A Simple Guide to Oils: The Good, The Bad, and The VERY Bad
If you are like me, for years you have equated oils and fats to weight gain and an unhealthy diet. Until fairly recently I was hesitant to cook with even olive oil, though I knew it had numerous health benefits. The increasing popularity of the "Mediterranean Diet" and the studies that link it to the optimal diet for cardiovascular health has helped move me in the right direction. New research indicates, in fact, that introducing the right kinds of oils into the diet can aid with weight loss, reduce inflammation in the body, and raise good cholesterol levels (HDL cholesterol), all of which can have overarching positive effects on our general health and well-being.
Coconut oil has overwhelming, well-researched health benefits, and again, though I have been aware of this research for a long time it has taken me until this year to begin incorporating it into everyday cooking. Among these benefits: Coconut oil is composed primarily of the medium chain triglyceride, lauric acid, which decreases levels of inflammation in the body and the brain, and has been shown to increase HDL cholesterol, help with weight loss, and even prevent Alzheimer’s. Coconut oil also has a higher smoke point than most cooking oils, meaning it is healthier to cook with at higher temperatures, and is less likely to cause oxidation and free radical production like commonly used cooking oils like vegetable or canola oil.
The oils to absolutely avoid are any partially hydrogenated oils - commonly palm, vegetable, or cottonseed oil. Partial hydrogenation of oils equates to trans fatty acids, which have actually been flagged by the FDA as harmful to human health and banned in several other countries, as well as in several U.S. states for cooking in restaurants. Trans fats have been shown unequivocally to increase cardiovascular risk, lower HDL cholesterol and raise LDL cholesterol, triglycerides, and increase inflammation in the body. The FDA now requires food labels to include trans fat information, however, a food can have up to 0.5g of trans fats per serving and still be labeled "0g Trans Fat." Always read the ingredient label in any processed food and avoid products that include partially hydrogenated oils. Other ways to minimize trans fats in your diet are to eliminate fried foods at restaurants, as well as baked goods that are store bought.
Here is a simple guide to oils that you should have in your diet, and ones to avoid.
Coconut oil (better for cooking at higher temperatures)
Olive oil (not as good for cooking at high temps but better than the alternatives below; great for use as salad dressing or drizzling on vegetables)
Sesame Oil (also has a high smoke point)
Canola oil (an entirely artificially manufactured product, not from a plant or natural source!)
Partially hydrogenated oils
Our next article will detail the difference between omega 6 and omega 3 fatty acids and where these are found in your diet, as well the types of fats and foods to include in your diet to achieve optimal health, weight loss, and reduce cardiovascular risk.