Friday, February 6, 2009

A Few Good Oils

Our choice of cooking oil is perhaps one of the most important decisions we make when it comes to the health of our food. Yet, it seems to be one area we've gotten totally wrong.

In New York City we've recently banned trans fats. Still most of the oils used in our restaurants are still far from healthy.

I was reminded of this when dining in Williamsburg yesterday. I ordered one of my favorite dishes - fish tacos. I suppose I imagined them to be grilled or broiled, similar to the ones I make at home. Instead, I looked down at a plate of deep fried fish, cooked in what I'd guess is a combination of genetically modified canola or soy oils.

I assumed full responsibility. I hadn't asked the waiter for more specifics. I ate what was in front of me, but my body wasn't happy. My skin became irritated.

I was experiencing a symptom of inflammation, which is a result of consuming food that is cooked at high temperatures with polyunsaturated oils (e.g. corn, soy, canola oils). Inflammation also manifests itself in the form of heart disease, join pain, asthma. Lots of good stuff.

It's almost impossible to avoid these oils when eating out, especially when eating fast, convenient food. The best way to control the oils that go into your body is to cook at home.

Here are the oils that I always have on hand. Make sure to buy cold or expeller pressed versions from your health foods store. Unrefined too!
  • Extra Virgin Olive Oil – My primary oil. I use it for everything from sauteeing to salad dressings. Avoid using for high heat cooking as this oil has a low smoke point. Avoid mass produced olive oil brands, and look for those that are cold pressed and unrefined (e.g. Flora and Bionaturae).
  • Virgin Coconut Oil – A great high heat cooking oil. I use it for stir frys, even baking. It is one of the few plant-based sources of saturated fat - which is a stable fat and something [surprise] we actually need in our diet. Should be solid at room temperature.
  • Sesame Oil – Great for flavoring with Asian dishes. I usually add towards the end of a stir fry or in a noodle salad.
  • Flax Oil – High in beneficial omega-3 fatty acids. Not to be cooked! It is great as a salad dressing (especially in those with fruits). I also add a spoonful to my steel cut oats.
If you're interested in learning more about the role of oils in our diet, I suggest attending Sally Fallon's upcoming lecture: The Oiling of America in New York City on February 20 from 7 to 9 pm.

Let me know if you plan to attend. I should be there.


Kendra said...

This is a great post! There are so many questions these days about which oils are healthy and you laid out an easy to understand article.

Ameet Maturu said...

Thanks Kendra! I am glad you found it useful.

Trupti said...

this is very useful.....I've been using mostly Olive oil for all my cooking....and when I do fry- once in a while, I use Canola Oil/Sunflower oil...I need to rethink my choices here...


Jaya said...

Hey Ameet,
I have found that when it comes to steaming or salads, that finishing oils are also amazing for flavour and healthful qualities. In the past, I have tried walnut oil, avocado oil, and macadamia nut oil.. all of which are delightful and incredible complements to the natural flavours of steamed greens or other dishes. Great post!

Jaya said...

Oops, forgot to add that for cooking, I also love grapeseed oil. As stable as coconut oil at higher temperatures.

Ameet Maturu said...

Hi Jaya, thanks for the additional suggestions. I love the idea of using different finishing oils on salads. Makes all the difference.

Grapeseed is a pretty good choice too. I would just make sure to find a cold or expeller pressed version. Conventional oil processing is done under high temperatures, making the oil rancid.

jesso said...

This is great... I buy all my oils from the coop, but should i be weening myself form canola and sunflower oils altogether? we do a significant amount of frying at my house- hash browns, tofu, blah blah. what's the best reasonably priced frying oil? olive is too strong and burns, and coconut is a little out of our price range...

Christy said...

Thanks for this post and for mentioning the talk by Sally Fallon. My husband is currently fascinated with Nourishing Traditions, and I bet we'll be there.

Ameet Maturu said...

Hi Jess,

I think it's generally best to avoid frying as much as possible. But when you do fry, I highly recommend coconut oil. It may seem expensive, but just remember it lasts for a really long time. There are always other places we can save - I don't think oils should be one of them. Quality goes a long way.

Hope that helps,

Integrative Nutrition