Cover story:

This week Nedahl Ste­lio turns to the ex­perts to get the good oil on cook­ing oils

Sunday Tasmanian - Tassie Living - - COVER STORY -

Get­ting the good oil on oil re­mains a chal­lenge. Which oil re­ally is the best to cook with? Is co­conut oil good or bad? What to think when the pro­fes­sion­als and pun­dits are fre­quently di­vided?

Ev­ery­one, it seems, can agree on the supremacy of ex­tra vir­gin olive oil, but even its pris­tine im­age has re­cently taken a hit.A myth cur­rently do­ing the rounds has it that olive oil shouldn’t be heated be­yond a cer­tain tem­per­a­ture be­cause it has a low smoke point and that it should only be used cold as a dress­ing. A re­cent study, how­ever, pub­lished in Acta Sci­en­tific Nu­tri­tional

Health jour­nal, found that smoke points don’t necess­sar­ily in­di­cate which oils are health­i­est to cook with.

‘This study re­veals... smoke point does not pre­dict oil per­for­mance when heated,’ it states. ‘Of all the oils tested, ex­tra vir­gin olive oil was shown to be the oil that pro­duced the low­est level of po­lar com­pounds [harm­ful byprod­ucts] af­ter be­ing heated, closely fol­lowed by co­conut oil.’

This find­ing for con­tentious co­conut oil doesn’t sway ex­pert opin­ion on its value, or lack thereof, but more on that later. Ex­tra vir­gin olive oil, on the other hand, wins by any mea­sure.

“Ex­tra vir­gin olive oil has 70 per cent mo­noun­sat­u­rated fat, is low in polyun­sat­u­rated fats and is the best to eat and cook with,” says Dr Nick Fuller, a Univer­sity of Syd­ney re­search leader in the man­age­ment of obe­sity and au­thor of In­ter­val Weight Loss. “And it’s not sub­jected to high tem­per­a­tures dur­ing the ex­trac­tion process so has a higher level of an­tiox­i­dants.”

Av­o­cado oil is like­wise rich in mo­noun­sat­u­rated fat, but it doesn’t have the ben­e­fi­cial polyphe­nols (mi­cronu­tri­ents) that olive oil has. Veg­etable and seed oils, on the other hand, were found by the Acta study to de­grade more read­ily when heated.Are they not as healthy as we were led to be­lieve by the mar­garine ads of the ’80s?

“Both omega-3 and omega-6 are good for our health, but the mod­ern Western diet means we get too much omega-6 fats from sources like pro­cessed foods and the veg­etable oils [saf­flower, sun­flower and corn, for in­stance] of­ten used in the man­u­fac­ture of these foods, as well as take­away foods, which are of­ten cooked in veg­etable oils [typ­i­cally cot­ton­seed],” says Dr Fuller.

“Con­se­quently, the ra­tio of omega-6 to omega-3 in our diet is too high (and pro­motes in­flam­ma­tion) and we need to get more omega-3 in our diet and less omega-6. One way is to swap for an oil that’s higher in mo­noun­sat­u­rated ver­sus polyun­sat­u­rated fat and the two oils that are best with re­spect to this nu­tri­tional break­down are canola oil and olive oil.”

The in­flam­ma­tion as­so­ci­ated with high ra­tios of omega-6 fatty acids is thought to pro­mote dis­eases such as cancer and heart dis­ease.



Pa­leo ad­vo­cates and other pro­po­nents of co­conut oil cried foul when the Amer­i­can Heart As­so­ci­a­tion re­leased data show­ing co­conut is the high­est of all oils in sat­u­rated fat and so bad for your heart. But the Pa­leo crowd knew it was high in sat­u­rated fat. Their ar­gu­ment is that sat­u­rated fat doesn’t cause heart dis­ease.And they claim co­conut oil raises HDL, the good choles­terol, while low­er­ing LDL, the bad choles­terol.A few stud­ies sup­port this, but oth­ers have found it doesn’t raise HDL enough to can­cel out LDL.

Re­gard­less, the stance taken by most recog­nised au­thor­i­ties is firmly against too much sat­u­rated fat in the diet.

“Co­conut oil is 80 per cent sat­u­rated fat,” says Dr Fuller. “We have to go by cur­rent ev­i­dence. Higher sat­u­rated fat is as­so­ci­ated with clogged ar­ter­ies and in­creases risk of heart at­tack.” So even if co­conut oil doesn’t break down at high tem­per­a­tures, as the Acta study found, it’s to be treated with cau­tion.

Peter Clifton, Pro­fes­sor of Nutri­tion at the Univer­sity of South Aus­tralia, is in staunch agree­ment: “Co­conut oil is very sat­u­rated and puts up LDL choles­terol so in­creases the risk of heart dis­ease.There are no ben­e­fits.”


Dr Fuller is a fan of canola oil be­cause of its omega-3 con­tent. “We’re look­ing for a favourable bal­ance be­tween the mo­noun­sat­u­rated fats and the polyun­sat­u­rated fats and canola oil also ticks that box. For those who can’t af­ford olive oil, it’s a cheaper op­tion and doesn’t have much flavour so you can use it in all cook­ing.”

It gets a tick from Pro­fes­sor Clifton, too: “Canola is mostly mo­noun­sat­u­rated with about 10 per cent omega-3. It’s fine to cook with.”

Re­duc­ing your polyun­sat­u­rated fat in­take can be a chal­lenge if you buy pro­cessed food. Look at the ingredients list on the pack­ets and you’ll find ev­ery­thing from muesli, pop­corn and even sul­tanas and gluten-free prod­ucts to the more ob­vi­ous cakes and bis­cuits con­tain nut or seed oils.

Olive oil, on the other hand, par­tic­u­larly ex­tra vir­gin, re­mains the clear win­ner – it’s the one oil ev­ery ex­pert can agree on and ev­ery study finds the health­i­est. When it comes to co­conut oil, it’s prob­a­bly wis­est to go by the ev­i­dence and use it spar­ingly. Olive oil and canola oil are cheaper op­tions any­way.

Find olive oil recipes, like Matt Pre­ston’s olive oil bundt cakes, at de­li­

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