Fat. We love it, we hate it, we need it. Among the 3 core macronutrients alongside carbohydrates and , fat plays a large role in the smooth functioning of your body as a whole. One if our main sources of fuel, fat builds brain and nerve tissue and is important for regulating hormones. It’s also important to help carry fat soluble nutrients (like vitamin A, D, E) throughout the body. Most importantly, it is critical to many of our most basic functions. The trouble comes when we are unable to distinguish good from bad, and with the fear of fat campaign in full force, sometimes In essence there are two kinds of fats, good and bad, and making healthier food choices is based on knowing the difference.
Formally, there are 3 types of fats:
- Saturated- found mostly in animal-based foods such as cheeses, butters and meat. They are solid at room temperature. They contains a high proportion of fatty acid molecules, and are considered less healthy than its unsaturated
- Unsaturated – Liquid at room temperature and mostly plant-based. There are two types: monounsaturated and polyunsaturated. Considered the ‘healthy fats’, they help reduce the risk of high cholesterol. Plant based oils are more than just fats, they contain nutritional and antioxidant properties.
- Trans: The worst of the bunch. A by-product of hydrogenation (a process in which hydrogen is added to liquid oils to turn them solid), trans fats carry little to no health benefits and have been outright banned across many Western countries.
Now that you have the breakdown of the different type so fats, let’s talk about picking the healthier type of fats to add to your diet. All these things should be considered when selecting an oil, or fat, to cook with. While seemingly insignificant, what we cook with, or rather, saturate our foods in, can have a tremendous impact on the quantity, and quality, of fats you are consuming. With so many products on the market and claims to be gauged, selecting the right one for your own nutritional agenda can be a challenge. We scrubbed the shelves for today’s most popular cooking oils and came up with what’s next.
Extra Virgin Olive Oil, regular olive oil’s purer counterpart, is made from 100% pure, cold-pressed olives. On the health front, it is dense in monounsaturated fats, which when consumed instead of saturated fats, can help lower cholesterol levels, one of the main risk factors for heart disease. Loaded with active antioxidants, EVOO has been proven to help reduce your risk of chronic disease, as well as fight inflammation and help protect your blood cholesterol from oxidizing. Since your body recognizes oxidized cholesterol as bacteria, your immune system responds by sending macrophages to attack them, creating inflammation in your arterial wall which may provoke illnesses like heart disease.
Best for: With a low smoke point (the burning point of oil)*, and versatile flavour, it makes for great vinaigrette or base for marinade.
Sourced from the pulp of the fruit, avocado oil is high in monounsaturated fats, making it a heart healthy option that can also help lower blood pressure. Flush in inflammation fighting oleic acid (70% of this oil consists of this), this oil has even been prescribed for joint ailments in some European countries. Avocado oil is also rich in vitamin E and lutein, which has been said to have a positive impact on eye health, reducing the risk of cataracts and macular degeneration.
Best for: With a very high smoke point, this oil is good for frying. Since it’s on the pricier end of the spectrum, an efficient use would be in foods like stir fry where just a drizzle goes a long way.
Although high in saturated fat, there is much debate about whether regularly consuming coconut oil in your diet is considered a better alternative than unsaturated fats. However, some studies have labeled this type of saturated fat found in coconut oil as “healthy” as coconut oil breaks down into medium chain triglycerides. This means the body can convert this fat into energy or ‘ketones’ which help fuel the body and the brain. If looking for a coconut oil, make sure to use one that’s extra virgin and ensure that you are still giving your body sufficient fat from unsaturated sources.
Best for: With a longer shelf life than most other oils, it turns solid at room temperature and can be used for baking, or as a replacement for butter in any instance where solid fat is required
This oil extracted from walnuts, either cold-pressed or refined. The refined version is low in nutrients and usually used to complete more topical functions like beauty and art. Cold-pressed, however, is most commended for toting nutrients like magnesium, copper, vitamin A and D, as well as omega-3 fats and protein. Excellent for brain boosting, it may also help to improve liver health.
Best for: It’s a delicate oil with a nutty flavour. Best used in salad dressings. If cooked, it can result in quite the bitter taste.
Did you know that the history of canola oil starts in our very own backyard? Canadian scientists developed an edible version of the normally toxic rapeseed plant, ultimately using it to create the oil we know today. Cholesterol-free, high in omega-3 and 6, and an affordable cooking oil, canola oil, though, does not have as many nutrients as other the other oils listed above. Similar to coconut oil, canola oil is subject to controversy. It’s believed that while low in saturated fat, it’s high omega-6 content promotes inflammation and when processed, is high in trans fats.
Best for: A versatile oil thanks to its neutral flavour and high smoke point, it’s a popular oil for frying, sautéing and baking.
So, which of these are the healthiest? It’s hard to say. While many may get a bad rep, the fact of the matter is that so long as the source is plant, you may rest assured that you’ve been cooking perfectly healthy oil. The who what and where of it all, however, is yet to be uncovered. And while the use of cooking oils should be done in moderation, the actual kinds of fat you consume, vs the quantity, is what’s important.
- Leech, J., MS. (2018, September 14). 11 Proven Benefits of Olive Oil. Retrieved from https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/11-proven-benefits-of-olive-oil#section3
- Beauchamp, G. K., Keast, R. S., Morel, D., Lin, J., Pika, J., Han, Q., . . . Breslin, P. A. (2005, September 01). Phytochemistry: Ibuprofen-like activity in extra-virgin olive oil. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16136122
- Facts about polyunsaturated fats: MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia. (2018, April 23). Retrieved from https://medlineplus.gov/ency/patientinstructions/000747.htm
- Staff, A. (2017, November 20). Dietary linoleic acid and risk of coronary heart disease. Retrieved from https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/2014/11/05/dietary-linoleic-acid-and-risk-of-coronary-heart-disease/
- Harvard Health Publishing. (2017, November). Coconut oil: Heart-healthy or just hype? Retrieved from https://www.health.harvard.edu/heart-disease-overview/coconut-oil-heart-healthy-or-just-hype
- Kubala, J., MS, RD. (2019, February 7). Is Canola Oil Good for You, or Bad? Retrieved from https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/is-canola-oil-healthy