Welcome back to the What Supp Blog! Today’s post is about why it’s so important to choose the right oils and fats for cooking. Some may (rightly) just think this comes down to the taste, unfortunately though it’s far more impactful on your health than just what it means for you taste buds.
Many of the fats used in today’s cooking are vegetable and seed oils. These are often comprised of a number of highly processed polyunsaturated fats that are incredibly unstable when heated. The processing of these fats alone can impact your health negatively, but add to heat to the mix and you’re at a heady mixture of inflammation and free radical damage.
These polyunsaturated fats are made up of both omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids. The modern diet should be composed of a combination of both of these with an ideal ratio being anything from 4:1 to 1:1 of Omega 6 to 3. As already stated, these fats can be very unstable so getting them from natural sources such as oily fish for omega 3 and nuts & seeds for omega 6 is the preferred option.
The ramping up of omega 6 oils in your diet can be completely unintentional and unavoidable, with them being used in so many foods from persavatives to dressings. In his excellent book Genius Foods, Max Lugrave explains that a healthy brain cell needs membrane fluidity to respond to the world around us. This happens through receptors which need to be able to surface and hear the messages contained by neuro transmitters. Omega 3 helps keep this pathway fluid. Unstable oxidised omega 6s however will cause neuro rigidity, which impairs the ability of the receptor to surface from the cell. In turn this all impacts the accessing of memories, excutive functioning and even mood.
One interesting Australian study showed vegetable fats destroying endothelium function. The endothelium is a thin membrane that lines the inside of the heart and blood vessels. Endothelial cells release substances that control vascular relaxation and contraction as well as enzymes that control blood clotting, immune function and platelet (a colourless substance in the blood) adhesion. A cigarette can negatively impact this system for 4 hours. One box of deep fried fries (like the ones from you know where) was shown to suppress the endothelium for 24 hours! The effects of this already unstable polyunsaturated fats being heated can act to actually mutate your genes.
When choosing a decent fat to cook with, a good rule thumb is opt for monounsaturated or saturated fats. What’s the really important bit though is where the smoke point is, as this is when the oil gets unstable and oxidation occurs.
There are a number of good choices that have high smoke points. Check out the following options:
– avocado oil
– macadamia oil
– light/pure olive oil
– algae oil
– refined coconut oil
– lard – both a monounsaturated & saturated fat
– duck fat (pasteurised)
You might note I recommend refined rather than cold pressed coconut oil. Refined coconut oil has a smoking point of at least 204c/400f (some sources I’ve read say 232c/450f). This is an easier temperature to work with when cooking on the stove or baking at higher temperatures. Just be mindful of the product quality as the very cheapest will use bleaching and deodorising in the processing of it.
The same can be noted for olive oil where I haven’t advised extra virgin olive oil. Extra virgin olive oil is essential in your diet for so many reasons but again, it’s smoke point is not as high as light or just olive oil. Similarly to coconut, don’t just buy the cheapest so to ensure some quality control.
So, what is the king of the oils you may well ask. That be the mighty avocado oil. What it does have is the highest smoke point upward of many oils and is stable up to 260c/500f. Obviously this is a pretty expensive option and maybe best to leave specifically for those dishes you need to cook at a high heat.
One easy and implementable action is simply ensure, wherever you can, you’re cooking your food at a low heat. Not only will this avoid the fat your using hitting it’s smoke point, but it’ll also ensure you don’t completely destroy the nutritional content of your food.
Till next time.