Understanding Oils for Health and Cooking (Part 1)

Kara Bauer Health Guide
  • If you’re like most people, the topic of oil can be a bit daunting. Many are unsure which oils are healthy, best to cook with, and whether oil should be viewed as a fat that will contribute to weight gain. Even more so, the labels “virgin”, “extra-virgin”, “cold-pressed”, “organic”, etc. can all make things more confusing when looking for the best value in terms of price, quality, taste and health benefits. To help make things easier, I’m going to give you the information you need in order to choose the right oils for optimal health for each of your various needs.


    First and foremost, I’d like to make clear that oil is not an enemy for weight loss or weight maintenance. The right types of oils, which will get into later, will provide you with the good fats that your body needs. Contrary to what you may have heard about fats making you fat (due to the non-fat and low-fat diet craze), the truth is that fats are a necessary part of the diet for nutrient absorption and avoiding chronic disease.[1] Some of the best fats are extra-virgin olive oil, coconut oil, flax seed oil, avocado, nuts and seeds. These fats are a necessity for absorbing fat-soluble nutrients and overall metabolism. Even more important from a weight perspective is that consuming some fat with your meals will help you feel full sooner as well as prevent you from filling up on sugar and carbohydrates, which are the true culprits of weight gain and often lead to yo-yo dieting.

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    Healthiest Oils

    Three of the healthiest oils are extra-virgin olive oil, flaxseed oil and coconut oil. Other great oils with nutritional benefits include nut oils, avocado oil, palm oil, sesame oil and sunflower oil (when consumed raw and used primarily in dressings and salsas, not when cooked).


    Lets start with olive oil. Here are some of the meanings behind the types of olive oil on the market, which should help you understand why extra-virgin, cold-pressed, organic olive oil is the best you can buy.[2]


    Pure Olive Oil – This is the cheapest type of olive oil you can buy and contains very little nutritional value due to the chemical refinement and filtration process used to neutralize the flavors and acid content.


    Virgin Olive Oil – A bit better then pure olive oil, the virgin label means that there have been no chemical additives and contains an acidity level of less than 2%, improving the taste.


    Extra-Virgin Olive Oil – This oil comes from the first press (others are sometimes pressed more than once using heat to extract every last drop of oil). It is the highest quality oil with the best flavor and aroma. It is not mixed with any refined oil.


    Cold-Pressed – This means that the oil was pressed in cold temperatures to retain the flavor. Sometimes the oil paste is warmed to room temperature, but as long as it isn’t processed at temperatures above 115 degrees, it maintains all its nutritional properties.


    Organic – This means that the olives have been produced under certain production standards, eliminating the use of synthetic fertilizers, herbicides, insecticides, pesticides, etc.


    Expeller Pressed – This just means that extreme pressure is used in the production process, which may or may not involve heat.


    Olive Oil is a great monounsaturated fat that in its healthiest form contains a multitude of vitamins, nutrients, antioxidants and other nutritional properties found in the olive fruit. It has been said to protect against heart disease, aid in digestion, support healthy cholesterol levels, decrease inflammation, improve bone health and more.[3]  It is however important to point out that because it’s an unsaturated fat, it is susceptible to oxidative damage and should be stored in a cool dark place and consumed rather quickly. It’s also ideal to buy in a dark glass bottle if available.

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    Flaxseed oil has been recommended for it’s Omega-3 content. It contains a fatty acid called alpha linolenic acid (ALA), which converts into EPA/DHA. Most people consume primarily Omega 6 fatty acids (found in vegetable oils) rather than Omega 3, so it’s extremely important to get this ratio corrected by adding more Omega-3 to your diet either with flax/chia/hemp or uncontaminated, mercury-free fish oil sources. Omega-3 consumption is said to reduce inflammation, which is the source of many chronic diseases as well as improve psychological wellbeing by altering serotonin and dopamine levels and increasing blood flow to the brain. [4] Flax seed oil has been an important part of The Budwig Diet, which has been effective at preventing and curing cancer. [5] As flaxseed oil can become rancid quickly, it’s important to store it in the refrigerator and purchase it in small quantities. This is not an oil that you use for cooking.


    Finally, coconut oil is arguably one of the healthiest oils you can consume. Even though coconut oil is primarily a saturated fat, it does not have any of the negative health effects that animal sources of saturated fat have. This is because it contains medium chain fatty acids (MCFA), which the body metabolizes differently then other types of fatty acids and can even help with weight loss. Fifty percent of the fat in this oil is lauric acid, which has anti-viral and anti-bacterial properties. It has also been beneficial for decreasing the risk of heart disease and diabetes, lowering LDL cholesterol and even preventing and/or treating Alzheimer’s disease. Coconut oil contains medium-chain triglycerides, which produce ketones that provide an alternative brain fuel to glucose, preventing brain atrophy. The same labels and definitions listed for olive oil, also apply to coconut oil, so again it’s best to purchase extra-virgin, cold-pressed, organic coconut oil to reap all its benefits. [6]


    In Part II, I will provide all the information you need to know about cooking with oil, as well as talk about some of the typical oils you see on supermarket shelves that we haven’t yet spoken about.


    [1] Adams, M. (2004, July 28). Dietary fat is necessary for absorption of vitamins, nutrients and phytochemicals from fruits and vegetables. Retrieved from http://www.naturalnews.com/001545_dietary_fat_good_fats.html


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    [2]Faad, S. (No date). Olive oil: extra virgin? pure pure olive oil? what does it all mean? Retrieved from http://mideastfood.about.com/od/middleeasternfood101/a/olive_oil.htm


    [3] http://www.oliveoiltimes.com/olive-oil-health-benefits


    [4] Group, E.F. (2012, February 20). The health benefits of flaxseed oil. Retrieved from http://www.globalhealingcenter.com/natural-health/the-health-benefits-of-flaxseed-oil/


    [5] http://www.budwigcenter.com/anti-cancer-diet.php


    [6] Mercola, J. (2010, October 22). This cooking oil is a powerful virus destroyer and antibiotic. Retrieved from http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2010/10/22/coconut-oil-and-saturated-fats-can-make-you-healthy.aspx

Published On: October 15, 2012