Going through the veritable maze of oils – cans, canisters, bottles and jars; dragging our carts along at the supermarket aisle – canola, sunflower, flaxseed, soy, linseed, rapeseed, coconut and palm – a million scintillating options, each claiming a profound and differentiated benefit to our health and lifestyle; our mind reels from the pressure of having to choose right. Without proper information backing our decisions, we are sure to choose based on our impulse or even worse – misinformation!
So, how does one choose the right oils anyway? How do you separate fad from the truth and demystify? Is organic healthier? Is there a scale for measuring the value? Yes, sure there is, and I have written all about it here in this week’s blog post. Read on.
1. A Question of Fats
Oils are a mix of three types of fatty acids – monounsaturated, polyunsaturated and saturated. The oils with higher percentages of monounsaturated fats are considered healthier. With over 78% monounsaturated fat, olive oil is an ideal choice, especially for a healthy heart. Some oils have the heart-friendly oleic acid levels boosted artificially just to create a similar effect. Also, macadamia nut, tea, avocado and almond oils are great mono-rich choices.
The polyunsaturated lot is necessary too, and it is important to incorporate the likes of soybean and mustard seed oils in your pantry. They are good sources of fatty acids and the highly prized omega-3s.
The oils with saturated fats, such as coconut and other tropical nut oils, have health benefits, such as reducing inflammation, that have not been substantiated by science. It is important to keep this in mind while making a purchase decision.
Trans fats are formed due to the partial hydrogenation of fats in oils as a part of the processing. They provide no nutritional value and are to be avoided at all costs.
2. The Type of Cooking
Some oils, like peanut oil, have a better capacity for heat tolerance than others. Such oils can be used for grilling, frying or searing foodstuff, without worry. An oil’s ‘smoking point’ is a vital consideration. If an oil ‘smokes’ during the cooking process, its natural chemical structure is distorted and carcinogenic components may be formed. Avoid re-using oil for the same reason.
Refined oils are better for cooking too. The process of refinement produces a clear, uniform liquid that is removed of free-floating fatty acids, pigments, and seed residue. These oils are generally more heat stable. Virgin oils, on the other hand, are best consumed raw.
Consider the taste and texture of the oil. Various oils have signature flavours that add tremendously to your food!
3. Is Expensive Better?
If the oil is expensive it may be a good idea to investigate the reasons before concluding that the oil is better. One avenue is to check for how the oil was extracted. Oils that are extracted using chemical solvents, such as hexane, are cheaper. The process entails that the compound, together with its residue, is removed from the produce. However, trace amounts always remain, and these, when consumed, accumulate in the body. Oils that are ‘expeller-pressed’, or produced by hard pressing seeds in a screw type press with the application of a little heat to aid in the process, or ‘cold-pressed’ without using any heat at all, are relatively expensive, but recommended. The second detail to check is if the oil is organic. This means that the seed or fruit is free of harmful pesticide content and the extraction process is completely non-toxic. As a result, organic oils are always more expensive.
4. What Does the Label Say?
Reading the labels on the products is about reading their life-story. It is about discovering how and why the product was made. The labels contain crucial information on the nutritional content, as well as information about how the raw materials were sourced and processed. Indications of whether environmentally safe practices and sustainable processes were incorporated, and if the product is eco-friendly and organic are mentioned there as well. The label on your oil is a great place to start while considering which oil suits your purpose!
(a) Extra-virgin olive oil: This oil has a lovely flavour. It is rich in antioxidants and polyphenols, that are life-giving for your heart. It is also known to improve memory and cognitive function.
(b) Organic macadamia nut oil: This oil is nutty and tasty. It is rich in omega-3 and vitamin E. Consider avocado oil or walnut oil for a variation in taste. Walnut oil has a better shelf life too. These oils are absolutely essential for revitalizing your skin and hair.
(c) Organic coconut oil: This oil has a distinct, fresh and natural flavour. It is one of my favourite oils too. Coconut oil has been known to reduce inflammation. It has a positive effect on the gut flora, and drastically reduces the chances of fungal breakout.
(d) Fortified flaxseed oil: This oil is rich in omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. It enhances gut health and reduces inflammation. As flaxseed oil is delicate and has no heat tolerance, consider mustard seed oil, as a variation and for cooking using heat.