Until recently, I had been cooking with the wrong oil. I always thought that cooking with olive oil was the healthy choice, but it turns out I was using it wrong…
A few months ago, I went out to lunch at a health food restaurant with some coworkers. I noticed that the restaurant did not cook with oil, but added oil to the food after it was cooked. Their website said that many oils become toxic when heated. Of course, I needed to investigate this claim. That’s when I learned each oil has a different smoke point. The smoke point is the temperature at which the oil burns up and no longer lubricates food. I’m sure you have noticed that your food starts to stick to the pan at this point. The smoke that is given off when an oil reaches it’s smoke point is said to be carcinogenic.
Below is a table of some of common unrefined cooking oils. You may be surprised where your cooking oils fall on the list.
Wikipedia has more information on smoke points if anyone is interested. I’m sure it goes without saying, but you should use the low heat oils on salads, already cooked foods, and low temperature baking. High heat oils are better for frying and sautéing food.
What to look for:
Don’t get me wrong, oil is a healthy part of the diet. There are good oils that help lower LDL (bad cholesterol), reduce inflammation, and fight cancer cells with antioxidants. Look for oils that have monounsaturated fats because they are rich in antioxidants (vitamin E) and can help reduce LDL levels and increase HDL (good cholesterol) levels. Oils with monousaturated fats are extra virgin olive oil, canola oil, peanut oil, sesame oil, avocado oil, and grapeseed oil.
Polyunsaturated fats, which reduce LDLs and increase HDLs, are also common in oils, but be careful with these fats as they are high in omega-6s. Most Americans consume more than enough omega-6s and not enough omega-3s. It important to find a balance between the two. Sesame oil and peanut oil contain polyunsaturated fats.
What to Avoid:
Avoid oils with saturated fats and trans fats. Saturated fats clog arteries, increasing your risk for heart disease and stroke. These fats come mostly from animals and are found in palm and kernel oil. Trans fats are created when hydrogen is added to the oil. I’m sure you have read ingredient lists with hydrogenated oils. Trans fats raise LDL levels and lower HDL and are worse than saturated fats for the heart. These fats are usually found in processed vegetable oil.
Oil is not just for cooking, and can also be used as a skin cleanser, moisturizer, and antibacterial agent. Oils that contain squalene are especially good for the skin because it’s a natural moisturizer and helps kill bacteria on acne prone skin. The Purley Twins have used oil pulling techniques on their skin and have seen great results. Extra virgin olive oil is one source of squalene.
I have always had a hard time cooking eggs on a stainless steal skillet. After I learned about oil smoke points, I wanted to try cooking an over-medium egg with a high heat oil. Guess what? It made a huge difference.
For this challenge, I let the stainless steal skillet heat up to medium heat without any oil. This took about 2 minutes. Then, I heated grapeseed oil for a minute. Finally, I added the egg. Undoubtedly the challenging part is always flipping the egg, but it flipped without a hitch!
This may be more information than you ever wanted to know about cooking oils, but I hope some of you find it useful!