The way we cook and the foods we like to eat have changed a lot over the last few decades. Convenience and health have become major factors, and as more information is provided to us about the right and wrong ways to cook, you might be finding it harder to choose which oils to include in your diet.
Olive Oil, Flaxseed Oil, Coconut Oil, Almond Oil, Rice Bran Oil, Vegetable Oil, Sesame Oil, Canola Oil… with so many choices, it’s no wonder we are confused! How do you know which is best, and why?
When you look at a food label, you might notice that fats are often broken down into three types of fatty acids: saturated, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated.
Every type of oil is made up of a range of saturated and unsaturated fatty acids. The greater the proportion of saturated fatty acids, the more solid the oil will be at room temperature.
Saturated fatty acid sources include meat, full-fat milk, cheese, butter, cream, coconut and palm oil.
Monounsaturated fatty acid sources include olives, canola, avocados, and nuts such as peanuts, hazelnuts, cashews and almonds.
Polyunsaturated fat fatty acid sources (commonly made up of the omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids) include fish, seafood, vegetable oils such as safflower, sunflower, corn or soy oils, nuts such as walnuts and Brazil nuts, and seeds.
Fats and oils are not only used for energy production but they also maintain the function of our body’s cells and cell membranes, in hormones and in neurotransmitters. What’s more, they are vital in maintaining that healthy glow in your skin, hair and nails!
It’s important to include fat and oil in your diet. Meals with a small amount of fat can enhance the taste and also help to keep you satisfied for longer. Just make sure you include fats that have a higher proportion of mono and polyunsaturated fatty acids as these are healthier for you than saturated fats that have been linked to heart disease. Keep an eye on how much you have too – each gram of fat contains twice the kilojoules of carbohydrate or protein!
One oil that is particularly popular at the moment is coconut oil (we love it too!). Although it has many health benefits, these don’t exclude the fact that coconut oil is made up of saturated fats. Like is the case for most foods, make sure you watch your portion sizes to avoid negative health effects later on down the track!
The cooking method – sauté, roast, deep fry? Different types of oil have different “smoke points”. This is the maximum temperature that the oil can tolerate before it starts smoking and produces harmful materials. Vegetable oils like sunflower and safflower have very high smoke points. A good quality olive oil has a medium to high smoke point.
The flavour. Each type of oil has its own flavour and can impact the flavour of the meal you are preparing. Some oils like sunflower and safflower oil have neutral flavours however avocado and nut oils can have rich intense flavours.
The ratio of saturated fat, to monounsaturated fat, to polyunsaturated fat. It is important to choose oil with a higher unsaturated fat content as this is a “good fat” which may help lower cholesterol levels and reduce the risk of heart disease. Saturated fat, which is also known as “bad fat”, is the type of fat that has been shown to raise the LDL (or the bad cholesterol level), and may increase the risk for heart disease.
How it’s made. Oils that have been cold pressed in the extraction process are most likely to retain their flavour and antioxidant benefits. Mechanically extracting the oil with heat damages the oil and the flavour. Similarly, oils that are a blend, rather than pure, are not as good for you.
Our recommendation is that when choosing cooking oil, you should find one with a higher level of monounsaturated fat, that has been cold pressed, and has a medium to high smoke point. The best all-rounders and our recommendation – high quality Olive Oil and Avocado Oil!