The Search for the Best Cooking Oil for Your Health

Through the years, science has blamed fats as the number one culprit of high obesity rates. That is until technical advancements and modern research have revealed that it was also carbohydrates, or too much consumption of it, that is to blame.

As fats are slowly shaking off the bad rep associated with it, fitness experts began to fathom its benefits, including the possibility of the nutrient as an alternative energy source. In time, ketogenic diet became a trend among people who want to lose weight with as little exercise as possible.

With the advent of this diet trend, it is not surprising that most of its patrons turn to cooking oil as a source of their daily fat requirement. After all, each teaspoon (equivalent to five grams) of the greasy liquid contains approximately 45 calories depending on its source.

Unfortunately, not all oils are created equal. Despite the fact that they can provide enough grams for your keto diet requirements, some are considered better choices than the others because of the health benefits they can deliver on top of it. Choosing the right cooking oil for your needs dramatically depends on these three factors:

Cooking method

Some cooking oils work best at high temperatures, while others are only good enough as a salad dressing. What determines each oil’s cooking method is their smoke point.

Smoke point is a state wherein your cooking oil is emitting vast wisps of air as you cook them for a prolonged period. Frequent exposure to these fumes is proven dangerous as some studies link it to lung cancer in non-smoking patients (details can be found here and here).

Add that to the fact that at smoke point, free radicals and other carcinogenic substances start to take form in your cooking oil. These compounds can significantly affect your health status, making you susceptible to diseases as they attack your immunity defenses and newly-formed cells. Best to discard it ASAP.

Those who have high smoke points such as avocado, almond, and palm oil can be used for deep-frying and searing–basically, anything that requires tremendous heat at a short time.

For medium smoke point-oils like coconut, canola, and corn oil, they are best used for baking, stir-frying, or for mixing in hot sauces.

Finally, those who have low smoke points are excellent for marinades, dips, dressings, and for drizzling. In short, any activity that does not require heat to be entirely consumed. Extra virgin olive oil and flaxseed oil are best examples of these.

Refined or unrefined

Choosing between a refined oil or an unrefined one is the same as choosing between affordability and quality. Unrefined oils are extracted through physical or mechanical methods. This means that much of the oil source still has its scent, flavor, nutrients, and antioxidants (sometimes even bits of the fruit itself) intact in the finished product. Extra virgin olive oil is one example of such (To know more about the specifics of olive oil and the benefits it can bring you, check out this article we made).

The downside of unrefined oils is that it is not recommended to be used for high-temperature cooking since it has low to medium smoke points. Also, quality means expensive, at least for this type of oil since it’s difficult to extract the product from the plant source naturally. They are, however, an excellent addition to salads and marinades because of the flavors they can contribute to your dish.

On the other hand, refined oils are extracted and processed in such a way that chemical solvents like hexane are added to obtain the essence of the source entirely. Most oils undergo rigorous processing like bleaching (adding an agent to remove impurities and leave a nice, golden yellow color) and deodorization (being heated in extremely high temperatures to make it usable even in the tremendous heat) to release a final product. The latter is the reason why refined oils can withstand temperatures high enough for deep-frying and sauteing.

And because the process involves large vats of oil, refined oils are usually sold at a lower price. Unfortunately, cheap also means a cooking oil devoid of nutrients and antioxidants, plus a shorter shelf life. More on the latter below.

Shelf life

Your usage rate must also be considered since not all cooking oils can be there forever. Some of them can stay in your kitchen for only 2-4 months (sesame, walnut, sunflower) while others can endure for up to 6 months (peanut, grapeseed, soybean).

As expected, most unrefined versions of olive oil, peanut, avocado, and canola oil can last up to 12 months, with coconut oil having the most extended shelf life (2 years according to some). Still, most experts highly recommend that you buy small amounts to ensure that you can consume every drop before rancidity, or “oil spoilage,” occurs. Be vigilant for any changes in taste or smell as it can be a sign that you need to purchase a new batch.

Sad to say, not all manufacturers are honest enough to say that their product is unrefined or not. Most even splotch health claims such as “heart-friendly” or “fortified with vitamin X” on their labels so that consumers would buy them.

To avoid falling victim to such schemes, always check the ingredients list. If it has the term “hydrogenated” or “partially hydrogenated” written in it, it’s most likely processed and therefore refined. Keep it on the shelf. Your heart and your overall health would thank you for it. Happy shopping!

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Wendy has made a career from blogging about the newest fitness trends in the market. From New Mexico, Wendy has been passionate about health since the early age of 11, when she competed in local state Gymnastic competitions.
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