Are oils good for us, or bad? Which ones should we use, and which ones should we avoid?
With different information about oils floating around, it’s hard to differentiate between the good, the bad and the ugly.
“Fats and oils are broken down into fatty acids (triglycerides) in our bodies and are vital for brain function, cell membrane health, skin health and immune function,” Jessica Cox, accredited nutritional practitioner at the JCN clinic, told The Huffington Post Australia.
Types of fats include saturated, trans, polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats.
These two unsaturated fats (found in olive oil, peanut oil, flaxseed oil, vegetable oil, avocado, nuts, fish, etc.) are considered the ‘healthy’ fats and are good for heart health, while saturated fats (e.g. meat, dairy and palm oil) are to be eaten less frequently.
“We do need to be mindful of not going too crazy when it comes to overall oil intake -- however, eating quality fats daily as part of a balanced dietary intake is very advantageous,” Cox said.
“Essential fats (omega-3 and omega-6) cannot be made in the body simply from constituents -- they must be consumed from specific food sources and then digested to make them readily available.”
The human body can make most of the types of fats it needs from other fats or raw materials. That isn’t the case for omega-3 fatty acids (also called omega-3 fats and n-3 fats). These are essential fats -- the body can’t make them from scratch but must get them from food.
What Oils Should We Avoid?
“Trans fats are the major fats to avoid, which are created through overheating volatile oils,” Cox said.
Eating large amounts of trans fats can increase both your total and bad (LDL) cholesterol levels and decrease your good (HDL) cholesterol, according to The Dieticians Association of Australia.
Trans fats can be found in foods like pies, cakes, doughnuts and cookies.
“Generally if you eat a wholefood diet, trans fats will not be a major concern. Do be mindful, however, of the quality of oils you purchase.”
What To Look For When Shopping For Oils
When searching for a good quality oil, Cox suggests to look for oils that have been cold-pressed and are unrefined.
“When an oil is cold-pressed it maintains its integrity and does not compromise the nutritional profile,” Cox said.
“You also want to avoid oils that have been sitting around in the heat for too long as they will oxidise.”
In terms of how much oil to use, Cox suggested generally about one tablespoon of a good quality, unrefined oil drizzled over salad, and two tablespoons of a high-heat, stable oil when baking and cooking.
Types Of Oils And When To Use Them
Rice Bran (roughly half monounsaturated, half polyunsaturated)
"Handles high heat, great for deep frying and high-heat stir frying. Many brands are not cold-pressed so look for a quality brand," Cox said.
Coconut Oil (high in saturated fats)
"Handles high heat and is good for stir frying and roasting. Also a great substitute for butter in baking. Very adaptable oil, but will give a coconut flavour to your food. Look for unrefined coconut oil," Cox said.
Macadamia Oil (high in monounsaturates)
"Can handle medium to high heat cooking (around 210C) and is also lovely drizzled over salads and used in baking. High in vitamin E," Cox said.
Olive Oil (high in monounsaturates)
"My favourite! Very much the same status as macadamia nut oil. Extra virgin olive oil in particular can handle a bit of heat -- though there is a misconception that it can’t. In particular our Australian extra virgin olive oil is very robust to heat. Regular olive oil, however, is better not heated. Again, go for cold-pressed extra virgin olive oil. The greener in colour the better," Cox said.
Flaxseed Oil (high in polyunsaturates and omega 3’s)
"Low smoking point and cannot be heated at all or it will oxidise. Use in smoothies and drizzle over salads or baked vegetables," Cox said.
Sunflower & Canola Oil (levels of saturated, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats dependent on brand)
"Generally these are cheaper oils on the market and often they have been quite refined. They do handle high heat when refined, which is why they are used so much in commercial cooking. As always, if you want to use these oils look for quality. You can get some lovely unrefined cold-pressed versions of these oils on the market -- however, they do not handle the heat like the refined versions, so use them for salads and smoothies," Cox said.