Whether you first thought upon reading that word is an image of French Fries, bubbling away in a fryer, or the trace remnants of some crispy potato chips, oil usually has a very negative connotation associated with it. (And we won’t even get into oil in the non-food sense of the word.) The media has typically paired the word oil with the word fat, and fat certainly doesn’t extoll many positive virtues.
The fact is that since the 1980’s, there’s been a war on fat and therefore oils that are used for cooking and food processing are often swept up in this battle, relegated to the sidelines in favour of “fat-free” cooking alternatives.
But are all oils of the unhealthy variety? And in fact, is it actually beneficial to have some fat as part of our diet?
More and more research is noting that for optimal health, one should be taking in a certain amount of healthy fat on a regular basis, particularly of the Omega 3 variety. Most oils contain Omega 3 and/or Omega 6 fatty acids but too much of the latter has been shown to cause inflammation in the body. Limit your Omega 6 consumption and you’re off to a good start.
As well, when oils are subjected to high heat, they go through a process called oxidization, changing their chemistry, which can render a once healthy oil into a potentially damaging and “unhealthy” option. Consume too many “bad” fats and you’ll see a rise in your LDL (bad cholesterol) which has been linked to everything from heart disease to cancer. Stick with the good fats and you’ll raise your HDL (good cholesterol), reducing inflammation, and providing cancer-preventive antioxidants.
So which oils should one pick to ensure a healthier functioning body?
We’ll start with olive oil, the richest source of monounsaturated (good) fat. It also contains phytochemicals thought to help prevent blood clots and decreases the body-harming inflammation mentioned above. Olive oil is readily available at your local grocery store, and as an added bonus, it can be used for cooking since it is quite resistant to nutrient damage due to oxidization. For optimum benefits, use extra virgin and virgin olive oils on salads and vegetables. These oils are "cold pressed" from olives and, as a result, retain more phytochemicals and nutrients compared to more refined versions.
Next, we’ll touch on a few oils that contain ALA, an essential fatty acid called alpha linoleic acid. ALA is essential because your body can't make it on its own and therefore must be ingested in some fashion. The best way to do this is by eating things like flax seeds and walnuts however in terms of oils, these should be used outside of the cooking process as unfortunately they do become damaged when exposed to high temperatures, losing their nutritional benefits.
Even better, look for oils that combine ALA with things like monounsaturated fat, and phytochemicals. Examples of these would include our good old extra virgin olive, as well as hemp, avocado, and almond oils.
And try out some coconut oil as well. Besides providing a delicious taste, more and more studies are linking it to lower heart disease rates and improvements in cholesterol.
August 18, 2014