Oils are essential for cooking, from keeping foods from sticking to pans to creating the perfect texture of baked foods. But, all oils aren’t equal, and some can be downright harmful to your health. There’s some science behind cooking with oils that you should understand so you can choose the best, healthiest oils, with which to prepare your foods.
The Problem with Oils
When Oils Go Bad
Cooking oil is one of those things we often don’t think about turning bad. Sure, it has an expiration date, but does oil really go bad? The answer is yes, and expired oil can become toxic.
Oils with unsaturated or polyunsaturated fats are most to blame since these types of fats can turn bad faster once they combine with oxygen, which they do anytime you open the container. During the process of rancidification, oxygen causes the chemical makeup of oil to change, which can turn it into a harmful, toxic compound with an unpleasant odor and taste.
Liquid and Unstable
Oils made with unsaturated fats are usually liquid since the fat compounds cause them to remain that way at room temperature. Saturated fats, on the other hand, have a single bond in their fatty acid molecules, making them more stable. In other words, they’re less resistant to chemical changes from heat, which obviously happens when cooking.
For any oil you’re cooking with, it’s best to stick with stable options. You’ll usually know them by their solid appearance at room temperature, rather than liquid. When you cook unstable oils, you are more at risk for harmful chemical reactions caused by smoke and oxidation during cooking.
Too Much of a Good Thing?
Healthy fats have many health benefits for our bodies, including helping us absorb nutrients and improving memory and other brain functions. But, consuming too much Omega-6, a fat found in a lot of seed and vegetable oils, can do more harm for us than good.
Omega-6 and Omega-3 can compete in your body. Too much of one and not enough of the other may cause imbalances. For example, when Omega-6 outweighs your intake of Omega-3, it can cause inflammation, leading to swelling or joint pain. Too much Omega-6 overall is associated with obesity, cancer, autoimmune diseases, heart disease, and more.
Opt for These Oils
Coconut oil isn’t only an excellent option for cooking oil, but it’s also considered a superfood. Coconut oil is one of the semi-solid oils at room temperature, making it more stable than liquid oils and allowing it to outlast them on the shelf. But, where coconut oil really shines is with all its additional health benefits.
Coconut oil has calorie-burning properties, thanks to its fatty acid makeup of medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs). MCTs work to increase your overall energy and energy expenditure, making you more likely to burn calories. Additionally, coconut oil can increase good cholesterol in the body to reduce the risk of heart disease.
Olive oil sits at room temperature as a liquid, so it may not have as long a shelf life as solid oils, like coconut oil, but its monounsaturated fat structure makes it more resistant to heat than other liquid oils. The key is to stick with Extra Virgin Olive Oil, which has more antioxidants and nutrients than the more processed types.
Olive oil is also one of the best types of oil for your heart. It’s one of the few oils recommended for people with diabetes because monounsaturated fats may help lower blood sugar and control the body’s insulin levels. Store olive oil away from light, in a cool and dry cabinet, to keep it fresher for longer.
You may think butter is incredibly unhealthy, but people often confuse butter with margarine. Margarine is a heavily-processed form of imitation butter that can increase the risk of stroke and heart disease. Butter, however, is made from mostly saturated fats, making it more stable than many oils in your pantry.
Butter also may have some properties that aid in healthy metabolism and breakdown of cholesterol. And, it’s an excellent source of Vitamin A, which keeps the thyroid and adrenal glands functioning properly and provides powerful antioxidants that stop free radicals in the body.