The debate regarding cooking oils is among the most prevalent and contested within the nutrition world.
Often a necessary ingredient for many dishes, experts can’t seem to agree which oils are okay for cooking and which aren’t.
Just about every cooking oil used in kitchens across the world is some form of vegetable or seed oil.
To simply use the term “vegetable oil” is inadequate because of the vast diversity among vegetable oils.
Most Common Cooking Oils
Some of the most common oils used for cooking are sunflower oil, peanut, soybean, palm, canola, corn and olive.
Most of the oils labeled as “vegetable oils” in the United States are derived from soybeans(1).
All forms of vegetable oils contain relatively high amounts of fat.
These fats are in the form of polyunsaturated, monounsaturated and saturated.
As we discussed before, the latter is perhaps the one that often rings the alarm bells, though when eaten in moderation doesn’t pose serious health risks.
(Photo: Alex [www.bytefish.com]. via flickr/CC Attribution)
Considering how much harmful trans fats and sugars the modern diet consists of, we shouldn’t really focus too much on saturated fats.
Omega Fatty Acids Imbalance – Danger, Danger
When it comes to vegetable and seed oils, we shouldn’t dwell on the total fat percentage.
What we should be concerned about is the fat content, particularly the omega-3 and omega-6 content.
When our ancient ancestors roamed the earth, the ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 in their diets was approximately 1 to 1.
It is believed the average modern Western diet has a ratio around 15 to 1.
The modern diet lacks omega-3 fatty acids.
Why is an imbalanced ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 dangerous?
Researchers have gathered evidence supporting the theory that a high omega -6 to omega-3 ratio can lead to severe maladies such as cancer, cardiovascular disease and autoimmune and inflammatory diseases(2).
Omega-6 fatty acids are actually healthy for the body in small amounts, when in a proper ratio to the amount of omega-3s consumed, she says. But when you consume large amounts of omega-6 fats – from processed foods and oils like corn, soy and safflower oil – the body produces inflammation in response to the imbalance.
New research is finding that inflammation is connected to serious illnesses, such as heart disease, diabetes, arthritis and periodontal disease.
Adding foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids, including coldwater fish and flaxseed oil, can help stave off inflammation, when balanced with small quantities of omega-6 fatty acids. Avoiding highly processed foods and fast foods cooked in oils can help limit your intake of omega-6s….More at The inside skinny on fats: Knowing which fats to eat benefits your heart, skin … – Bellingham Herald
Another strike against vegetable and seed oils is that our bodies weren’t designed to consume them.
Unfortunately, similar to a large portion of food in the modern diet, vegetable and seed oils have little or no place.
In fact, these oils didn’t enter the mainstream diet until the 1950s and 1960s. Before this time most people cooked with butter, cream or lard.
A number of scientists and nutritionists link the increase of cancer and cardiovascular disease prevalence from the mid 20th century to the increased consumption of vegetable oils(3).
Some argue this is a stretch, but nonetheless, it is worth noting.
Although the percentage of fat consumed since this transition to cooking oils has remained quite steady, the type of fat has drastically changed.
As we said before, most cooking oils are high in omega-6.
Healthy Cooking Oils
All this negative information can become quite discouraging.
Let’s get more practical and review some of the items we should use for cooking.
Don’t hesitate to do it the old school way with butter, cream or lard.
Though their high fat content has been slammed for the past six decades, the truth is they are much more natural than industrial vegetable and seed oils found in supermarkets.
Their high percentage of saturated fats shouldn’t be too alarming so long as you remember the key term “moderation”.
A bit of saturated fat in the diet isn’t bad, particularly when you consider the excellent omega-6 omega-3 ratios in these products.
Healthy Cooking Oil Alternatives
Not all oils should be avoided! You just have to be careful.
Some oils with decent omega-6/omega-3 ratios are olive, coconut, palm and avocado oils.
What we’re saying is that these oils are preferable to cooking oils with high omega-6 content, such as canola, soybean (the most common form of vegetable oil), corn, peanut and grapeseed oils(4).
Beware of the Grapeseed
Grapeseed oil is interesting because it’s often cast in a positive light, mainly for its antioxidants.
While the antioxidant part is true, the very high omega-6/omega-3 imbalance negates the positives of consuming grapeseed oil.
This leads us back to the often deceitful marketing tactics of the food industry, particularly when it comes to “healthy alternatives”.
Unfortunately, these “alternatives” are often equally bad or worse than the originals.
As we’ve said time and time again at Weight Loss Ninja, when in doubt, stick with natural foods.
In the case of cooking, butter and/or lard along with the few oils we mentioned have turned out to be much healthier than their “healthy alternatives”.