What Makes an Oil Healthy or Unhealthy?
Although this may seem like an easy list to formulate, it is quite the opposite. There are many factors that go into making something a “healthy” or an “unhealthy” food. Oils are no different. A lot of oils have good properties, but many of them have properties you will want to stay away from. There is a lot of gray area when it comes to grading oils.
It is also important to keep in mind that an oil’s composition can change when exposed to high heat. This can alter some of its properties and actually make what started off as a good property into a harmful one.
Check out the list of cooking oils ranked in healthiest order below, and make sure to read it carefully. The healthiest oils are listed at the top, and as you go down the list, the oils become less healthy. Pay attention to the reasoning and see if you agree.
Not everyone agrees, but for the purpose of this list, olive oil is ranked number one. Olive oil is high in monounsaturated fats, which are the type of fats that are known to lower cholesterol levels in individuals. Monounsaturated fats also seem to have a heart healthy effect and have been shown to protect against heart disease and plaque build up.
Olive oil over other comparable oils contains much lower levels of saturated fat. Saturated fat is thought to be good to cook with because the bonds of saturated fat are harder to break so the bonds are not broken in the cooking process. Sometimes when bonds are broken in the cooking process, molecules can break free and create something called free radicals.
Free radicals are particles best known for the havoc they can cause in the body. Free radicals do the complete opposite of monounsaturated fat and actually cause cell damage and heart disease. However, the formation of free radicals depends on the level of heat used in each cooking process and also the duration during which the oil is subjected to heat. Conservative thinking would tell you to avoid saturated fats all together and risk the small exposure to free radicals. Free radicals can be rendered harmless if you consume plenty of antioxidants, which naturally occur in fruits and vegetables.
Canola oil also has low levels of saturated fat and higher levels of poly and monounsaturated fats. Canola oil isn’t as stable as olive oil when used for cooking so if you are cooking, try to stick with olive oil.
Tropical Oils: Coconut Oil and Palm Oil
Coconut oil and palm oil have very high levels of saturated fat. Saturated fat is one of the main culprits in heart disease and plaque build up in the arteries. Although they are stable at high temperatures, they are still saturated fat and in the society we live in we need to do a better job of avoiding fats like these. If our diets consisted of more raw fruits and veggies and less high calorie, high fat processed foods, these types of fats could serve a different purpose. For the American culture, these types of fats should be limited.
Butter and Margarine
America loves butter and margarine, but there is only one problem. Our bodies don’t love butter and margarine like butter and margarine loves us. Not only do butter and margarine contain high levels of saturated fat, they also contain trans-fat and other hydrogenated fats. Trans-fats and hydrogenated fats are the worst type of fats. They do not occur naturally and are completely synthesized by humans. These fats were made to make these products more stable at high temperatures so they could be used for cooking. Unfortunately, lots of research has been done, none of which has shown positive effects of eating butter and/or margarine.
The idea here is to be educated and know the difference between fats and their composition. Lists like the “cooking oils ranked in healthiest order list” can be helpful in making good choices.
In some circumstances, it may be easy to substitute a butter or margarine for olive oil and other times it may not be as easy. Use oil sparingly and do the best you can to avoid tropical oils, butter and margarine. These small lifestyle changes can lead to big changes in your health. Making these changes can lead to a longer, healthier life.
Graph of Fats Broken Down By Oil, https://www.spinalhealth.net/fats.html
Geary, Mike, “Your Cooking Oils - Healthy vs. Unhealthy,” https://www.truthaboutabs.com/unhealthy-vs-healthy-cooking-oils.html
Web MD, “Time for an oil change” video, https://www.webmd.com/video/cooking-healthy-oils