For good cardiovascular health, experts recommend replacing saturated fat with unsaturated fat. This is mainly because of the fact that saturated fat consumption may lead to the risk of heart disease. It also increases the bad cholesterol namely LDL.
What are saturated fats?
Saturated fats are saturated with hydrogen molecules, containing only a single bond between carbon molecules. Saturated fats are solid at room temperature because of this saturation of hydrogen molecules. There are different kinds of saturated fats depending on the length of the carbon chain. They could be short-chain fatty acids, medium-chain fatty acids, long-chain fatty acids, or very long-chain fatty acids. The length of the carbon chain also determines the effect it has on our health. Fats like butter, coconut oil, and palm oil are saturated fats.
What are unsaturated fats?
Unsaturated fats have at least one double bond between the carbon molecules. Unsaturated fats are liquid at room temperature. These include plant oils like olive oil, sunflower oil, peanut oil, and safflower oil. These fats are considered healthy as they are good for the heart. They improve blood cholesterol levels and decrease inflammation.
There are two types of unsaturated fats or good fats. Unsaturated fats can be classified into monounsaturated or polyunsaturated.
Monounsaturated fats are present in avocados, olives, nuts (Almonds), and seeds like pumpkin and sesame seeds. Omega-9 is a monounsaturated fat that is stored in the body. Omega-9 is not classified as an essential acid, because our body can produce them. However, consuming a diet with omega-9 helps our bodies in many ways. They help to reduce cardiovascular problems and strokes. They also help to increase the good cholesterol HDL and reduce the bad cholesterol LDL, which can lead to plaque build-up which results in heart attacks. It also enhances your mood and may help people with cognitive decline.
Polyunsaturated fats are found in sunflower, soybean, flaxseed oils, safflower, and walnut in plant oils and also in fish.
Polyunsaturated fats can be Omega-3 fatty acids or omega-6 fatty acids.
Omega-3 fatty acids are a type of polyunsaturated fat that the body cannot make and hence has to come from the food we eat. They are heart-healthy fats that are also anti-inflammatory. Omega-3 provides you with energy and supports the cardiovascular and endocrine systems of the body. They help all the cells in your body function properly.
Omega-6 fatty acids are polyunsaturated fats that are essential for brain function and the normal development of the body. Omega-6s also are good for skin and hair growth. It helps maintain bone health and a healthy reproductive system.
Is this enough? What should we look for in cooking oils?
A healthy diet will contain a healthy balance of both omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids help to reduce inflammation, while some omega-6 fatty acids promote inflammation. If oil is high in omega-6 (linolenic) fatty acids while it has barely any omega-3 (alpha-linolenic) content, it is not good for health. The omega-6 acid gets stored in the body while omega-3 is excreted as waste. So ideally we should consume a 1:1 ratio of omega-6 to omega-3.
Most of our diets are skewed towards omega-6. While omega-3 has an anti-inflammatory effect, a diet high in omega-6 causes inflammation that can lead to heart disease, metabolic syndrome, arthritis, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, and even cancer. Most vegetable oils have a lot of Omega-6, while butter, coconut oil, palm oil, and olive oil are all relatively low in omega-6. It must be emphasized that at normal levels, omega-6 helps to increase good cholesterol and decrease bad cholesterol. There are some who believe that instead of reducing omega-6 intake, we must increase our omega-3 consumption.
Modern diets exhibit a 15:1 omega-6 to omega-3 ratio. Dietary intervention studies have found that while a very high ratio of Omega-6 to omega-3 results in many chronic diseases, a lower ratio of 4:1 was associated with almost a 70% reduction in death in coronary heart disease prevention. A ratio of 2.5:1 reduced rectal cell proliferation in patients with colorectal cancer. A lower omega-6 to omega-3 ratio in women was also associated with decreased risk for breast cancer.
What is important to consider while using oil is the ideal omega-6 to omega-3 ratio. Flaxseed and canola oils are typically the highest in Omega-3 fatty acids, while sesame, avocado, and olive oils are typically the lowest in omega-6. Keeping this in mind, if you stick to these oils you can boost your omega-3 to omega-6 ratio.
What else is important to consider while using cooking oils?
Use the right oil for the right purpose.
We use cooking oils for different purposes – sauteing, deep frying, dressing, dips, and seasoning a dish. In order to use the right oil for the right purpose, we need to know the smoke point of an oil, which is the temperature at which it begins to smoke, after which it produces free radicals and toxic fumes. Let us see the smoking points of some of the common cooking oils.
The best temperature to deep fry is between 176-190°C (350 – 375°F), so the best frying oils will have a smoke point that’s higher than 176°C/350°F so that they will not smoke the longer they’re in use.
Refined oils usually have higher smoke points. Refining removes impurities and free fatty acids that can cause the oil to smoke, hence refined oils have a higher smoke point. The smoke point also depends on the type of fat. Oils high in polyunsaturated fats, such as sunflower, flaxseed, or safflower, have a lower smoke point.
Some of the oils with high smoke point are:
Coconut oil has a smoking point of 175-196°C(350-385°F), so it could deteriorate fast at higher temperatures. So the temperature would have to be kept constant at around 176°C/350°F while cooking so that it does not deteriorate. The same applies to extra virgin olive oil whose smoke point is 163-210°C (325-410°F)
Corn oil has a smoking point of 210 -230°C (410-450°F), which makes it perfect for frying.
Peanut oil smokes between 227-230°C (440-450°F), which again makes it good for frying, but it should be noted that peanut oil is high in omega-6 which makes it inflammatory.
Canola oil has a smoke point of 204-230°C (400-450°F), which makes it great for frying.
Soyabean oil has a smoke point of 230-257°C (450-495°F)
Avocado oil has an incredible smoke point of 271-299°C (520-570°F)
Plant oils like sunflower, safflower and grapeseed are all good options for frying.
Light-coloured olive oil, Sunflower oil, Avocado oil, Hazel nut oil, and Almond oil have a high smoke point which makes them good for food that is seared and fried.
The oils with a medium smoke point, which can be used for baking and stir-frying are Canola oil, Grapeseed oil, Virgin olive oil, and Groundnut oil
For light sauteing, you can use oils that are versatile such as Sesame oil, olive oil, avocado oil, and Pumpkin seed oil
Oils like flaxseed, wheat germ, and walnut are best used in salads, dressings, and dips, without any heat at all.
While deciding which oils to use for cooking, it helps to consider the heat level that each dish requires.
When you know the smoke point of different oils, it helps you to make informed decisions about your cooking and eating choices. So choose high smoke point oils for frying and other high-heat cooking methods, while oils with low smoke point are best for salad dressings, and low-heat cooking. Low smoke point oils can also be used as a finishing oil on completed dishes.
Therefore, even though we cannot single out a particular oil as the healthiest cooking oil, we can choose the right cooking oil by understanding the differences between the options and this will be a significant step towards a healthier diet.