This week Nedahl Stelio turns to the experts to get the good oil on cooking oils
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.
“COCONUT OIL IS VERY SATURATED AND INCREASES THE RISK OF HEART DISEASE. THERE ARE NO BENEFITS.”
THE COCONUT OIL CONTROVERSY
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 delicious.com.au.