You’ve probably heard that you should fry with grapeseed oil and sauté with olive oil because they have the highest smoke points, right? Well although those smoke points are correct, this has nothing to do with the actual safety of cooking with these oils. You see, heating unsaturated fats like olive, canola and grapeseed damages their omega fatty acids by changing their molecular structure to a point where they become bad for our health.
Smoke point of various oils:
- Ghee, 485F
- Canola, 425F
- Grapeseed, 425F
- Coconut, 350F
- Butter, 350F
- Olive, 325F
- Flax, 225F
For those who have been following my story, I have gone back to school to study holistic nutrition at the Institute for Holistic Nutrition. After finishing my biochemistry final yesterday, our biochem professor gave us a lecture on cooking oils. Here is what we learned.
Choose saturated fats for cooking, not unsaturated:
In order to understand which fats or oils to cook with, you need to look at their molecular structure and whether or not they contain double bonds. I will spare you from this biochemistry and give you the answer.
Saturated fats contain no double bonds so are not sensitive to heat, light or oxygen and are less likely to create free radicals when heated. Thus, coconut oil and butter are the best fats to cook with. This said, you should still not be frying with them because that is just wrong from a health perspective. I’m saying that they are the most resistant to the heat needed to cook food. Fried food is not food, period!
Unsaturated fats (vegetable oils) are very sensitive to heat, light and oxygen so heating them up will change their molecular structure and thus turn them into free radicals which damage our cells. Monounsaturated fats like olive oil only contain one double bond so are a little more resistant to heat than polyunsaturated fats like canola, grapeseed and sesame, but they should still be avoided for cooking. They should only be used to top a dish afterwards or create a vinaigrette.
What about social situations?
Does this mean you will die if you eat a meal cooked with olive oil at your friend’s house or a restaurant? No. But I am saying that you want to limit free radical damage to your body which leads to degenerative disease and cancer over time, so lessening your exposure to them is a good idea.
What if I’m lactose intolerant or vegan?
You can also cook with ghee which is clarified butter and has had all the milk products removed. I believe this is ok for lactose intolerant people. As for vegans or strict vegetarians, it looks like coconut oil is the only option. I’ve heard it’s great for Asian dishes but you can still use it for Mediterranean type dishes with onions and garlic.
But isn’t butter bad for you and what if I have high cholesterol?
Cooking with an oil that is not meant to be heated is worse and potentially carcinogenic (causes cancer) because of the free radical damage it will do to your body. You need a fat that can withstand heat and not change chemically when it is heated.
As for cholesterol, contrary to popular belief, there is no evidence that high cholesterol is caused by diet, it is caused by free radical damage to the cells in the body so cooking with butter will not raise it. That said, you should still not be eating foods like red meat and pork, but not because of the cholesterol they contain, because they are hard on the body and generally contain a lot of toxins and preservatives.