Get to Know the Healthy, Good-for-You Fats
Olive, peanut, palm, corn, coconut, vegetable, canola, sesame, sunflower, and grapeseed; virgin, extra-virgin, cold-pressed, omega-rich, light, and toasted.
These are only some of the types of cooking oil you might find in your average supermarket, and the modifiers that sometimes go along with them. With the different brands and kinds of cooking oil out there, just how do you know which one is best for you? In the book Smart Fat, authored by Dr. Steven Masley and nutrition specialist Johnny Bowden, Ph.D., you can find pointers to help you answer this question.
The Basics: Categories of Fat
There are three types of fat: monounsaturated, polyunsaturated, and saturated. Saturated fat generally comes from animal fat, such as those you can find in butter. Unsaturated fat, which may be mono- or polyunsaturated, usually come from vegetables or marine life. Polyunsaturated fats are the source of the super-good-for-you omega 3 fatty acids.
Rarely can you find cooking oil that is homogenous, as nearly all cooking oils are a combination of the three types mentioned above. They are just classified and labeled according to which of the three types is more prominent in the chemical makeup.
How to choose the right oil for you
You need to be guided by two important factors: smoke point and source.
As stated by Dr. Bowden and Dr. Masley, there are smart (good) fats, damaging (bad) fats, and neutral ones. According to Dr. Masley, "Smart fats have proven clinical benefits from published studies. For example, studies have shown that consuming more olive oil and nuts decreases the risk for cardiovascular disease. Hundreds of other studies suggest nuts and olive oil are good for your heart and help to slow overall aging." Other examples of smart fats are avocado, dark chocolate, cold water fish, olive oil, and nut oils like pecans, walnuts, hazelnuts, and almonds.
Bad fats, like partially hydrogenated fats or more popularly known as trans fats, highly refined vegetable oils, and omega 6-rich fats, are damaging to the body. They worsen cholesterol count in the body, as well as your blood sugar control.
They are also suspected of escalating the risk of cancer. Neutral fats are those that are not damaging to you but do not benefit you, either. Examples of neutral fats are butter, palm oil, or lard from organically raised, grass-fed cattle.
As far as smoke points go, when the oil goes up to a certain temperature, its molecular structure gets altered to form aldehydes. Aldehydes, when present in food, are believed to increase the risk of cancer and other neurodegenerative diseases. Here is a list of smoke points that you can check out. The rule here is that the lighter the color of oil, the higher its smoke point.
To cut the long story short, choose smart fats and prioritize buying ones with very high smoke points. Also, opt to buy those with higher omega-3 content. Just be sure that for all your cooking, you have at least three kinds of cooking oil - one for eating fresh, another for medium and low heat cooking, and an oil for high heat.