What Cooking Oil Should You Be Using? Personal Trainer & Dietician Baraa El Sabbagh Answers
Why Type Of Oil Matters
We’ve talked about so much health related topics on this blog, from putting an end to sugar cravings, to losing belly fat, to the benefits of protein and carbs, and today, it’s oil’s turn! As always, if you’d rather listen to me talk about this topic instead of reading, check out the podcast episode right here.
Understanding how and when to use certain oils is super important because:
- We’re using oil on a regular basis in our cooking and meals,
- Some are better than others when it comes to our needs and preferences.
So today I’m going to break oils down for you, from olive, avocado, coconut, and of course, vegetable oil. It’s good to know the different properties of these oils plus what’s the best way to cook with each one, and how we can extract the most nutrients and benefits from them.
"The craze of coconut oil is actually not supported scientifically. & it’s not the superfood it’s made out to be in commercial marketing!"
The Basics of Oil
What you need to know is that oils are under the fat macronutrient and fats are essential in our diet. Which means we need to eat fat so that our organs and hormones are functioning properly.
The other thing you should know is that oils have around 9 calories per gram, which isn't our main focus today, but it warranted a mention that one tablespoon of any of the oils I’ll be talking about is the same, 120 calories per tablespoon.
Is Olive Oil Good For You?
Let’s start with the OG of oils, the classic and always tasty, olive oil! If you’re from or living in the Middle East, you’ll know what a staple this ingredient is. It’s seen at every family meal, either already in our salads or with hummus or on the side of some zaatar, or already placed in a glass decanter, the list goes on and on.
There are many benefits to using olive oil. It’s an antioxidant, and has some powerful nutrients that reduce inflammation in the body and protects your blood cholesterol, which lowers the risk of heart disease and fights off the risk of strokes.
As for how it affects weight, if you overeat any type of oil, it will of course lead to weight gain.
How To Use Olive Oil
There are SO many creative ways to include olive oil in our food, prepared and raw, here are some examples:
- The classic salad dressing,
- Using it as a marinade for chicken or shrimp, or any protein,
- Preparing different types of sauces,
- Replacing butter with olive oil to make scrambled eggs,
- Drizzle over a side dish like pasta or vegetables for an extra kick of flavor,
- Sautee or even deep fry eggplant & other veggies (not that I boast about deep frying, but just putting it out there)
- Bake your favorite zesty or citrusy cake like a lemon cake!
What Is Olive Oil’s Smoking Point?
Smoking point is the range in temperature that you don’t want to go above when cooking with an oil because it will burn, give off flavor, destroy some of the nutrients and create harmful free radicals. Basically all the pros we spoke about will be gone. I won’t get into those too much because it’ll get too science-y, but take my word for it: You don’t want them in your food.
The smoking point for olive oil is around 210 degrees celsius. So go ahead and saute, bake, and pan fry using olive oil while keeping its temperature in mind, but don’t worry too much about it; our home ovens and stoves don’t get much higher than 200 degrees anyway, so you’re probably already under the smoking point when you’re cooking.
If you are looking to cook with higher temperatures, you might want to consider avocado oil.
Is Avocado Oil Good For You?
Avocado oil arrived on the scene a couple of years ago and people have been going crazy for it. Is it another fad or are there really benefits to using this oil? Let’s find out. Avocado oil has something called oleic acid, which is really good for the body. Like olive oil, avocado oil is also great for the heart and reducing cholesterol.
So like I mentioned earlier, you can definitely cook with avocado oil because it has a higher smoking point, which is 271 degrees celsius. Actually, it has a higher smoke point than most popular cooking fats, like canola oil, corn oil, coconut oil, and peanut oil. This makes it perfect for pan-frying, roasting, barbecuing, and baking. If you’re making a stir fry, avocado oil is awesome cause it doesn't have that much of a flavor but it does the job in terms of cooking and sauteing.
Downside of Avocado Oil
As with everything, there is a downside to avocado oil and that’s its price tag. You definitely have to spend a little more when opting for avocado oil in the supermarket. So if you’re a big family and you cook big portions of food on a daily basis, then maybe I’d recommend sticking to olive oil because it’s just as nutritious and hearty.
But if you want to change things up and try avocado oil in your dishes, you can use it as a salad dressing, or add a drizzle over your soups. Try it with hummus, make homemade mayonnaise with it, or add it over your fish dish before popping it in the oven.
