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What Are The Best Oils To Cook With?

I received a great question this morning via email from a client asking me what kind of oil is the best to cook with? There are actually several good choices that will work, but I thought this would be a good subject to expand on in a blog post.

For starters, let’s talk about the most commonly used cooking oil in the kitchen, canola oil. Despite the dogma on the health benefits of this oil, my advice is to steer clear of it. The high temperatures needed in the refining process to make canola oil palatable can lead to the formation of trans-fatty acids.

This as you know is not good. There’s also the presence of long-chain fatty acids including erucic acid which has been linked to central nervous system degeneration and inflammation.

Bottom line is canola oil is out in my kitchen. So what should you use for cooking?

Well it depends on what you’re preparing, taste preferences, etc, but a good rule of thumb is to look at the “smoke point” of an oil along with the root source. The more natural the oil the better, regardless of whether it’s from plant or animal fats. I’d prefer lard be used over margarine or oils with trans-fats any day. Having said that…

Here are my top three choices for oils to cook with in the kitchen…

1. Virgin Olive Oil

2. Sesame Oil

3. Peanut Oil

The reason I like these three choices, besides them coming from natural sources, is they have a high “smoke point.” This is the temperature at which the fat burns. All three oils have smoke points over 400 degrees. This is pretty important as you don’t want to be cooking food at high temperatures (over 400 degrees) with an oil that has a low smoke point.

The reason?

Because if you cook beyond it not only are you likely to end up with a burned, charcoal flavor but more importantly, once heated beyond the smoke point oil can become rancid and generate harmful toxic chemicals and free radicals.

In short, over heat it and you’ve lost all the benefit of cooking with a “healthy” oil.

You’ll notice my preference for cooking is virgin olive oil (smoke point – 420 degrees) and NOT extra virgin olive oil (smoke point- 320 degrees).

I eat with extra virgin olive oil and cook with virgin. I’ve read positive things about grapeseed oil but to be honest I’ve never used it so I can’t really comment on it.

Same thing goes for coconut oil. I’m a BIG fan of consuming coconut oil raw but I’ve not cooked with it. I don’t think it has a real high smoke point, but could be wrong.

Anyways, there are some oils like coconut oil, extra virgin olive oil, flax seed oil, etc, that I prefer to consume raw and others that I’d use to cook with.

Now if you’re just spraying the pan to cook some eggs, you have found a great fish recipe or whatever, the best choice will be olive oil spray in my opinion. It’s not that this is a huge deal since the fat content is relatively small, but it would be and is my preference.

Oh yeah, one final thing on butter although I don’t want to get into a larger discussion here on saturated fats. While I’m certainly not as down on saturated fats as some in the mainstream medical community, I don’t like to cook with it.

The smoke point for butter for example is around 350 degrees, so while it could be ok to saute’ some veggies, I tend to prefer to cook with olive oil instead.

It’s just generally not a good idea to cook fats or oils at high temperatures as when they burn, all the bad stuff happens. Hence why high temperature deep frying is typically not the “healthiest” of practices.

Sure you can deep fry that turkey in peanut oil on Thanksgiving if you want, but if you’re eating deep fried foods every day, chances are you’re going to be a ticking time bomb for heart problems at some point.

Ok, so there you have it…my top picks on oils to cook with. If you’ve got a favorite that I’ve not mentioned by all means leave a comment. Would love to hear from you.

Shane Doll is a certified Charleston personal trainer, fat loss expert, speaker, and founder of Shaping Concepts. With a staff of over 10 certified fitness professionals, Shaping Concepts provides fitness consulting in Charleston with a specialty on weight loss and body transformation. See our success stories from numerous Lowcountry residents then sign up for a no-obligations consultation today.

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Category: Nutrition.