Finding accurate nutritional information is like watching a flag blowing in the wind. It depends upon the orientation of the information provider, and sometimes on what company is funding the scientist or nutritionist that is providing the recommendation.
Here are some major points to consider when looking at cooking oils.
- Natural is better. Olive, sunflower and peanut oils are non-GMO. They are mechanically extracted (expelled). Organic coconut can be mechanically extracted, but you need to read the label to see that it is extra virgin organic coconut oil. Organic expeller pressed canola oil is good. These oils will be healthier due to the structures of the oils being maintained. Processes that use high heat and solvents for extraction alter the makeup of the oils.
- Avoid oils that have been hydrogenated because this creates trans fat oils, which have been scientifically linked to heart disease. Crisco is an example of a partially hydrogenated vegetable oil. Margarine is partially hydrogenated, which makes soybean oil into a solid resembling butter in physical properties.
According to the USDA, “If the ingredient list includes the words “shortening,” “partially hydrogenated vegetable oil” or “hydrogenated vegetable oil,” the food contains trans fat.
- Only use expeller pressed organic canola oil. Canola oil is manufactured from a seed called rapeseed. Most rapeseed is GMO and the resulting canola oil is highly processed. Since 1995, Monsanto has manufactured rapeseed plants that are genetically engineered to be resistant to the herbicide Roundup. Today, about 90% of the world’s canola crop is genetically modified. Roundup™ contains an herbicide called glyphosate, which has been deemed “probably carcinogenic” by the World Health Organization. Organic canola oil can not be grown with a herbicide, excluding the use of Roundup. Expeller pressed oils do not require solvent (hexane) extraction and solvent elimination. (See the attached video for more information.)
- Most vegetable oils are solvent extracted. Over 80% of canola, soybean, and cottonseed oils are GMO. Unless specifically labeled expeller pressed and organic, these oils all use a solvent extraction process. The steps have the beans or seeds crushed, cooked, pressed, solvent extracted using hexane, and then the solvent is removed with high temperature steam to leave the oil. Some extraction processes break molecular structures to produce trans fats. Trans fats levels can be reduced or eliminated using saturated fats such as lard, palm oil or fully hydrogenated fats.
- Vegetable Oils Have An Uneven Ratio Of Omega-6 to Omega-3 Fatty Acids. There are at least three versions of fatty acids. Omega-3 and Omega-6 are two that are commonly discussed. The normal ratio for these two versions is 50:50. Both of these acids are needed at the cellular level. Omega-3 fatty acids reduce inflammation; and the body cannot convert Omega-6 fatty acids into Omega-3 fatty acids. Vegetable oils have mostly Omega-6 fatty acids that cause inflammation that may lead to arthritis, asthma, atherosclerosis, vascular disease, thrombosis and immune-inflammatory processes. Omega-6 is important for maintaining the health of cell walls, but not too much. Omega-9 is useful to avoid atherosclerosis and maintain heart health.
- Vegetable Oils Have High Smoke Points. The problem with high smoke point oils is that they degrade into free radicals and a chemical called acrolein, which provides a “burnt odor”. These oils can pose an ignition hazard as the oils give off invisible flammable gases that can ignite if the oils continue to be heated. The National Institute of Health established that rapeseed oil (aka canola oil) produces 100 times the amount of acrolein of other common oils. There are health consequences from ingesting high amounts of acrolein.
For a definitive list of available cooking oils, Jennifer Good of Baseline of Health Foundation provides smoke point and Omega-6 to Omega-3 ratios for an extensive list of cooking oils. The list also identifies the oils that are most likely to be GMO. Extra virgin olive oil and expeller pressed coconut oil are two of the healthier oils. Some oils are high in other nutrients, e.g. avocado oil is high in vitamin E, but these specialized oils tend to be very expensive. Where food can be cooked at lower temperatures, or in a manner that does not include frying, that is recommended to produce the fewest harmful compounds for all types of oils.