When it comes to cooking oils, we are spoiled for choice, with grocery store shelves loaded with just about every option imaginable. But all those choices also make it extremely confusing, due to the ongoing debate about the benefits as well as the potential harms that come from consuming various oils.
If you’d like to support your good health, we’ve made it easier by revealing the healthiest oils to cook with, as well as their benefits.
1. Extra-virgin olive oil
Olive oil is one of the most popular foods around and can be a very important part of any healthy diet. The Mediterranean diet, which is has been followed by some of the world’s healthiest, longest-living people for hundreds of years, of which olive oil prominently features in, as well as its ability to decrease the risk of heart disease, lower cholesterol and regulate blood sugar, has been well publicized. This is likely the reason consuming olive oil has dramatically increased over the years, skyrocketing from 29 metric tons in 1980 to 327 metric tons in 2015, as reported by IndexMundi.
This oil, which is made from the fruit of the olive tree is naturally high in monounsaturated fatty acids, which are considered a healthy dietary fat. Diets high in extra-virgin olive oil, like the famous Mediterranean diet, have been linked to a lower risk of heart disease and lower total cholesterol levels, as well as having the ability to normalize blood clotting and regulating blood sugar.
In addition to offering support for heart health, olive oil offers numerous other benefits as well, including:
Supporting brain health.
Olive oil is great for brain health, including fighting age-related cognitive decline, as it protects against excess inflammation, oxidative stress and other factors that can lead to dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. It can also help boost one’s mood and lead to clearer, more focused thinking, as the brain requires a significant amount of fatty acids. Olive oil has even been shown to lessen the risk of depression. Research out of the University of Las Palmas in Spain found that when comparing study participants who consumed trans fats regularly with those whose dietary fat consisted primarily of olive oil, the trans fat consumers had a 48% higher risk of developing depression.
Lowering the risk of breast cancer.
Experts from the Universitat Autonoma de Barcelona in Spain discovered a mechanism for which olive oil protects against breast cancer. The researchers decoded a cascade of signals in breast tumor cells that are activated by olive oil. They concluded that the oil was able to reduce the activity of p21Ras, an oncogene, prevent DNA damage, and encourage tumor cell death while triggering changes in protein signaling pathways.
Preventing or treating diabetes.
There is also scientific evidence that the monounsaturated fats in olive oil offer beneficial effects on insulin sensitivity and helps lower the risk of type 2 diabetes, as the fatty acids influence the metabolism of glucose by altering cell membrane function, gene expression, insulin signaling and enzyme activity. Consuming olive oil with a meal can also prevent sugar cravings and overeating, lessening the risk of diabetes complications.
Improved skin health.
Diets that are higher in healthy fats, can help fight the harmful effects to our skin from exposure to sun and UV light, free radicals, toxicity, poor diet and more. It’s an excellent source of vitamin E, which is known to speed wound healing, battle infections and restore a hormonal imbalance that can lead to skin problems like eczema and acne.
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2. Extra Virgin Organic Coconut Oil
Coconut oil is often ranked is the best overall cooking oil there is. While it was unfairly demonized in the past, the reality is that it’s one of the richest sources of healthy saturated fat, including unique fats like lauric acid, capric acid, and caprylic acid. These fatty acids contain antifungal and antimicrobial properties – they are easier to digest, smaller in size to allow them to be used for immediate energy, and they’re processed by the liver which means that they’re almost instantly converted to energy rather than being stored as fat.
Populations who eat a large percentage of calories from coconuts are known to be much healthier than those in other countries. The oil from coconuts contains medium chain fatty acids that are resistant to high heat and can easily turn into ketone bodies in the liver. The ketone bodies provide energy for the brain and can be used to improve a wide variety of health issues.
A 2014 study out of India demonstrated that the high level of antioxidants in coconut oil was able to reduce inflammation and heal arthritis even more effectively than popular pharmaceutical drugs. As inflammation has been discovered to be a root cause of multiple illnesses and disease, including arthritis as well as heart disease, diabetes, migraines, cancer, stroke, chronic pain, peripheral neuropathy and thyroid issues, consuming coconut oil can play an important role in healing.
Supporting weight loss.
Research from Brazil in 2009 focused on the association between weight loss and coconut oil consumption in women, and found that it reduced abdominal obesity. Other studies have found the same, including research published in the Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health which showed that just one single injection of capric acid resulted in “initially rapid, then a gradual decrease in food consumption and a parallel loss of body weight” in male rats. The experts also discovered the reason behind it – capric acid provides significant improvement to thyroid functioning as well as lowering the resting heart rate and encouraging the body to burn fat for energy.
Preventing high blood pressure & reducing the risk of heart disease.
Many people are still under the impression that eating saturated fat raises the risk of problems like high blood pressure and heart disease, but like olive oil, the healthy fats in coconut oil actually help to increase the “good” cholesterol (HDL) and can even convert “bad” LDL cholesterol into good cholesterol. This improves heart health while reducing the risk of heart disease. A 2013 study published in the journal Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine demonstrated that while unsaturated palm oil raised blood pressure, the saturated fat in coconut oil lowered it.
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3. Avocado Oil
The composition of avocado oil is similar to olive oil – it’s primarily monounsaturated, with some saturated and polyunsaturated mixed in. It has a multitude of health benefits and an exceptionally high smoke point that makes it ideal for cooking. Cooking with oils at temperatures above their set smoke point can create those harmful trans fats that are considered a leading contributor to heart disease, cancer, and other chronic health conditions.
Avocado and olive oil have been found in studies to be the most effective for raising “good” (HDL) cholesterol. It’s also been shown to reduce “bad” (LDL) cholesterol and triglycerides, as well as lower blood pressure.
Supporting healthy vision.
Avocado oil is a good source of a carotenoid known as lutein, which is naturally found in the eyes and functions as an antioxidant that provides benefits to eye health. Consuming lutein regularly can lower the risk of eye diseases like macular degeneration and cataracts.
Like olive oil, the fatty acids in avocado oil are beneficial for the skin. It’s been shown to help speed wound healing and improve symptoms of skin conditions like psoriasis.
Neutralizing free radicals.
Thanks to its high level of antioxidants, consuming avocado oil can help neutralize free radicals that can lead to oxidative stress damage, and ultimately a wide range of illnesses and disease.
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4. Animal Fats
Animal fats, such as lard and tallow, are surprisingly also considered healthy as cooking oils, but it’s important to choose fats that come from grass-fed or pasture-raised animals as their fatty acid content varies depending on what they eat. If they eat lots of grains, their fat will contain a lot of polyunsaturated fats, but if they’re grass-fed or pasture-raised, there will be more monounsaturated and saturated fats.
Experts say that when it comes to cooking, frying in saturate-rich animal fats is preferable to frying in corn or sunflower oil. Of the types of animal fats, lard is arguably the best choice due to its significant amount of monounsaturated fats. Lard is made up of 50% monounsaturated fat, whereas butter contains 32% – plus, in its natural form, lard contains no trans fats, which is one of the worst things you can put in your body.
Lard, provided it comes from a pastured animal, as they must have access to sunlight to synthesize and store it in their fatty tissues, is also the second highest food source of vitamin D after cod liver oil, with one tablespoon containing 1,000 IUs. As it’s a soluble vitamin, it requires fatty acids to be absorbed and utilized in the body, making lard the ideal package for vitamin D.
Not only that but as lard contains more saturated fat than vegetable oils, it doesn’t go rancid as quickly and has a higher smoke point, making it better for frying and high heat cooking. And, as chefs know, it makes foods taste great too because it has the largest crystals.