Fats are an essential part of the human diet, helping synthesise hormones, promoting overall brain- and mental health, and keeps us full. But what are the healthiest cooking oils to cook with?
In addition to thinking about the overall nutrient profile of cooking oils and how they are processed, you must consider another factor: the smoke point (which is the temperature at which an oil begins to smoke).
Every type of cooking oil has a different smoke point, and heating an oil beyond its smoke point causes it to oxidise, resulting in the release of harmful free radicals and other compounds.
Surprisingly, avocado oil has a high smoke point, making it a smart cooking choice if you’re scaling back on saturated fats. Avocado is comprised mostly of the monounsaturated fatty acid, called oleic acid, which has potent anti-inflammatory properties and promotes heart health. It also contains lutein, a carotenoid, that can improve eye health. By virtue of it’s high smoking point, it’s suitable for all cooking. But because it’s pricey, it would not be wise to use it for deep- frying and may lose flavour due to prolonged exposure to heat.
Ghee (clarified butter)
Many people love cooking with butter for obvious reasons: flavour! But it has a relatively low smoke point at 300°F. When you remove its milk solids to create ghee, however, that smoke point jumps to a safe level for most cooking applications while retaining its amazing flavour. Bonus: It’s lactose-free; contains vitamins A, E, and K2; and is rich in conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) and butyrate, which may help lower body fat and decrease inflammation.
Algae oil is high in monounsaturated fats and low in saturated fats. It’s a great option to add to the rotation if you’re looking for a neutral-tasting high-heat oil, as it’s incredibly versatile and a great option for cooking, baking, and salad dressings. The one downside; it tends to be a bit expensive.
Olive oil is high in the monounsaturated fat oleic acid, which is anti-inflammatory and promotes heart health. Extra virgin olive oil (EVOO), specifically, is packed with polyphenol antioxidants as well, which are thought to contribute a range of benefits.
However, EVOO is only suitable as a finishing oil and for low- to medium-heat cooking (sautéing vegetables), as it has a smoke point of 325 to 375°F.
Refined olive oil, on the other hand, has a smoke point of 425°F but does not contain nearly as many beneficial polyphenol compounds.
Unrefined coconut oil
Coconut oil is mostly saturated fat, which makes it more stable, and it also contains medium-chain triglycerides, a fat source that converts to energy more quickly.
As an added benefit, coconut oil contains an antimicrobial compound, called lauric acid, which has also been shown to have beneficial effects on cholesterol. Refined coconut oil has an even higher smoke point, but it’s thought to lose many of its beneficial health effects.
Oils are a vital component of every meal, more so people with chronic disease, such as diabetes and heart disease.
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Matsepo Manyokole is a registered nurse with more than 20 years of international nursing experience. She has worked in a variety of settings, including maternity, infectious diseases, public health and medical units with special emphasis on chronic diseases, such as diabetes and heart disease.