Healthy Cooking with Oils
Every year so many of us make a commitment to eat healthier. This is a great goal, and it almost always comes with the task of clearing out your pantry. You go through and take out all of the processed junk, but what do you replace it all with? A great, but often overlooked, foundation for any pantry is having a variety of healthy cooking oils. A trip down the cooking oil aisle of your store can leave you overwhelmed with options. If you want to choose the best oils, but don’t know where to start, then I hope you will find some value in this list of the healthiest oils available.
Choosing your pantry oils is only part of the job. The rest involves actually using them and knowing how to care for them. If you have invested in a beautiful bottle of golden oil, don’t let it sit on your shelf unused. Venture out and discover a new recipe and find tantalizing ways use it rather than just letting it sit there as it ages past its prime. Speaking of aging past its prime, taking care of your cooking oils is important, especially so for those oils with the healthiest profiles. The healthier and less refined an oil is, the shorter its natural shelf life will be, so take care to keep an eye on the use by dates on each bottle. Good quality oils should be stored away from direct sunlight and heat. Also, before each use, take a second and give the oil a quick whiff. It should smell light and pleasant and you should be able to detect the oils natural notes. If the oil smells off, discard it. Trust me; you do not want to deal with the intestinal distress that can be caused by rancid oils.
Knowing the smoke point for each oil is important. The smoke point is the temperature at which the oil begins to degrade, its components break down and you begin to lose some of the healthy benefits. I have included the smoke point for each oil, but keep in mind that the smoke point for each is generalized and that the breakdown occurs gradually. The smoke point for every oil will also vary depending upon how refined the oil is. Generally speaking, the less refined an oil is, the lower the smoke point will be. For example, regular olive oil is more refined that extra virgin olive oil and therefore will have a higher smoke point. Oil is considered refined when it undergoes a process to become purified. However, the purification process often alters the structure of the oil or adds in chemicals that you do not want anywhere near your body. Unrefined oils, such as extra virgin olive oil, maintain their integrity and nutritional components.
Here is the list of some of the healthiest cooking oils to add to your list of pantry staples.
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Over the past couple of decades, olive oil has gained a solid reputation as being one of the healthiest foods in the entire world, and with good reason. Olive oil is rich in omega 3 fats and antioxidants which help to protect your body from a number of diseases, including heart disease. Olive oil is generally has a slightly nutty flavor, however the color and exact flavor notes will vary depending upon the grade of olive oil that you choose.
The best type of olive oil to choose is almost always “extra virgin” or EVOO. Extra virgin olive oil has been extracted and packaged in a way that is standardized for integrity and purity. Plain olive oil, or olive oil that is labeled “light”, does not share the same standards or nutritional benefits. Sometimes, olive oil manufacturers blend olive oil with other types of oils and chemicals to dilute it and make it more profitable to their bottom line. You will not likely see this listed on any bottle, so it is up to you, the consumer, to make sure that you are choosing the best olive oil. Here are a few tips for choosing pure, high quality olive oil.
- Always choose extra virgin olive oil whenever possible
- Look up the California Olive Oil Council, which is an agency that voluntarily inspects olive oil for integrity. You might be surprised that some of your favorite olive oils failed inspection tests several years ago, while some lesser know labels such as Kirkland Organic and Lucero passed with flying colors.
- Choose oils that are packaged in a darker bottle, as pure olive oil needs the dark colored glass to filter out light which can shorten the oil’s shelf life.
- Check the harvest date and know that pure oil should be consumed within two years of harvest. If the harvest date and the use by date are four years apart, chances are it is not pure olive oil.
- Check the price tag. Pure, uncut olive oil will carry a higher price tag than inferior varieties.
- Use your senses. When you compare pure olive oil with diluted varieties, there is no question that the pure version is more fragrant and more flavorful.
Extra virgin olive oil has a medium low smoke point of 350°F to 375°F, so it should be used only for cooking when the temperature will not exceed that range. For that reason, it is not suited for frying, but can be used for sautéing, browning, low heat baking and non heated applications such as drizzling and salad dressings.
Extra Virgin Coconut Oil
For years, coconut oil was viewed as one of the worst possible oils to include in your diet and your pantry. This is because coconut oil is one of the richest sources of saturated fats in the entire world. That must be bad, right? Not necessarily. Current research on coconut oil shows us that not only is the type of saturated fat in coconut oil not as bad as it was once thought to be, but it actually could be one of the healthiest cooking oils available. Coconut oil is primarily medium chain triglycerides that can actually help to lower overall cholesterol and lipid levels. Additionally, extra virgin coconut oil has been shown to help stabilize blood sugar levels and even help you lose weight.