The Pros & Cons to Coconut Oil
Unlike its siblings avocado and olive, coconut oil is made of a lot more saturated fats. A high saturated fat intake is related to the risk of heart disease via the increase of total cholesterol in the blood. The craze of coconut oil is actually not supported scientifically and it’s not the superfood it’s made out to be in commercial marketing.
The idea that coconut oil is healthy came from using natural coconut oil in countries like the Philippines, India and New Zealand. But the coconut oil we see on the shelves in our supermarkets in the Middle East is actually completely different to the natural one they use in those countries.
Is Coconut Oil Healthy?
The reason we think it’s healthy is because coconut oil is rich in MCT’s. What are MCT’s? It stands for Medium Chain Triglycerides, which studies have shown is quickly used for energy and not stored as fat. But like I mentioned, this is not the same as the commercial coconut oil on the shelf that’s actually higher in Lauric Acid which gets absorbed just like all other oils.
Let me put things in perspective, the saturated fat content in coconut oil is around 87 grams in 100 grams. For reference, olive oil only has 14 grams and avocado oil has 12 grams of saturated fat per 100 grams.
I don’t mean to scare you! But this is definitely some food for thought, right? We don’t need to cut out coconut oil just yet, sure it might have a bad effect on our cholesterol if we ingest big quantities over time but if you use this particular oil sparingly, you’ll be good to go.
As for coconut oil’s smoking point, it comes in third on this list at 175 degrees celsius, so be on the lookout when cooking with coconut oil so it doesn’t get too hot. If you ask me, I would use coconut oil for baking, it’s got a great flavor and holds really well in desserts and it tastes great in raw desserts too, like energy balls, no bake brownies, that kind of stuff.
Let’s End With Vegetable, Canola, And Sunflower Oil
These might have been your oils of choice back in university, or maybe some family members around you still use it, or hey, you could be using them yourself today! But with all the alternatives we have at our disposal, maybe it’s time we put these oils away and stick to avocado and olive.
Like I always say, it’s best to be well informed on what we put into our bodies and vegetable oil could have been the thing holding you back on your health journey. These oils are filled with processed ingredients, especially the generic name of vegetable oil which is a blend of canola, corn, soybean, safflower, palm and sunflower oils.
The Downside of Vegetable Oil
The processing of these oils leads to inflammation in the body, heart diseases and leaves them without any nutrients. Sunflower oil is high in omega-6 (don’t confuse it with omega-3), omega-6 is the one that causes inflammation. And canola oil is highly processed, leaving it with no useful nutrients. So these oils don’t have vitamin E, healthy fatty acids or antioxidants like our friends olive and avocado oil.
Sure, they’re inexpensive and maybe you feel you’re not using too much so it’s okay, but they are causing more harm than good. Their smoking point is around 230 degrees celsius which is pretty high and another reason that they’re used so often.
But the other problem is vegetable oil can go rancid faster than oils like avocado, olive, and coconut. What does that mean? It’s when you forget to put the cap back on the oil and it gets exposed to oxygen, that becomes rancid oil, which doesn’t taste good. Using rancid oil won’t make you sick just from one or two times, but it definitely will over time.
A final note, don’t reheat or reuse oil because that affects its chemical structure which is not good for your heart health. If you still want to use these oils, by all means go for it! But why choose something with no benefits when you can have olive oil that can give you so much more?
- Use olive oil in your regular day to day cooking, from putting it on your salad, to sauteing and baking, but keep in mind that one tablespoon is 120 calories.
- Avocado oil can be used for your high heat cooking because of its smoking point.
- Coconut oil is best used for baking in my opinion but sparingly with the rest of your cooking.
- Vegetable, canola, and sunflower oil are fine to use sparingly, but they do come with a lot of health drawbacks because of all the chemicals and processed ingredients in them. So if you do want to do the very best thing for your body, try giving them up for a while and going for natural oils instead.
I know this was a lot of information to take in folks but I’m so glad you stayed with me till the end! I love sharing new things with you, sometimes I find out stuff along the way in my research and I do a little changes in my household as well. This whole healthy living is a marathon, not a sprint or somewhere we need to reach. There will always be new information to process and implement, but as long as you guys are along for the ride, I’m good to go!