Oils: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Finding the right cooking oil can be one of the most confusing steps in trying to eat healthy. With multiple oil choices and sneaky product labeling, your grocery store experience soon turns into a nightmare. Here is a breakdown of several oils, common and uncommon, as well as some common terminology to help you make a more informed decision:

Avocado Oil | Coconut Oil | Grapeseed Oil | Olive Oil | Rice Bran Oil | Safflower Oil | Sesame Oil | Tree Nut Oil | Canola Oil | Flaxseed Oil | Sunflower Oil | Corn Oil | Cottonseed Oil | Palm Kernel Oil | Peanut Oil | Soybean Oil | Vegetable Oil | Tips for Using Oil

Smoke Point: every oil has a smoke point, which is the point in which the oil will start to smoke (yes, I am captain obvious here…lol). This is important depending on the type of cooking you plan on doing. If you are baking, searing, or frying, you want to use an oil with a higher smoke point. If you are using an oil for drizzling, dips, salad dressing, etc., a lower smoke point is better.

Oxidation: this occurs when an oil goes bad naturally (rancid), is overheated, or reheated too many times. Oxidation can cause free radicals to form in the oil, which can misbehave in your body and has the potential to form cancer cells. Saturated fats are least likely to oxidize, followed by mono-unsaturated fats. Keep oils in a dark place or in the refrigerator, use before expiration date and try not to go past the smoke point to prevent this from happening to your oil.

Saturated: An oil that is saturated is typically NOT one that you want to pick. They usually are solid at room temperature and tend to be really good at artery clogging by raising you bad cholesterol (LDL). Oils in this category are the most stable for not oxidizing. They are also great for using in higher temperatures. One of the best saturated fats you can use is Coconut oil.

Monounsaturated: a much better oil choice. Monounsaturated fats have anti-inflammation properties and help to lower your bad cholesterol (LDL) and raise your good cholesterol (HDL); many of these oils are still great for using at high temperatures. They do not tend to go rancid as fast as polyunsaturated oils, but are lacking the vitamins and minerals that are commonly found in the poly category. Olive oil falls into this category as one of the most common and best used monounsaturated oils.

Polyunsaturated: an oil that actually has added health benefits! Polyunsaturated oils not only contain cholesterol lowering qualities, but also have Essential fatty acids (EFA’s) like omega 3 and omega 6. You body does not make them on their own and needs these EFA’s for things like blood clotting to keep you heart healthy, and boost your immune system, as well as controlling the digestive system, kidneys, body temperature and hormones. A good portion of your brain is made up of fat, and EFA’s are very helpful in keeping the neuron connections flowing smooth and preventing dementia and memory loss. The only downside to polyunsaturated oils are their ability to oxidize easier than any other oils. This can be prevented by not reheating polys (or heating them at all if you can help it) and using them before the expiration date. One of the best polys is flaxseed oil, which is a great source of omega 3.

The Good: These are the oils that are not only great for cooking, but also have added nutritional benefits to keep you healthy!

 

Avocado Oil

What is it: a monounsaturated oil made from pressing the green flesh of the avocado surrounding the pit. It is typically kept in a dark bottle and needs to live in a  dark environment to prevent the oil from going rancid too quickly

What it’s used for in the kitchen: It is normally used for drizzling and on salads. May be used for searing and stir frying due to it’s high smoke point, but the cost is higher than most oils so many people choose a cheaper oil to cook with. This is also a great carrier oil for other flavors.

Smoke point: 520 degrees

Shelf life: 12 months

Health benefits: Helps lower bad cholesterol and raise good cholesterol. Avocado oil also has the unique ability to enable the body to absorb 17 times more nutrients found in salads and vegetables.

Tiffany says: Use it!! I love drizzling this over eggs. Yum!

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Coconut Oil 

What is it: a saturated oil made from matured coconut flesh.

What it’s used for in the kitchen: great for baking, frying, saute, searing and as a spread.

Smoke point: 350 degrees

Shelf life: 12 months or more

Health benefits: Contains lauric acid which is a rare medium chain fatty acid found in breast milk that helps prevent heart disease and does not raise cholesterol levels as stated in many falsely written statements. It is also helpful in weight reduction, improving the digestive tract and digestive related diseases (i.e. irritable bowel syndrome), and increases the immune system. Almost every organ in the body benefits from this oil. It is rich in EFA’s and low in omega 6 (which we usually eat too much of in our normal diet). It is also being studied for its anti-fungal, anti-viral and anti-bacterial properties

Tiffany says: Use it frequently!! I use it in almost all my baking and frying. My cholesterol level is completely normal and I used to be in the high 200′s so obviously that says something about the bad reports. Coconut oil in my opinion is like liquid gold, but gets a bad rep because it is a saturated fat, but our body metabolizes it very differently than other saturated fats. However, not all coconut oils are created equal. Avoid those that are refined, hydrogenated and fractionated. They do have artery clogging properties and are made by using a bleaching and hydrogenated process that will clog you arteries and make you sick all for the sake of a longer shelf life. I use only Organic Extra Virgin unrefined Coconut oil. It is a little pricier, but goes a long way in your cooking and in your overall health.

