Weight Loss & Fitness

Oils: the good, bad and ugly

By Adele Fawcett

  Fats and oils are very misunderstood foods. Some fats will contribute to disease and others are absolutely necessary for creating optimal health. In light of these very different end results, figuring out which fats are good to eat, which fats are bad and which oils are safe to use for cooking can be confusing. While it is true that some fats are inherently unhealthy, it is also true that any good fat can be made bad depending on where it comes from, how it is processed, and how it is stored, cooked and used. Here are some things to consider when selecting which fats and oils to include in your diet and how to use them.

Types of fats and where to find them

  Essential fats are necessary for health. We cannot make omega 3 or omega 6, but we need them to regulate brain function, inflammation, heart health and cell membrane function. Omega 3 and 6 are polyunsaturated fats, which are liquid at room temperature and are very easily damaged by heat, light and air. Raw nuts and seeds are good food sources of essential fats. Food sources of omega 3 are cold water fish (salmon, mackerel, herring, tuna, and sardines) flaxseeds, pumpkin seeds and walnuts. Omega 6 fats are found in hemp seeds, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds, safflower, evening primrose and borage. Olive oil and macadamia nut oil are high in monounsaturated fats, which are less reactive and more tolerant to heat. Unsaturated fats become mutagenic above 150 ºC.

  Saturated fats are solid at room temperature and can be used for manufacturing energy during physical activity. Coconut oil and butter contain medium- and short-chain fatty acids, which are easily used for energy and are good in moderation. Excessive amounts of meat and dairy can provide too much saturated fat and arachidonic acid that increase inflammation and interfere with the function of essential fats. The consumption of these foods should be balanced with foods that provide essential fats.

Processing oils and the food industry

  Commercial manufacturing of oils will often employ methods that damage the fats as they are processed. An expeller press is a mechanical seed press that can generate huge amounts of friction and heat (85ºC to 95 ºC), often without protection from the air or the light. Seeds high in polyunsaturated fats would produce denatured fats with this method. Oils can also be chemically extracted using highly flammable solvents like hexane and heptane (gasoline) which are reused and leave trace amounts in the finished oils. During the refining process, corrosive bases remove free form fatty acids from oils and then substances are used to bleach out pigments and aromatic compounds. The deodorizing process steam distils oils at very high heats to remove anything left over. The end product is the oil equivalent to refined white sugar in that it is void of nutrients. This process is also meant to extend the shelf life of oils to prevent them from spoiling quickly. Oils that would be healthy in their whole, unprocessed forms turn into unhealthy denatured fats that do not support human health. Denatured fats are often found in margarines, processed meats, vegetarian meat substitutes and most packaged, refined convenience and snack foods.

Choose the right oil

  Any fats exposed to high temperatures are going to be damaged and denatured, making them dangerous to health. Cooking methods that allow oils to smoke, frying and deep frying do not support health. Hydrogenated fats contain trans fats and are toxic to the body. Even if oils used for deep frying are trans fat free before they are cooked, like sunflower oil used to make French fries and chips, that oil heated above 160 ºC creates trans fats. Try using low heat, steaming, poaching or steam-frying for healthier cooking methods.

  Oils that do not tolerate heat are made from flax, borage, canola, hemp, soy and walnut. They can be used after food is cooked or in salad dressings and condiments as long as they are not heated above 100ºF/49 ºC. These oils should be cold-pressed, stored in dark glass in the refrigerator and consumed within 6 weeks.

  Oils that have a low heat tolerance include safflower, sunflower and pumpkin and should not be heated above 212 ºF/100 ºC. They can be used to make sauces or to bake with at low heat.  

  Oils that have a moderate heat tolerance, up to 325 ºF/165 ºC, can be used for light sautéing and include almond, hazelnut, macadamia, olive, pistachio and sesame. Coconut oil and ghee (clarified butter) can tolerate the highest temperatures up to 375 ºF/190 ºC.

  These guidelines are useful in helping you make better health choices. Become an informed consumer, pay attention to marketing tricks, read labels and ask questions to help you learn everything you need to know to keep you and your family in great health!

Adele Fawcett has years of experience and expertise as a registered orthomolecular health practitioner and as a registered nutritional consulting practitioner.

Photo credit: ©[J] via Canva

Subscribe to our free Alive and Fit E-News!