recipes and tips for better living

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Gettin' Burnt on Picking the Right Cooking Oil? : Let's Chew The Fat About Fat

I always get asked by friends, 'what oil should i be using?' Go to Jimbos Market and you'll see the deli counter filled with salads made with safflower oil, then hit up Whole Foods Market and their deli is filled with foods made with sunflower oil, then listen to Dr Weil and he'll have you cook everything in canola oil, and then of course i have friends who just stick to olive oil for absolutely everything. When it comes down to it, any and all of these oils may be good given what they are used for. There are a few things you should consider when it comes to oil; 1. is quality, this in part is how it was processed/if it's refined, and 2. Consider the smoke point (amount of heat applied/temp) you are cooking it at.

There are 3 main types of oils: monounsaturated, polyunsaturated, and saturated. Most oils are a combination of a few of these. Look for oils that have more monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. These oils have been shown to help improve cholesterol levels. Olive oil, almond, avocado, canola, hazelnut, peanut, an high oleic safflower and sunflower oils are rich in monounsaturated fats. Corn oil, flaxseed, pumpkin seed, soy, and walnut oils are primarily polyunsaturated fats.

You probably have already heard or read about EFAs - essential fatty acids. EFAs are Omega 3's and 6's. These are considered essential because our bodies do not produce them, therefore you must get them from the diet. Generally speaking we should be eating twice as many omega 6's than 3's, however with all the processed foods available, the typical diet is now at a ratio of 17:1 - omega 6's to 3's. Omega 3's have anti-inflammatory qualities, while 6's have both some anti-inflammatory qualities as well as pro-inflammatory qualities. Some of the polyunsaturated oils are higher in Omega 3's. Look for flaxseed oil, pumpkin seed oil, walnut oil, or hempseed oil; hempseed being the only oil with the ideal ration of omega 6's to 3's.

Let's go shopping for oil! Tip number 1 is to consider the quality and how the oil was extracted. Oils can be extracted by pressing or refining. In terms of olive oil stone pressing is the first way oil was extracted from olives and this generates no negligible heat protecting all the natural antioxidants. Hydraulic pressing can extract 70% of the plants oil and is often used for extra virgin olive oil, avocado, and walnut oils. Mechanical or 'expeller pressing' is another option. While this does not apply heat, the expeller process creates friction raising the oils temperature. Cold pressing is by far the best method, as the oil temperatures stay below 122 degrees, allowing it to retain all it's natural antioxidant and enzymatic qualities. After the extraction process oil can still be further processed, refined, or neutralized so that the flavor is stable and it's less likely to oxidize, forming free radicals. Look for oils in dark bottles and keep in a cool place away from sunlight or in the refrigerator to prevent rancidity. If refrigerated your unrefined oil may hold for about a year, however a refined oil may last almost two years. Coconut oil, being high in saturated fat, can hold at room temperature for 2 years as well, however monunsaturated oils that you use frequently only will serve you well for about 2 months. Hopefully by then you've used the bottle up, if not sniff before use, you can usually smell rancid oil.

Tip 2 is to consider the smoke point. While we've deciphered which oils may be best for us in their natural state, with the application of heat your oil may just become another animal. Once oil is heated past it's smoke point it can become a trans fat, turning into a carcinogen creating free radicals. Choosing an oil that's suited for the cooking temperature of your dish will make a big difference in how healthy your finished fare actually is. A basic rule of thumb: Unrefined oils are for dressing your salads, cooked veggies, and grains, for baking up to 320 degrees, and light sauteing at 350 degrees. Refined oils are for high temperature baking, stir-fry, grilling, and sauteing over high heat. Listed below are the approximate smoke points of many oils (take note to refinement of the oil in each category, as with less refinement the smoke point will drop):

NO HEAT:
flaxseed oil - best for salad dressings - 225 degrees

LOW TO MODERATE HEAT:
coconut (unrefined) 280 degrees
corn (unrefined) 320 degrees
walnut (unrefined) 320 degrees
sunflower (high oleic, unrefined) 320 degrees
olive (unrefined) 325 degrees
hempseed (cold -pressed) 330 degrees
peanut (unrefined) 350 degrees
sesame (unrefined) 350 degrees

MEDIUM TO HIGH HEAT:
macadamia (refined) 390 degrees
safflower (unrefined) 390 degrees
canola (refined) 425 degrees

HIGH HEAT:
coconut (refined) 450 degrees
soy (refined) 450 degrees
sunflower (refined) 460 degrees
ghee (clarified butter) 485 degrees
avocado (refined) 510 degrees
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