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Grapeseed Oil  

What is it: a polyunsaturated oil derived from the seeds of the grape.

What it’s used for in the kitchen: great for stir-frying, saute’, and deep frying due to it’s high smoke point.

Smoke point: 450-500 degrees

Shelf life: under 3 months; up to 6 months in refrigerator

Health benefits: This oil has a slew of benefits from conquering acne, dermatitis, stretch marks, diabetes, hemorrhoids, high blood pressure, arthritis and cancer prevention due to the high levels of antioxidants and EFA’s. It also contains Resveratrol, an anti-inflammatory, anti-cancer antioxidant that is known for it’s heart healthy benefits.

Tiffany says: Use it!!! This oil has so many amazing properties; there are too many to list!

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Olive Oil  

What is it: a monounsaturated oil made from extracting the oil from crushed olives.

What it’s used for in the kitchen: depending on what type of variety you are using, this oil is very versatile. It can be used for drizzling, salad dressings, dips, cooking, saute, searing, baking and frying, although the health benefits are best when it is not heated.

Smoke point: Extra Virgin-350 degrees, Virgin – 420 degrees, Pomace – 460 degrees, Extra light – 468 degrees

Shelf life: 9-12 months; up to a year in refrigerator

Health benefits: has a great anti-inflammation effect (much like that of ibuprofen) which can help prevent cancer, lowers cholesterol, is rich in antioxidants (especially vitamin E), can help lower blood pressure, may aid in improvement of blood sugar while enhancing insulin sensitivity, helps to decrease obesity and prevent osteoporosis. Some studies also suggest that it may help prevent depression.

Tiffany says: Use it frequently!! I love olive oil and use it daily not only in my food but on my skin as well. It is great for both the inside and outside of your body.

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Rice Bran Oil   

What is it: a monounsaturated oil that is made from the germ and inner husk of brown rice.

What it’s used for in the kitchen: It is very popular in asian dishes and can be used for deep frying due to it’s high smoke point. It is also used to saute’, in salad dressings and dips.

Smoke point: 490 degrees

Shelf life: 3-6 months; up to 12 months in refrigerator

Health benefits: This has an unusual benefit for menopausa women by helping to relieve hot flashes. In a study done in Japan, 90% of women found relief after 4-6 weeks of rice bran oil suppliments. The oxidation stability is very good as well and the antioxidants don’t seem to fade as the oil is reheated.

Tiffany says: This is a great re-heating oil with a mild flavor if you are looking to save a little money. It’s health benefits are amazing as well.

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Safflower Oil

What is it: an oil made from the seed of the safflower plant. Comes in both monounsaturated and polyunsaturated varieties.

What it’s used for in the kitchen: It can be used for baking, frying, saute’. The Smoke point makes it very versatile.

Smoke point: 450-500 degrees

Shelf life: 9-12 months

Health benefits: while it doesn’t have as many health benefits as other oils, it has recently been very popular on Dr. Oz and in the search engines for reducing belly fat due to it’s high linoleic acid content. The trials are still very new, but seem to be promising. The preferred form for optimal benefits is the poly-unsaturated variety.

Tiffany says: A great alternative if you want a flavor-free oil for baking and frying.

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Sesame Oil    

What is it: a polyunsaturated edible vegetable oil derived from sesame seeds.

What it’s used for in the kitchen: light sesame oil is great for frying, while dark sesame oil’s lower smoke point make is better for stir-fry, and drizzling over meats and salads.

Smoke point: 410 degrees

Shelf life: 4 months

Health benefits: Sesame oil is very popular in eastern culture and is known for having stress relieving properties. It is also rich in antioxidants and helps to control blood pressure. This amazing oil contains magnesium, zinc, iron, copper, calcium and B6 which helps to support vascular, bone and respiratory health as well as prevention of headaches, cancer and PMS. It also has the least likelihood of the polys to turn rancid due to the antioxidants in the oil as well as the high smoke point.

Tiffany says: I love sesame oil! The flavor is rich and balances out any asian inspired dish or snack.

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Tree Nut Oil

What is it: monounsaturated oil varieties made from the meat of tree nuts. It comes in many varieties such as walnut, almond, macadamia, and hazelnut.

What it’s used for in the kitchen: Not great for cooking or frying as it loses flavor. Use to drizzle on fruits, appetizers, veggies and salads.

