every processed product on supermarket shelves.
What are the healthy options?
You’re Better With Butter.
Given a bad rap back when cholesterol awareness became everyone’s nightmare and canola marketing was on the rise, in reality, butter from grass-fed cows is a nutritional powerhouse. Pay attention to the source of your butter: if it’s not from grass-fed cows, the nutritional value plummets. This is because cows’ natural food is grass, not grains. Industrially-raised cows are fed (usually genetically-modified) corn and soy which has profound consequences to the content and quality of the milk they produce. Ghee is an unpasteurized, clarified butter used in Indian cuisine and doesn’t require refrigeration; it is a good alternative to vegetable oils as well.
Coconut Oil is The New Panacea.
There seems no end to all the good coconut oil can do. It’s an effective moisturizer, sunscreen, antibacterial, antioxidant, and anti-inflammatory in addition to being a nutritious saturated fat. It can be used in high-heat cooking without losing its stability and is a great replacement for vegetable shortening in baking.
Olive oil is a Good Fat.
But here’s some shocking news: most olive oil sold in the United States isn’t pure olive oil so you’re very likely not getting what you think you’re getting. Real olive oil supports the immune system; prevents cancer, heart disease, and stroke; lowers blood pressure; and reduces risk of diabetes. Be advised that heating olive oil decreases its positive impact—you’re better off cooking with another type of oil.
Sesame Oil Isn’t Just For Stir Frys.
Delicious as a dressing, sesame oil can withstand high heat and is therefore a good cooking choice; it can be mixed with other oils for taste and texture:
“Those fats and oils that are appropriate for cooking or sautéing and will withstand fairly high temperatures are those that have been in use for thousands of years, including olive oil as well as the more stable saturated coconut and palm oils and the animal tallows. An oil such as sesame oil with its special heat-activated antioxidants can be blended with coconut oil and olive oil to form a very stable good cooking oil.”
As a general rule, eliminate any food product with the word “hydrogenated” on the label. Don’t use manufactured fats like margarine, use natural products instead. Avoid the trans fats of canola, corn, safflower, soy, and sunflower oils. Your body needs fats but only the good kind. In a seemingly shifting playing field, it can be tricky to keep up with what that means but hopefully the guides above will help.