The secrets to using coconut oil in your diet are to use only extra virgin coconut oil and to use it in moderation. Even if you choose not to cook with coconut oil, it’s not a bad idea to keep a jar on hand since it has antibacterial properties and does wonders for dry, irritated skin when applied topically. (You’ll find it in our Sea Infused Herbal Moisturizer.) Be wary of frying with coconut oil since it has a relatively low smoke point of 350°F; however it is ideal for sautéing and for using in baked goods.
Avocado oil is quickly becoming the go to oil for healthy eating enthusiast. This oil, which is lighter in flavor than olive oil and contains less saturated fat than coconut oil, has a relatively high smoke point of close to 400°F, which makes it ideal for almost all of your culinary needs. Avocados are approximately seventy percent composed of a monounsaturated omega 9 fatty acid called oleic acid. The fat in avocados is rich in antioxidants such as carotenoids and tocopherols, which means that avocado oil is a powerful free radical fighter that can protect your health. You can even use avocado oil outside of the kitchen to protect your skin from ultraviolet light exposure and the early signs of premature aging. You’ll find avocado oil in OZNaturals Sweet Almond and Macadamia Nut Body Butter.
Pure walnut oil is a beautiful topaz colored cold pressed oil that is essential to have in your healthy pantry. Like avocado oil, walnut oil is high in omega 9 fatty acids that promote flexibility in your arteries and protect you from cardiovascular disease. Additionally, walnut oil has been shown to balance hormone levels, increase circulation and fight inflammation. If you stop and consider the number of diseases that are caused by hormonal imbalances and chronic inflammation, you can easily see why walnut oil is a valuable pantry staple.
Walnut oil naturally has a lightly nutty flavor, however many people are unsure of how to use it. Walnut oil has a decent smoke point of approximately 375°F and it can be used in a variety of food preparation methods such as sautéing, browning, roasting and drizzling. The flavor profile of walnut oil makes it an interesting choice for both savory and sweet dishes.
If you are looking for an oil that packs in a lot of flavor for just a small amount, you need not look any further than sesame oil. While sesame oil is one of the most flavorful oils available, it is also quite healthy for you. Sesame oil has been used for centuries by Ayervedic practitioners for its medicinal healing properties. The oil, which can be pressed from either raw or toasted sesame seeds, is high in monounsaturated fats, polyunsaturated fats and vitamin E. Sesame oil has such a high vitamin E content that just one ounce of the oil contains over three quarters of the daily recommended allowance. In addition to vitamin E, sesame oil also contains vitamin K, calcium, magnesium, iron, copper and zinc.
Sesame oil has a high smoke point of 410°F. This makes it ideal for high temperature cooking situations. While it may be too cost prohibitive, not to mention a little overwhelming flavor-wise, to deep fry with sesame oil, it is great for high heat, flash cooking techniques such as stir frying. Sesame oil also makes a great addition to salad dressings and marinades.
Flaxseed oil is very high in Omega 3 fats, and is an important addition to your healthy pantry, especially if your typical diet lacks other sources of omega 3 fats such as walnuts and fatty fish. One Harvard study discovered that dietary deficiencies in omega 3 fats are responsible for nearly one-hundred thousand deaths a year. That is a startling discovery. Most people find that it is easiest to get enough omega 3’s into their diets when they can get them from various sources, such as flaxseed oil, throughout the day. Flaxseed oil has been shown to ease the symptoms of irritable bowel disease, ease hormonal imbalances associated with menopause and protect against certain types of cancer.
The thing about flaxseed oil is that it has such a low smoke point that it is best to not even try to cook with it. Dry drizzling your food with a little flaxseed when you are ready to serve it, dress your salads with it and even try adding it to your morning smoothie.
This oil that was once found only on the shelves of natural health food stores is now becoming a commonplace staple in many pantries. Hemp, or hempseed, oil is a versatile oil that has the perfect composition of healthy fats. Even though hemp oil has a very low smoke point and isn’t suitable for many cooking techniques, it can be added to dishes once they have stopped cooking and cooled down a few degrees, you might even enjoy it on dishes such as oatmeal or as a dressing for roasted vegetables. Cold pressed hemp oil has a light, pleasant nutty flavor and can be enjoyed in a variety of types of foods.
The health benefits of hemp oil include protection against cardiovascular disease, arthritis, PMS and cancer.
As you set out to make this your healthiest year yet, make sure you don’t focus only on what to remove from your pantry, but also what you should add. Adding a variety of healthy, flavorful oils can not only increase the healthy potential of your pantry, but also really liven up your culinary creations. As you make a commitment to a healthier lifestyle, choose to also make a commitment to discovering new, healthy ways to add exciting flavor and character to your diet, including adding some of these healthy oils to your next shopping list.
-- Angela Irish, Certified Aesthetician & Co-Founder OZNaturals