What Are The Best Fats/Oils To Cook With?
For years we’ve been told that the healthiest oils to cook with are polyunsaturated fats such as vegetable oil, soybean oil, grapeseed oil, safflower oil, corn oil, etc., and that we should avoid altogether saturated fats like butter and coconut oil. But a simple glance at their chemistry shows this to be some very questionable advice.
Take a look at the picture below. (Don’t worry, this isn’t going to get too technical.) The upper image shows a saturated fat, while the lower shows an unsaturated one.
Saturated fat: C-C-C-C-C
Unsaturated fat: C=C-C-C-C
It’s pretty obvious that the difference between the two fats is that red double line between the Cs in the unsaturated fat. That’s called a double, or unsaturated, bond.
While the fat in the picture above has only one unsaturated bond (making it a monounsaturated fat), polyunsaturated fats have more than one double bond, like so:
Polyunsaturated fat: C-C=C-C=C
All those double bonds make a polyunsaturated fat highly reactive chemically speaking. As a result, when a polyunsaturated fat is exposed to oxygen in the presence of heat—oh, say, like when you’re cooking—it readily oxidizes, setting off a chain of reactions that form a variety of bizarre compounds unknown and often poisonous to the human body.
Run from Refined Oils
Of course, if you’re cooking with canola oil, grapeseed oil, soybean oil, or any of the other refined seed and vegetable oils that line our supermarkets’ shelves, then the reactions you set off in the pan are merely the coup de grace of an abuse that started back in the refining plant, where the oil was heated several times over to temperatures as high as 500°F (and soaked in Drano for good measure).
Yup, that is as bad as it sounds. Refined vegetable and seed oils are highly processed, highly damaged, highly reactive substances. In fact, if you see the word “refined” on the label of a cooking or salad oil, run. Do not think about how much money you’ll save or why anyone would call such a product healthful. Just turn and scoot!
Cook with Virgin Coconut Oil and Butter
You may be surprised—or maybe not after this discussion—to learn that consumption of polyunsaturated fats has been linked to cancer for decades in scientific studies.1 Whether this is because of their highly reactive nature or the carcinogens introduced to them in refining (or their naturally pro-inflammatory effect) is anyone’s guess, but few scientists dispute the results.
Of course, nobody really talks about this because we’re all so worried about saturated fat (the fat found mostly in animal foods). Yet saturated fats, with their lack of double bonds, are much more chemically stable than polyunsaturated fats and much less reactive when heated.
In fact, when you consider that most evidence has cleared saturated fat of a role in heart disease or any other chronic illness2, fats and oils high in saturated fats turn out to be the best types to cook our foods in. These include virgin coconut oil, organic butter (preferably from a pastured cow), ghee, and virgin palm oil.
What About Olive Oil?
Olive oil is high in monounsaturated fat, which in terms of reactivity falls somewhere between saturated fat and polyunsaturated fat. That is, when heated, it will react some but not nearly as much as polyunsaturated fats do.
Still, rather than risk constantly putting foreign chemicals into your body, it’s best to play it safe and eat olive oil raw—on salads, drizzled over steamed vegetables, and so on.
And make sure the oil is extra virgin. That’s the oil that comes from the initial, cold pressing of the olives. Olive oil that says “light” or “refined” or simply lacks the words “extra virgin” has most likely been heated to unacceptable temperatures.
1 Gary Taubes, Good Calories, Bad Calories: Challenging the Conventional Wisdom on Diet, Weight Control, and Disease (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2007), 54.
2 P. W. Siri-Tarino et al., “Saturated Fat, Carbohydrate, and Cardiovascular Disease,” American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 91 (2010): 502–9.
Author: Patrick Earvolino / Editors: Patrick Earvolino and Kirsten Potter / Published with permission by Natural Thyroid Healing™