Smoke point: Walnut-400 degrees, Almond-420 degrees, Macadamea-390 degrees, Hazelnut-430 degrees

Shelf life: 3-6 months; 3 months for walnut; all keep up to 6 months refrigerated

Health benefits: good cholesterol lowering properties; walnut oil is the best in this category as it also contains a good amount of vitamin E, which helps target and eliminate cancer causing free radicals in the body.

Tiffany Says: Use it! These oils have excellent health benefits and add great flavor drizzled over your snacks.

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  The Bad: Oils that may contain some quality health benefits, but the bad properties outweigh the good ones.

Canola Oil  

What is it: a neutral flavor monounsaturated oil made from rapeseed, a member of the mustard family.

What it’s used for in the kitchen: It can be used for baking, frying, saute’, etc.

Smoke point: 400 degrees

Shelf life: 9-12 months

The problem: While canola oil has great cholesterol lowering properties, it has also been the center of the Erucic acid issue. Erucic acid is a naturally occurring toxin in rapeseed oil that is known to produce heart tumors on laboratory animals. In 1974, scientists started trying to get rid of the excess (sometimes upwards of 60%) levels of erucic acid to make is safer to consume. Over the years it has gone through many changes, including genetic modification and a name change (the name was changed from rapeseed to canola in the attempts to get people to consume it who originally knew about the erucic acid reports in the 70′s). While it now contains less than 2% erucic acid, it is still produced from a genetically modified plant which makes it questionably unstable in our bodies. Click on this link for more info on genetically modified crops.

Tiffany says: I would not recommend using it due to it’s common production with genetic modification.

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Flaxseed oils

What is it: a polyunsaturated oil derived from flax seeds. Also known as Linseed oil.

What can it be used for: Used for drizzling on foods and on salads

Smoke point: 225 degrees

Shelf life: less than 6 weeks

Health benefits: Flaxseed oil has great health benefits as it contains the highest levels on omega 3 out of all the oils. It is great for reducing the risk of clogged arteries and heart arrhythmia and inflammation. The omega 3 also greatly helps regulate the nervous system. There is a current study going on linking the alpha linolenic acids (ALA’s) in flaxseed oil with a higher risk of developing prostate cancer, but that has not been completely proven as true. Flaxseed oil is a great blood thinner, so take precautions if you are on a blood thinner such as aspirin, heparin, coumadin, plavix, etc.

Tiffany says: I think this is a great oil if you plan on using it quickly. The problem with flaxseed oil is is has a high oxidation rate and goes rancid very fast.  It has to be refrigerated, and even then, the shelf life is only a few weeks. This one may be a great choice for you if you don’t mind shelling out money on new flaxseed oil every 2 weeks. I recommend eating ground flaxseed in your foods and smoothies to get the benefits of flax. It stays fresh much longer than the oil.

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Sunflower oil  

What is it: a polyunsaturated oil made from the seed of the sunflower plant.

What can it be used for: It can be used for baking, frying, saute’. The smoke point makes it very versatile.

Smoke point: 450 degrees

Shelf life: less than 3 months

Health Benefits: Sunflower oil is very high in vitamin E. Unfortunately it has too much omega 6 without a good balance of omega 3. This can lead to inflammation in the body leading to joint pain and a weakened immune system. Too many unbalanced processed polyunsaturated fats can wreak havoc on the body causing hypertension that can lead to kidney failure.

Tiffany says: This is a lot like the flax seed oil in that it goes rancid very quickly. If not used within the expiration date you run the risk of eating rancid or even oxidized oil. It is fine for moderation, but make sure you are eating less than 2 tablespoons a day.

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The Ugly: Stay far far away!

 

Corn oil

What is it: a polyunsaturated oil made from genetically modified corn

What can it be used for: It can be used for baking, frying, saute’, salad dressing, etc. The smoke point makes it very versatile.

Smoke point: 450 degrees

Shelf life:4-6 months; up to 12 months in refrigerator

The problem: Unfortunately, this oil is another one that is frequently hydrogenated, making it a higher risk for someone to have a heart attack or stroke. Corn oil also has 60 times more omega 6 vs omega 3 which can boost your risk of cancer, arthritis and obesity. It has been proven in studies to increase your LDL (bad cholesterol). Because corn is one of the most genetically modified crops (next to soybeans), the oil is one that will carry the bad effects of the alteration. Some farmers even have trouble getting their livestock to eat feed with GM corn in it.

Tiffany says: I’m going with the cows on this one. Stay far away!

