Need an Oil Change in the Kitchen?

June 16, 2015 in Cooking & Baking Hints, Health, Nutrition by Joyce Bunderson

Choosing the oil that you generally cook with is an important contribution to your diet and health. In this post, I share some principles about evaluating, and if desirable, changing your cooking oil. The top four vegetable cooking oils consumed in the United States are soybean, canola, palm, and corn oil. These oils are referred to as refined, bleached, deodorized oils (RBD). These words tell what processing they have undergone.

Here’s how the soybean, canola, palm or corn are processed. Plant material is crushed; the oil is extracted from the crushed material with a low-boiling solvent. You can read more details in Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health’s, The Nutrition Source. Guy Crosby Ph.D. wrote about the questions that are coming up about the use of a solvent (hexane) in the processing of canola oil and the safety of the resulting product. The following are a few of the oil facts included in his article.

  • Canola oil is very low in saturated fat (7%); like olive oil it is high in monounsaturated fat (63%). It has about 9 to 11 percent omega-3; which is great. Unfortunately, the bleaching process decreases the amount of omega-3 fatty acids by about 20%. In addition, it has about 0.9% phytosterols that reduce the absorption of cholesterol into the body. Canola oil has about four times more phytosterols than olive oil. Canola oil has about 0.8ppm of trans fat created during the deodorizing process. Oil is deodorized to deliver the bland tasting oil that most consumers want. In addition, canola oil that is being used for 7 hours per day to fry French fries (365 degrees F) increases the trans-fat from 2.4% to 3.3%. When you read zero grams of trans-fat per serving, it gets under the FDA bar of 0.5 grams in 14 grams of oil.
  • If you want to avoid the RBD oils, you may consider virgin and extra virgin olive oils. We know that they are healthy alternatives. No solvents or deodorizing chemicals are used; thus the taste and smell of virgin and extra virgin olive oil. Virgin and extra virgin olive oil are pressed by physical pressure (cold pressed). America’s Test Kitchen found that extra virgin olive oil heated to 350 degrees F for ten minutes had an odor virtually indistinguishable from heated soybean oil. The volatile grassy flavors of extra virgin olive oil had been driven off.

Many, many years ago, before I began to write as Dr. Grandma, I decided to switch my regular vegetable oil from canola oil to extra virgin olive oil, based upon epidemiological research studies. I have continued to use extra virgin olive oil for making sauces, many of which have herbs and spices that make it virtually impossible to taste the mild flavored olive oil I use. I hardly ever make dishes that are heated past the smoke point of extra virgin olive oil (325-375 degrees F); but if I do I use canola oil (400 degrees F) instead, which has a higher smoke point.

I believe that the most important bottom line in choosing your go-to cooking oil lies in the answer to this question: does it have too much saturated fat? All oil has some saturated fat; but you would be using a good policy to use sparingly or infrequently the oils that have more than 3 grams of saturated fat per tablespoon. A list of oils with too much saturated fat for every day use includes: cottonseed oil, vegetable shortening, chicken fat, lard (pork fat), beef tallow, palm oil, butter, cocoa butter, and palm kernel oil. Coconut oil tops the saturated fat list (11.8 grams). Predictably, after having lost ground for years, coconut oil is coming back, advertized as healthy oil because; after all, it comes from a natural nut on a tree, and is great for deep-frying, (ignoring the saturated fat).

Choosing your cooking oil wisely is a great first step in trying to keep the saturated fat down in your diet. Next you may want to move your saturated fat reduction target toward less cheese, minimizing processed and red meat, full fat dairy, ice cream and French fries. But that is another story for another day.