If you love to cook, you’ve no doubt wondered what the right cooking oil is best for the cooking job you have in mind. Some health-conscious cooks might even be wondering if they should use oil at all. There’s been much negative press attached to saturated fats, which are solid at room temperature. Saturated fats (like butter and fatback) have been shown to increase the body’s LDL (low density lipoprotein), which may predispose people to atherosclerosis, heart disease and Type 2 Diabetes. Given the focus on healthy eating, these oils are quickly being replaced by mono and polyunsaturated fats.
The Role of Fat in the Body
Our bodies require a certain amount of fat. Our body fat keeps us warm, protects organs, and stores vital nutrients. Fat-soluble Vitamins (like A and D) necessitate our including oils in our diet. According to the USDA’s Food Guide,about 30% of our caloric intake should come from healthy fats. Organic oils can play a part in a healthy diet.
Why Use Unsaturated Fats?
Monounsaturated fats (like olive and avocado oils) are liquid at room temperature, and have been shown to raise the body’s HDL (High Density Lipoprotein) levels. Many also contain beneficial omega fatty acids, which can help to minimize the risk of heart disease. While saturated fats come from animal sources, unsaturated fats are derived from seeds and fruits. The one notable exception is coconut oil, which is a plant-based saturated fat getting a lot of attention lately for its heart-healthy properties.
Different Oils for Different Cooking Methods
With all of these choices, how do we choose the right organic oil for our cooking projects? It depends upon what cooking method you’re using. For example, for frying or oil poaching, it’s best to use a high-heat oil. This prevents the oil from burning and breaking down. Examples include sunflower, safflower, and peanut oils. If you prefer an oil that doesn’t impart its own flavor, grapeseed oil is a good choice.
For sauteeing and dipping, nothing beats organic extra-virgin olive oil. The best oils are not bitter and have a fresh, nutty flavor that is great for drizzling over vegetables and salads. Once opened, organic oils should be stored in a cool, dry place. They can all be refrigerated if desired.
If you’re saving that tub of Crisco for a rainy day, think twice. While Crisco vegetable shortening was reformulated to remove harmful trans fats in 2007, the company substituted hydrogenated palm oil (not sustainable) mixed with unsaturated oils in a process that raises triglyceride levels (not healthy). In addition, the soybean oil may be genetically modified, and the cottonseed oil is derived from the most intensively sprayed commodity crop around – cotton.
So why organic oils, you ask? For the same reasons that one would buy organic fruits and vegetables; most seeds and fruits have thin skins that allow for penetration of pesticide residues, which is just something that we don’t want in our food.
It all comes down to good health. After all, why take the time and trouble to buy and grow the freshest organic fruits and vegetables, only to prepare them using animal fat or rancid oils? It’s important to be as careful with our organic oils as we are with all of the other ingredients that comprise our health-conscious meal preparation.