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Cottonseed oil   

What is it: a mostly saturated oil made from genetically modified cotton seeds

What it’s used for in the kitchen: mainly used for deep frying and binding

Smoke point: 450 degrees

Shelf life:3-6 months; up to 12 months in refrigerator

The problem: Cottonseed oil does not need to go through the hydrogenation process and is very rich in vitamin E. The health benefits unfortunately stop there. This is another genetically modified crop, and as cotton is not really considered an edible crop, the question remains among many as to whether we should be ingesting it at all. It is grown using many different types of farming chemicals, and has a naturally occurring toxin called gossypal. This toxin , which is so effective that farmers use it as a pesticide, is removed for the oil during the refining, bleaching and deodorizing process (sounds appetizing doesn’t it?!). The high saturated fat content in this oil makes the risk of high cholesterol, heart disease and stroke go up.

Tiffany says: Things that aren’t meant to be food should not be made into an oil and then put into food. I would not recommend this oil.

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Palm kernel Oil   

What is it: the saturated edible oil derived from the kernel of the oil palm.

What can it be used for: It can be used for baking, frying, saute’, salad dressing, etc. The smoke point makes it very versatile.

Smoke point: 446 degrees

Shelf life: 9-12 months

The problem: Palm kernel oil is frequently send through the hydrogentation process and adds trans fats to your foods. This increases cholesterol levels and your risk for heart attack and stroke. It is also many times sent through a bleaching a refining process. It should not be confused with organic virgin palm oil, which can be very beneficial.

Tiffany says: Not recommended for consumption by me

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Peanut Oil  

What is it: a monounsaturated oil made from peanuts.

What can it be used for: It can be used for baking, frying, saute’. The smoke point makes it very versatile.

Smoke point: 450 degrees

Shelf life: 4-6 months

The problem: Peanut oil has been used by scientists for years to help clog arteries while testing cholesterol effects on lab rats, rabbits and primates. It is also the unhealthy “turkey frying oil” most commonly used around thanksgiving since it is affordable for mass quantities. Peanuts are one of the highest allergy related foods available. Because a peanut is a lecthin, this oil carries the same issues as does eating raw peanuts, peanut butter etc. Click on this link for more info on peanuts. The other problem is that very frequently manufacturers hydrogenate the oil making it much worse for you than it was before the hydrogenation. This leads to clogged arteries and a higher risk of heart attack and stroke.

Tiffany says: In the words of the grinch, I wouldn’t touch this with a “99 and a half foot pole.” It’s not worth the health risks just because it is a more affordable oil.

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Soybean Oil 

What is it: a polyunsaturated oil made from genetically modified soybeans.

What can it be used for: It can be used for baking, frying, saute’. The smoke point makes it very versatile.

Smoke point: 450 degrees

Shelf life: 3-6 months

The problem: Let’s start with the fact that over 90%of soybeans are genetically modified. If that’s not enough to stop you, let me explain what that means. Scientists keep finding “mystery genes” in what is supposed to be a stable genetic transformation of the plant. They are not quite sure what effect these new genes have on people yet, but soy is linked to causing an increased risk of breast cancer and bladder cancer in women, increased estrogen in men, promoting hypothyroidism, thyroid cancer and infertility just to name a few of the issues. To learn more about soy, click here.

Tiffany says: I’d eat peanut oil before I eat soybean oil. Check out how I feel about peanut oil.

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Vegetable Oil  

What is it: a neutral flavored monounsaturated oil made from different vegetable blends, usually a combo of soybean, corn, palm, sunflower, soybean and/or canola.

What can it be used for: It can be used for baking, frying, saute’, salad dressing, etc. The smoke point makes it very versatile.

Smoke point: 450 degrees

Shelf life: 9-12 months

The problem: Because vegetable oil is a combo of different oils, it is hard to control which oil you are putting into your body. Many of the oils used are genetically modified. The other problem is that very frequently manufacturers hydrogenate the oil making it much worse for you than it was before the hydrogenation. This leads to clogged arteries and a higher risk of heart attack and stroke.

Tiffany says: I know it’s starting to get scary. Go up to the top of the page and look at the good oils to put yourself back in a happy place.

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6 Tips for optimizing oil use:

1) It is best not to reheat an oil after you have used it. The smoke point lowers each time, leading to a higher chance of oxidation and a decrease in quality and flavor.

2) Do not use oil that is smoking or burning.

3) If oil catches on fire, DO NOT PUT WATER ON IT! It will create a giant fireball (yes I have seen this happen). If you do not have a fire extinguisher, place a metal lid over it or smother with baking soda and/or salt.

4) Avoid oils (and foods) that have “hydrogenated”, “partially hydrogenated”, “soybean”, “all purpose”, and “vegetable” in them. They are more likely to contain a combo of bad oils which can lead to multiple health issues.

5) Use non-heated oils as much as possible for the best health benefits. They are great drizzled over food, used in dips and in salad dressings.

6) If you have to use oils for saute’ and frying, pick one that has the best health benefits and a higher smoke point.
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