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How to Pick the Best Oil

Oil may not be something that you spend much time thinking about- it is something you probably use daily, but is often taken for granted. You know how to pick a good tomato from a bad tomato, but is there such a thing as bad oils? How does one go about picking the right oil for their lifestyle and goals? These questions can be difficult to answer, so if you don't know the difference between oils, don't worry you've come to the right place. We are breaking down what oils are best for cooking and eating and which ones can help you reach your health goals and exploring the science to explain why.

OIL BASICS//

Oil is a fat that is (mostly) liquid at room temperature. Oil is often defined by the source it comes from: olive oil from olives, avocado oil from avocados, sunflower oil from sunflower seeds, etc. Oils can also be defined by their processing, for example unrefined oils are less processed than refined oils. Unrefined oils are filtered to remove large particles and some unrefined oils like olive oil may appear cloudy or have some sediment in them after sitting. Unrefined oils have a stronger flavor and color than their refined counterparts. They are often more nutritious but have a shorter storage life. Unrefined oils may be best for salad dressings or low heat cooking as they may burn easier than refined oils. Refined oils are more processed, and may even be heated to help remove the color and flavor of the oil. Refinement reduces nutrients but makes oils more shelf stable and more resistant to smoking. Refined oils are often used for high heat cooking or deep frying, and may be labeled as “high oleic,” meaning there is a high monounsaturated fat content. 

Oils may also be defined by their smoke point. An oil’s smoke point is important because oils will degrade once they begin to smoke. Smoke points can range between 325 ° F to 502 ° F.  When oils reach their smoke point and begin to degrade, they release chemicals that can make your food taste bad (burnt and bitter). They also release free radicals (those pesky things that cause oxidation) that can harm your body. Oils can also oxidize over time, so it is important that you make sure your oil smells good before using it. If it has gone bad, it will have a distinct smell and you should get rid of it. The American Heart Association recommends buying oils in smaller quantities to avoid rancid oils and to reduce waste. They also recommend against reusing and reheating cooking oils. 

OIL AND INFLAMMATION//

The ratio of fatty acids (monounsaturated, polyunsaturates, and saturated) in oils helps to determine if the oil is healthy or inflammatory. Healthy oils have higher amounts of unsaturated fatty acids and low quantities of saturated fatty acids. Unsaturated fats (monounsaturated and polyunsaturated) can help to lower bad cholesterol and raise good cholesterol. However, not all polyunsaturated fats are great for your health. This is where things get a bit tricky. Polyunsaturated fats contain two kinds of essential fatty acids: omega 3s and omega 6s. Omega 3s are known for their anti inflammatory properties, which is good. Omega 3 rich oils include fish oils, flaxseed oils, and walnut oils. Omega 6 on the other hand can be inflammatory, especially when the ratio of omega 3 to omega 6 gets out of hand (way more omega 6 in your body than omega 3). Oils high in omega 6 include corn oil, safflower oil, sunflower oil, soybean oil, and vegetable oils. Avoiding these oils may help to reduce inflammation. Also, oils high in saturated fats are often deemed less healthy because saturated fats may be linked to unhealthy cholesterol levels and heart disease. This is why coconut oil (a plant oil derived from coconut which is high in saturated fat) is such a debated oil.

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PICKING OILS//

So, you can see how picking “the best” oil may be complex. Picking the right oil for you comes down to two main factors: your health goals and the way you use oil. If you mostly use oil for salad dressing and light sautéing (nothing too hot) and want to limit inflammation, you may want to consider trying out extra virgin unrefined olive oil. If you cook at higher temperatures and want something more mild in flavor, avocado oil may be for you. Peanut oil and sesame oil are also good at high heat, but may have a bit of a nutty and strong flavor. In general, to limit inflammation consider swapping out vegetable oils for avocado oil or peanut oil, and maybe go easy on sunflower oil (which is high in omega- 6s although also high in the antioxidant rich vitamin E) (cite).

We love to make salad dressings for chocho salads with unrefined olive oil and when we cook, we love to use avocado oil because of its high smoke point and mild flavor.

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