There are many oils to choose from when it comes to both cooking and supplementation. Do we choose Olive Oil? Cold pressed, extra virgin, pure?? What about fish oil, flaxseed oil, canola oil, coconut oil, sesame oil, avocado oil, peanut oil and on and on the list goes.
Let’s do a brief rundown of some common oils.
Firstly, what does cold pressed, extra virgin etc mean?
Extra virgin oils have gone through less processing than other oils so they are generally a better option. Less processing is almost always better. You also need to read the labels carefully to ensure that you’re actually getting what you think you’re getting. A lot of oils, even those labelled as ‘pure’ are not 100% the oil you think you’re getting. Cheaper vegetable oils are often mixed in to, well make it cheaper to produce. So start reading the labels everyone.
Cold pressed oils are almost always better than heat processed. Read the labels and look for the specific words ‘cold pressed’ because the manufacturers are most likely not going to mention heat processes because of the bad rap they have gotten recently.
Applying heat to most oils changes the chemical structure of them. Repeated heating can cause hydrogenation and turn the oil partially or fully into a transfat. And unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know that trans fats are exceptionally bad for you and should be avoided at all costs. Heating the oils also includes when you heat the oil to use it for cooking which is one of the reasons you should keep reading. Some oils should not be heated if you’re going to consume them!! They especially should not be used over and over again such as in a fast food store.
Extra Virgin Olive Oil – I used to cook with this all the time, but since I’ve started using my newest favourite oil (and found out why I shouldn’t be cooking with olive oil) I’ve stopped. Simply, olive oil has a fairly low smoking point meaning that you shouldn’t really heat it! Go figure. Its awesome though used in other ways such as making dressings or to drizzle over foods already cooked. As with all oils, be aware of the calorie content. Just because its good for you, doesn’t mean you can eat as much as you want. Olive oil is a good source of mono-unsaturated fats which are good for heart health.
Macadamia Oil – This has a higher smoking point than olive meaning you can safely cook with it at lower temperatures. It has a mild flavour which shouldn’t compete with whatever you’re cooking with it. Its not cheap though, and again, use sparingly. Its a good source of mono-unsaturated fats as well.
Flaxseed Oil – Often used because of the higher Omega 3 content, you have to realise that it only contains 1 basic member of the Omega 3 fat family. It contains the form ALA.
What does this mean? Basically, fats are measured in length according to how many carbon atoms they contain. ALA is the shortest of the Omega 3 fats and therefore the simplest. If another pair of carbons gets added on to the ALA., it gets ready to become EPA which is another Omega 3 fat. If yet another pair get added, it gets ready to become DHA, another important Omega 3 family member.
Adding these carbons is not the only requirement to convert to other forms of Omega 3. During the process the Omega 3 fats get chemically altered and are connected together in a new way. This is called double bonding and in order for the ALA to become EPA, 2 new double bonds must be added in addition to the 2 carbon atom length increases.
This process requires many nutrients such as Vitamins B3, B6, C, zinc and magnesium. If your body is short on any of these, the conversion will not happen. So you won’t get maximum benefit from the flaxseed oil because your body will not be able to convert the ALA to EPA or DHA.
While I do recommend the use of Flaxseed oil and meal, you should also get Omega 3 oils from other more complete sources such as fish oil.
Another thing to remember about flaxseed oil is that you should never heat or cook with it. Use it in dressings, drizzle over food, add to shakes etc, but don’t heat it.
If using flaxseed meal as your source of ALA, make sure your grind your own seeds, store them in the fridge and consume them within a couple of days. While flaxseed meal is a fantastic fibre source, most of the oils are removed during the manufacturing process because the oil, once exposed to the air, goes rancid very, very quickly. I’ve contacted the manufacturers of flaxseed meal and they confirm that they do indeed remove most of the oil during the process of grinding the seeds.
Fish Oils – I’ve written many times about the benefits of supplementing with Omega 3 products. Fish oils are the cheapest way to do this. While the jar or bottle will recommend 3-6 x 1000mg tablets per day, the tested safe limit is 3000mg of the active ingredients (EPA and DHA) per day.
Almost all studies that showing health benefits have used this dosage. So you’ll need 10 x 1000mg tablets per day being that most brands contain just 300mg of EPA and DHA per 1000mg tablet. I split mine up to 3 tablets 3 times per day. Most brands these days are tested for mercury levels, but if you’re worried, just make sure you choose a brand that states that it has been tested.
Pregnant and breast feeding mums should definitely make sure they get enough Omega 3 in their diet. Its so, so important for brain development. Talk to your doctor about it if you have questions.
Coconut Oil – this is my new favourite oil to cook with. Its has a very high smoking, so therefore can be heated safely. The Saturated fat in coconut oil is mostly the short and medium chain fatty acids which are less easily stored as fat and more readily burned as fuel. Our bodies prefer to use MCT as energy than to store them. But be aware that an excess of calories from any source will be stored as body fat
Coconut oil also contains lauric acid which is antiviral, antibacterial, antimicrobial and anti fungal. Coconut oil can help boost the immune system as well. I make sure to use coconut oil every day to make the most of these benefits.
At cooler temps, coconut oil is a solid and should be stored in the fridge once opened. You’ll find it in all the local supermarkets and I’d advise to go with an organic brand if possible. Choose cold pressed and unrefined. Some brands have a stronger flavour which some love and others not so much. Experiment if its an issue for you, or you may prefer a more coconutty flavour for some recipes but not others.
And always, still allow for calorie content. As I said above, several times, just because its healthy, doesn’t mean you can consume unlimited quantities.
Butter, Ghee and Lard – these are excellent for cooking because of their very high smoking points.
Look for good quality always-organic if possible. Remember that just like us, grain fed animals have poorer fat profiles. Grass or pasture fed animals will have better quality fats. So search for brands that state; pastured, or grass fed on the packaging. Don’t buy it if any type of vegetable oil is listed on the ingredients.
Butter and Ghee are good sources of Vitamins A, E, D and K. Again, watch quantity consumed. Butter is known as a saturated fat, but it too contains monounsaturated fats as well. In the 80’s and 90’s we were advised to avoid saturated fats, but the recommendation now is that saturated fats are not the evil substances they were once thought of.
This has been a rather brief summary of some of the different oils used as supplements and for cooking. If you have any questions about this, please comment and ask. Feel free to share this on your Facebook page too for anyone else who may be interested.
For further reading (if you’re interested) here are a couple of links;