There are so many different cooking oils available, it may be hard to decide which one to use. My favorite oils are olive oil, avocado oil, and coconut oil. However, I use these oils in different scenarios and in different quantities. This post will breakdown some of the different types of oils and discuss what to consider when choosing a cooking oil.
The smoke point is the temperature at which an oil begins to smoke. When an oil “smokes,” it begins to break down and form free radicals, which are harmful for our health3. In order to avoid oil degradation and formation of free radicals, you may want to consider the smoke point of the oil you are cooking with.
Avocado oil and refined coconut oil are both oils that have higher smoke points. I like cooking with avocado oil for savory flavors, such as sautéing vegetables. I like cooking with coconut oil for sweeter flavors and when baking desserts. On the other hand, olive oil has a relatively low smoke point. Because of this, I don’t cook with olive oil at high temperatures and instead use olive oil for low temperature cooking or use it to make salad dressing.
In addition to avocado oil and refined coconut oil, there are other high smoke point oils. Those oils are just my personal favorite high smoke point oils to cook with. Also, the smoke point of an oil can vary based on whether the oil is refined or unrefined.
Saturation refers to the number of single versus double bonds in a lipid. If a lipid contains the maximum number of carbon bonds, it is fully saturated. A saturated fat is a solid at room temperature. Oils, such as coconut oil and palm oil, are solid at room temperature and high in saturated fat.
Saturated fat can increase risk factors for heart disease, such as increasing LDL cholesterol levels1. Because of this, I use unsaturated oils as my primary cooking oils. Oils that are considered unsaturated fats are those that are liquid at room temperature, such as olive oil.
Coconut oil is a saturated fat. As previously mentioned, I like to use coconut oil for dessert recipes. I use coconut oil similar to how you would use butter, which is also high in saturated fat. However, I use coconut oil on occasionally and not as my primary cooking oil since it is high in saturated fat.
Oils are extracted through different methods. Oils can be extracted by being cold-pressed, expeller-pressed, or through the chemical solvent, hexane. The cold-pressing technique yields a high quality, minimally processed product. To know if an oil is cold-pressed, check the packaging label for the words “cold-pressed.” Expeller-pressed oils are extracted by pressure. After extraction, expeller pressed oils can be refined.
Industrialized oils, such as sunflower and safflower oils, are commonly extracted via the chemical solvent, hexane. These oils are cheap to make and heavily processed. They are seen in a ton of processed foods- check the ingredients list on highly processed foods! Oils that are extracted through hexane require further refining2. Oils can be further refined through processes such as degumming, bleaching, deodorizing, and winterizing3. While processing can make a product more shelf stable, it destroys many of the nutrients. Highly processed and refined oils tend to be overall nutrient poor.
I personally love extra virgin olive oils and cold-pressed, unrefined coconut oil.
Fatty Acid Profile
Oils, such as safflower oil, sunflower oil, corn oil, soybean oil, and cottonseed oil contain high amounts of omega 6 fatty acids. Omega 6 fatty acids are important in the diet. Linoleic Acid (LA), is an essential omega 6 fatty acid. An essential fatty acid is one that our bodies cannot make on their own so we must consume it in the diet. However, overconsuming omega 6 fatty acids may be problematic. The Western diet is much higher in omega 6 fatty acids than our ancestors’ diets. It is estimated that a Western diet has an omega 6 fatty acid to omega 3 fatty acid ratio as high as 20:1. Scientists have hypothesized that a high ratio of omega 6 to omega 3 fatty acids can lead to chronic inflammation. The effects of dietary omega 6 fatty acids are not fully understood at this time and more research is needed on this topic4.
In addition to smoke point, other factors can lead to lipid rancidity and the production of free radicals. Exposure to light and metals can have a similar effect on oils3. Many oils come in opaque containers, which reduces the impact of light. It is best to store oils in a place where it is away from sunlight, such as in a cabinet instead of on the kitchen counter.
Oils should not be stored in metal containers. It’s not common for oils to come packaged in metal containers. However, where I have run into issues with oils contacting metals is with oil spray pumps. For years, I used a metal Misto oil spray pump to create a “natural” nonstick spray. However, I have now learned that metal can lead to the rancidity of oils so I had to ditch my metal oil spray pump.
A recent study came out in June 2020 by UC Davis on avocado oil that found that 82% of avocado oils that they sampled were either rancid or contained oil other than avocado oil. The study found that two of the brands of refined avocado oil and one brand of virgin avocado oil out of the all of the brands they sampled were pure and not rancid: Chosen Foods and Marianne’s Avocado Oil, and CalPure6.
If you liked this post, be sure to check out my post on 6 Ways to Start Your Journey Towards Nontoxic Living.
- Kubala, Jillian. “What Is Saturated Fat and Is It Unhealthy?” Healthline, Healthline Media, 25 Mar. 2020, http://www.healthline.com/nutrition/saturated-fat#heart-health.
- Ketterling, Alexa. “The Meaning Of Expeller Pressed vs Cold Pressed.” Non-GMO & Organic Oil Supplier & Packer, http://www.centrafoods.com/blog/the-meaning-of-expeller-pressed-vs-cold-pressed.
- Brown, Amy C. Understanding Food: Principles and Preparation. Cengage, 2019.
- Gunnars, Kris. “Are Vegetable and Seed Oils Bad for Your Health?” Healthline, Healthline Media, 12 Dec. 2019, http://www.healthline.com/nutrition/are-vegetable-and-seed-oils-bad.
- Gunnars, Kris. “Top 10 Evidence-Based Health Benefits of Coconut Oil.” Healthline, 12 Feb. 2020, http://www.healthline.com/nutrition/top-10-evidence-based-health-benefits-of-coconut-oil.
- “Study Finds 82 Percent of Avocado Oil Rancid or Mixed With Other Oils.” UC Davis, 20 July 2020, http://www.ucdavis.edu/food/study-finds-82-percent-avocado-oil-rancid-or-mixed-other-oils/.