Over on my Instagram page, we recently posted a short video on the 8 oils to avoid as ingredients in your purchased foods. But that begs the question: What oils are best to use when cooking at home? And which are better left behind on the grocery store’s shelf?
First, a quick reminder: Contrary to the premise behind those no-fat and low-fat diet fads of decades past, healthy fats are a key part of your diet. They help you feel full after a meal, help your body absorb nutrients, assist in fending off oxidative damage and degenerative nerve disorders, and aid in key bodily functions like brain health, hormone synthesis, and cholesterol reduction. Overall, the best sources of healthy fats include avocados, tree nuts, seeds, fatty fish such as salmon—and, yes, healthy oils!Coconut oil, grapeseed oil, and macadamia nut oils have a higher smoking point, so they can reach hotter temperatures in the cooking process without breaking down. Click To Tweet
Healthiest Cooking Oils
For cooking, I usually use coconut oil, grapeseed oil, or macadamia nut oil. These oils have a higher smoking point, so they can reach hotter temperatures in the cooking process without breaking down. Here’s my breakdown of why they’re so beneficial:
Coconut oil. Traditional cultures have praised coconut oil as a medicinal substance, able to help cure a variety of illnesses—and in the modern world, it’s still one of your best oil bets. Buy organic, extra-virgin, cold-pressed coconut oil for cooking at high temperatures and sautéing. (Bonus: It’s also great for use in salad dressings and desserts!)
If you’re concerned about the high levels of saturated-fat content found in coconut oil, don’t be alarmed. The saturated fat in coconut oil is different than that found in animal-based foods, which can negatively impact cardiovascular health. Saturated animal fat links together in chains called long-chain fatty acids (LCFA), but the saturated fat in coconut oil forms medium-chain fatty acids, also known as medium-chain triglycerides, or MCTs—and the length of the chain makes a big difference in how the fat is metabolized.
Fats joined in medium chains have a different impact on the body than fats joined in long chains. MCTs are digested and absorbed immediately through the liver, providing quick energy while being less likely to cause obesity and high cholesterol. In fact, the MCTs in coconut oil have no negative effect on cholesterol levels—they actually help reduce heart disease risk. They also speed up metabolism and help the brain, as they’re quickly converted by the liver to ketones, which serve as backup fuel for our brains and bodies. Coconut oil has even been shown to have antiviral and antifungal properties.
Macadamia nut oil. Thanks to its ever-present status in the Aloha State of Hawaii and nutritional-powerhouse status, I call macadamia nuts a “power food from paradise.” But what I really love about macadamia nuts is their oil—it’s packed with nutrients that offer many health benefits and reduce the risk of chronic disease. It’s delicious for both cooking and dressing salads, and it’s even good for your skin!
Why do I love this oil? Let me count the ways. First, its nutritional profile contains very important components, including:
- Monounsaturated fat. Macadamia-nut oil is mostly monounsaturated—in fact, it contains a higher percentage of this beneficial kind of fat than any other food found in nature.
- Minerals. This oil packs a punch of potassium, phosphorus, magnesium, calcium, selenium, zinc, copper, and iron, which are essential for heart health, restful sleep, DNA repair, detoxification, and improving brain function, to name a few.
- Vitamins, including B vitamins, vitamin E, niacin, and folate. Vitamin E is especially important in lowering heart disease risk, because it helps stop plaque from accumulating in your arteries and slowing down blood flow.
- Phytochemicals. These are a group of natural chemicals, including polyphenols and flavonols, that are found in plants and have positive effects on human health.
- Antioxidants. These protect our bodies from the ravages of oxidative stress.
- Fatty acids. Palmitoleic acid, an omega-7 fatty acid, reduces inflammation, increases the body’s sensitivity to insulin, and may help with weight loss. Macadamia nut oil also contains a small amount of omega-3 fatty acid and, unlike many vegetable oils, it’s low in omega-6 fatty acids—which most of us get too much of.
- Plant sterols. These are compounds that help prevent cholesterol from being absorbed into your blood.
With all of these nutrients, it’s no wonder that studies have suggested that macadamias may offer a slew of health benefits. But, for cooking purposes, macadamia nut oil is also ideal because it has a very high smoke point—it can be heated to 425°F before breaking down. (One key warning, though: Macadamia nuts are toxic to dogs, so keep them away from your four-legged friends.)
Choosing the Best Oils—and What to Avoid
Many of you may be asking: Where’s the extra-virgin olive oil on this list? Olive oil (and some other oils) are nutritious when consumed in raw form, but they can oxidize and become harmful when heated to high temperatures. In other words, when oils reach their smoking point during cooking, they break down, lose nutritional value, and become toxic. That’s why I prefer to reach for extra-virgin olive oil in “raw” applications, like when making salad dressings.
While keeping the above recommendations in mind, also remember that any oil should be used in small amounts. Actually, you often don’t even need oil for cooking—many of the recipes in my book, The Omni Diet, suggest using vegetable broth for sautéing instead of oil. In most cases, it works just as well.
But when you are reaching for a small amount of oil while cooking, I recommend organic, unrefined, expeller-pressed, and cold-pressed oils. Processing strips oils of their nutritional value, which makes them nothing more than liquid fat—in other words, not healthy. Instead, look for unrefined oils, which you can find in most health food stores.
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