Is it a myth that you can cook with olive oil and is canola oil really as bad as they say?
Knowing which are the best oils to cook with can be confusing as there is so much controversy online and in the media. Quite often there is scaremongering by online communities and large companies to push a new diet trend or even a new type of oil. I have debunked some of the myths and made it simple for you.
Olive oil is highly nutritious and has always been a nutrition saint. Its health benefits have been touted for years due to its high antioxidant compounds that make this oil a favourite amongst most health professionals. A popular myth circulating in the Paleo community is that it’s unsafe to cook with olive oil. This is because it isn’t stable and oxidizes when heated, forming harmful by-products in the process (as does any cooking oil).
Olive oil is a monounsaturated fat and contains protective antioxidants such as poly phenols and vitamin E making it a hero for longevity in the Mediterranean diet. Olive oil has a relatively low smoke point which is why it is thought to be unsuitable for high heat cooking. The smoke point theory can, however be misleading due to the fact that extra virgin olive oil is a monounsaturated fat and rich in antioxidants which provide stability to the oil therefore making is suitable to use for cooking.
Use olive oil to cook your food but be aware the higher the heat the less the antioxidant benefit in the oil. Extra virgin oil is the healthiest to cook with.
Canola oil and vegetable oils such as sunflower
Canola oil is a monounsaturated and polyunsaturated oil. It is made from rapeseed which is refined and processed usually by heat and solvents to remove any toxic products. It is a cheap easy to cook with oil however it is prone to rancidity due to the heavy processing and refining (which can also destroy the nutrient value). Polyunsaturated plant oils such as sunflower oil are also prone to oxidation and contain a high omega 6 fatty acid ratio making them potentially pro inflammatory in the body. Use with caution.
What oils should we cook with?
The Mediterranean diet is touted the healthiest diet in the world which uses a lot of olive oil so I do recommend using extra virgin olive oil for light cooking and dressing food. Look for extra virgin olive oil in a dark glass container.
Rich in antioxidants particularly vitamin E and Oryzanol (good for heart health) and has a higher smoke point than olive oil which makes it good for high temperature cooking such as frying and stir frys. Look for minimally processed Rice bran oil.
A monounsaturated oil, good for heart health and is wonderfully nutritious and also has a relatively high smoke point. You can cook with avocado oil however you do lose the flavour when it is heated. Avocados are toxic to cats and dogs so do be mindful of this when cooking with it. Look for extra virgin cold pressed avocado oil in a dark glass container.
Peanut oil can be used for higher temperature cooking and gives a wonderful flavour to Asian dishes. Peanut oil can be high in inflammatory Omega 6 fatty acids which are also easily oxidised when exposed to light and heat so use now and again but not all the time.
A popular choice to cook with as it has a high smoke point so again is good for stir fry’s and cooking. The down side to coconut oil is that it is a saturated fat with little nutrient value. Coconut oil can leave a strong coconut oil flavour on food that isn’t always required. The upside is that you can now get a liquid coconut oil that has the long chain fatty acids removed meaning that all the beneficial effects of the MCT’s are enhanced. MCT’s help accelerate the rate of metabolic conversion meaning that it is easier for the fat to be converted into fuel for immediate use by the body. This means that it is less likely to be stored as fat when eaten as part of a ketogenic or low carbohydrate diet. Like any saturated fat, it should be eaten in moderation and because coconut oil is not high in antioxidants a high antioxidant plant rich diet is recommended.
For optimum health mix up your oils by choosing to use a variety of different oils to maximise nutrient value. Avoid using delicate seed and nut oils such as flaxseed and walnut oil for cooking as the essential fatty acids breakdown easily. They are rich in goods fats and nutritionally beneficial for health so keep these in the fridge and use as dressings for food.