What’s Cooking?

Did you know there are over 34 different types of cooking oils and fats? In simplest terms, cooking oil is a plant, animal, or synthetic fat used in frying, baking, and other types of cooking. With so many options out there, it is easy to get confused on which to use and when. But just because there are so many options does not mean they should be used willy-nilly. They each have their place – some being in the kitchen, and others being in the trash. Ultimately, not all oils are created equally.

Next time you find yourself walking up and down the aisle at the grocery store trying to decide which oil to buy, remember this: “You Can’t Count on Very Suspicious People”.

C– canola oil
C– corn oil
V– vegetable oil
S– soybean oil
P– peanut oil

This merely represents the oils you should stay away from (a.k.a., the Do Not Use oils). These are the main oils used in processed food, at restaurants and even in the majority of Americans’ homes. They are produced by the extraction of oil from soy, canola, corn, and peanut using chemical solvents. These are the oils you want to stay away from, and if at all possible, completely eliminate from your diet. Not only are they highly processed, they are also all high in easily oxidized polyunsaturated fats (PUFAs) and pro-inflammatory omega-6 fatty acids, which can cause inflammation and harm the body. Don’t worry this still leaves you with tons of options!

How Do You Choose?

When choosing your cooking fat or oil, first look at how it is made. You want to choose the most natural, minimally processed option first. Next, you want to look at the fatty acid composition. In simpler terms, you want a fat or oil that is more saturated because it will be more stable, and less likely to be damaged or oxidized. Yup, you heard that correctly, I saidsaturated. More and more research is showing that when moderately consuming saturated fats from healthy sources, such as eggs, salmon, and coconut oil, it does not negatively affect health. It is the saturated fats from things like grain-fed beef that need to be avoided. Lastly when choosing a cooking oil or fat, look at the smoke point. The smoke point is the temperature at which it begins to break down to glycerol and free fatty acids. Though the smoke point is important, it should be considered a secondary to the fatty acid profile. High smoke point does not automatically mean you should use it with high temperatures.

Categories & Oil Types

With the options that are left for you to choose from, they can be split up into four categories for cooking: high heat/ frying, medium heat/ sautéing, low heat/ baking, and no heat. These categories are important because the temperature at which you are cooking your food can be extremely essential to which oils you choose from.

High Heat Medium Heat Low Heat No Heat
Coconut OilGheeGrass-fed Butter Olive OilSesame Seed OilPistachio OilHazelnut OilAvocado Oil Sunflower OilPumpkin Oil Fish OilFlaxseed OilHempseed Oil

**By using the chart listed above, you can always refer to it while cooking, and help avoid any confusion.

As you can see, not all oils are suitable for all temperatures. Coconut oil, ghee, and grass-fed butters are ideal options if you are doing any high heat cooking like frying or sautéing at a high heat. These oils are great for high heat cooking because they can handle the heat without breaking down any of their nutritional properties. Once a fat or oil starts to break down, it loses its nutritional benefits and can even become toxic to the body. If you are one to typically use high heat with your olive oil, you may want to rethink that.

Overwhelmed?

I know this information can become a bit overwhelming and a lot to take in at once—not to mention the vast list of cooking fats to choose from! For those of you not sure where to start or which cooking fat to choose, I have a couple of tips for you.

  • Pick two or three of your favorite cooking fats
    – Choose at least one high heat oil/fat and one or two medium, low, or no heat oils.
    – By choosing a few oils, you will always be prepared for cooking at different temperatures and also have options for the times you are cooking at lower heats.
  •  Cut out the chart listed above and put it on your fridge – that way any time you are cooking with a new oil or forget which oil is best for which heat, you can refer to the chart.

Take This Challenge

Now that you have this information, I leave you with a challenge. I challenge you to be an investigator and use your knowledge for good. Read labels, check ingredients, and even ask your server what your meal is prepared in. It may surprise you (depending on the items you buy, locations you shop, and restaurants you eat out at) how many things are prepared with the Do Not Use oils.

Choosing what to cook your food in doesn’t have to be complicated. Take these simple tips and tricks to help you in the kitchen, and put them to good use. It all starts with one question, “what’s cookin’?”.

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