I came across an article the other day that said leading scientists now recommend frying food in butter or lard instead of using vegetable oils for cooking. The reason they gave was cooking with vegetable oil releases toxic chemicals that are linked to cancer and other diseases. Stories like these are often confusing because the facts are outweighed by sensational claims.
It’s easy to forget fat is an essential part of our diet. Fat helps the body absorb vitamins A, D, E and K, and some antioxidants. The Ministry of Health recommends we get around 30% of our daily calories from fat. However, not all fats are the same and some are better for us than others.
Vegetable oils like canola and olive oil are high in unsaturated fats or ‘good fats’. Unsaturated fats protect against heart disease and play an important role in the brain. They are found naturally in lean red meat, avocados, nuts, and fatty fish like salmon.
When it comes to saturated fat it is recommended we limit the amount included in our diet each day. This is because saturated fat is known to increase total cholesterol by increasing ‘bad’ cholesterol and is linked to an increased risk of heart disease. This is the type of fat found in butter and coconut oil.
There’s no denying unsaturated fats are an important part of a balanced diet and replacing saturated fat with unsaturated fat has proven benefits for our heart health. For example, you could replace butter with canola oil when sautéing onion and this small change will help lower saturated fat intake resulting in a positive impact on blood cholesterol levels.
However, it is true unsaturated fats are less stable than saturated fats. The antioxidants found in vegetable oils are easily damaged and the structure of the oil can break down at high temperatures. The article I read that mentions toxic chemicals being released from vegetable oils was referring to this process.
So, how do you choose a healthy oil?
Firstly, always buy oil that comes in a dark bottle, rather than a clear bottle, and store in a cool, dark place in the pantry. Secondly, try to limit the total amount of oil you use. Instead of frying you can prepare food using healthier methods like grilling or baking, or by using a non-stick pan.
And finally, you should always use oil that is best suited to the temperature you’re cooking at and never heat oil to the point where it is smoking. For high temperature cooking, like stir-frying or searing, a small amount of coconut oil for flavour shouldn’t be a problem for most people. However, there are heart-healthy vegetable oils that you can use instead, such as peanut, soybean, rice bran oil, and avocado oil. Canola oil is very versatile with a variety of uses.
With summer upon us fresh salads are perfect for the warmer weather. Olive oil is best used for homemade salad dressings and the latest edition of mEAT Magazine (Issue 16)
has a delicious avocado dressing that fits the bill which you can check out here