Whipping up a recipe in the kitchen isn’t as simple as it used to be when it comes to the oils we use for cooking. You might find yourself wondering if you should use your new bottle of cold-pressed olive oil to stir fry vegetables, or not? Current nutrition information tells us that the way we use oils for food preparation is very important to our health. The next time you reach for your favored bottle of oil to prepare dinner, consider substituting one of these healthy oils instead.
Healthy Oils for Cooking:
Coconut Oil: Coconut oil is a saturated fat that stays solid at room temperature. I know what some of you are thinking. ”Isn’t coconut oil BAD for you??” The answer is no. Sadly, coconut oil is still repairing its reputation after studies linked refined, hydrogenated coconut oil with poor health outcomes in animals. I think we all know hydrogenated oils in any form are bad for our health, so it really wasn’t the coconut oil’s fault all those years ago. Virgin, organic coconut oil is actually wonderfully healing. It boasts high levels of lauric acid which aid in immune and brain function. The reason I use coconut oil for cooking is because it stays stable at high temperatures making it ideal for cooking and baking. You can find high quality coconut oil at your local health food store.
Ghee or Clarified Butter: This is butter that’s been heated and then stripped of milk solids making it stable for high heat cooking. Ghee is often tolerated by individuals who are sensitive to dairy. It makes a nice substitute for butter. Ghee is easily found at any health food store. It is sometimes in the oil aisle and sometimes in the refrigerated section of your local grocery store.
Butter: Nope, I’m not scared of butter. Honestly, is anything better than butter in a recipe? A plain piece of salmon turns gourmet chic with a quick broil in a butter bath. Mmmmm! Make sure your butter is high quality, meaning it is organic and free of chemicals, hormones and antibiotics. Butter tolerates moderate heat temps making it safe for cooking, but make sure you don’t burn butter. Once it burns, it becomes damaged.
Lard, tallow and grease from grass-fed animals: Not only can these oils withstand heat, but they also provide a good source of vitamin D and saturated fats–important for brain function.
Oils to use in raw form, but NOT for cooking:
Flaxseed Oil: Flaxseed oil offers us brain-building omega-3 fatty acids so we love it, love it, love it! However, flaxseeds are super duper wimpy when it comes to light, heat or oxygen. As a result, flaxseed oil must be refrigerated at all times to keep the beneficial qualities intact. Don’t cook with flaxseed oil, but instead use it in smoothies and mixed with other oils on salads. It has a strong flavor so make sure to balance it out with other oils when needed.
Olive Oil: Olive oil is a tough one because we are used to cooking with it however, olive oil does not tolerate high heat very well and easily becomes damaged when used for cooking. Some people say cooking with olive oil over medium heat is o.k. and some say avoid it at all costs. I’m going to let you decide. Medium/low heat should be fine. Your best bet is to use olive oil on salads and leave high heat cooking for stable oils like ghee, butter and coconut oil.
Nut Oils: There are so many wonderful nut oils—almond, walnut, sesame, pumpkin seed, etc. Most are best for drizzling over salads, pasta and vegetables galore, but none of them should be used for cooking. Heat damages the healthy properties in these oils so keep them cool.
Oils to Avoid Altogether:
Hydrogenated Oils: Hydrogenated oils (found in margarine, hydrogenated vegetable oils, shortening, processed foods, baked goods, fried foods, etc.) trans fats and damaged fats all create high levels of oxidative stress in the body which leads to free radical damage. Our bodies have a difficult time processing these fats and they cause more harm than good. Unfortunately, you can also turn a good fat BAD when you cook with fragile oils (like flaxseed oil) at high heat. This damages the healthy fats that naturally occur in fragile oil and creates DAMAGED FATS! The body sees a damaged fat the same way it sees a hydrogenated oil or trans fat. Trust me, damaged fats don’t look pretty to your body!
Vegetable Oils (Canola/Corn/Soybean/Safflower/Sunflower/Cottonseed/Grapeseed): I’m going to lump these into one big AVOID category. Highly refined, genetically modified and full of chemicals, these oils do not contain the nutrients food marketers would like you to believe they do. Newfangled, contemporary “Heart Healthy” vegetable oils should be avoided. They cause an inflammatory response in the body and chronic inflammation can lead to an array of health problems including heart disease and cancer. So much for heart healthy.
Here’s another great article about the healthiest oils to cook with too!