Which Oils are Best for Cooking?
When it comes to cooking, not all oils are created equal.
Here's the bottom line: some oils are better suited for cooking than others.
Smoke points and harmful free radicals
The first question you need to ask yourself is: which oils create harmful compounds when heated?
Let's start with the smoke point first.
The smoke point of an oil is the temperature at which it goes over the edge of safety and starts smoking.
When an oil is heated past its smoke point, it releases free radicals – it reacts with oxygen to form harmful compounds. You definitely don’t want to be consuming or breathing in these.
Free radicals can injure cells and DNA in your body.
Beware of HNE, a nasty compound
One harmful compound that can be produced when heated is called HNE. This compound is linked to the pathogenesis of vascular diseases such as atherosclerosis, diabetes, and neurodegenerative disorders.
The nasty thing with HNE is that the longer you heat the oil, and even the more you reuse that oil, like restaurants do, the more HNE it will accumulate.
Bad for the body.
Oil stability is revealed in saturation levels
Regarding the saturation level of fats in cooking oils, consider the types fatty acids they have. This will give you a big clue in both their heat tolerability and overall stability.
Oils with saturated fatty acids are the top choice for cooking. These oils are olive oil, avocado oil, clarified butter (ghee), refined palm oil, and coconut oil.
They are stable because the fatty acids are basically packed tightly together. They’re not loose, in other words. They can tolerate high heat well.
At the other end, there are oils with polyunsaturated fats. These are oils like soybean, corn, canola, sunflower, and safflower. They're unstable fats – they’re not bound together tightly at all. Because they are unstable, they can produce higher levels of free radicals when they're heated.
And, as we said before, we don't want too many free radicals in our bodies.
Okay, in summary, which oils should you use?
Based on the above, here are the best cooking oils to use in the kitchen in order to reduce free radical exposure and toxicity. The simplest way to break this down is by the level of cooking heat you are using.
This first group is for high-heat cooking. These are specifically for frying, sautéing, grilling, pan roasting, searing, stir-frying, and caramelising. Here are a few safe choices:
- light or refined olive oil (here the word 'refined' means without the combustible solids found in extra virgin oil, which can degrade into harmful oxidation products during high-heat cooking)
- avocado oil
- clarified butter (ghee)
- refined palm oil (here the word 'refined' also means without combustible solids)
- coconut oil
All of the above have a higher smoke point and are lower in polyunsaturated fats.
If you are leaning towards just medium-heat cooking, such as gentle sauté, stewing, baking, or braising, all of the above would work, as well as butter.
How about off-heat options, such as over a finished dish, after it's been cooked?
For maximum flavour, you can go for unfiltered extra virgin olive oil and unrefined or toasted nut and seed oils.
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