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If you’ve ever gone to the grocery store in search of a healthy cooking oil, the array of choices can be totally overwhelming.
The last time I went to Whole Foods, I counted at least twenty different options!
There are oils made from walnuts, sesame seeds, grape seeds, soy, peanuts, coconuts…the list goes on.
And with so much conflicting information out there, it can be really hard (not to mention time consuming) to figure out which oils are actually healthy, and what you should use each one for.
So we took the time to do the research for you, and filter through the results to get to the actual facts.
We narrowed that big list down to our top three healthy culinary oils:
- Olive oil
- Coconut oil
- Avocado oil
We’ll go over each of these three oils, and tell you why we love them, when and how you should use them, and what to avoid.
But first, let’s get you up to speed on the facts about fats, and debunk some old myths so you can feel confident picking the right healthy oils for your diet.
Why Fats and Oils Get So Much Bad Press
If you’re over the age of 25, there is a good chance someone has suggested you go on a low-fat diet at some point in your life.
There’s an even better chance that you’ve watched your mom, aunt, sister or grandmother try to cut out fat in their efforts to lose weight.
- Nonfat milk
- Nonfat yogurt
- Egg whites
Studies dating from the late 1940’s showed a correlation between a high-fat diet and cardiovascular disease, and suggested a low-fat diet might prevent high-risk patients from developing heart disease.
By the 1960’s, that idea had evolved, and a low-fat diet was touted as beneficial for everyone, regardless of your heart disease risk factors.
And then in the 1980’s, researchers say “the low-fat approach became an overarching ideology, promoted by physicians, the federal government, the food industry, and the popular health media” (1).
Unfortunately for most of us, this really wasn’t sound health advice, since there was no clear evidence that a low-fat diet would lower your cardiovascular risk, or even help you lose weight.
In fact, Americans actually grew fatter during the low-fat diet craze! (1)
That’s because dietary fat is actually necessary for weight loss and hormone balance, and cutting it out completely will absolutely contribute to weight gain.
Not to mention, cutting fat out of foods changes the taste–so carbs, sugars and other processed and artificial ingredients were added to make up for the flavor lost by removing fat.
Having a moderate amount of fat in your diet also helps you feel satiated longer, so eating a fat-free diet easily translates to feeling hungrier and eating more food than you normally would.
If you remember your high school science class, you know that correlation doesn’t always mean causation—and that’s definitely the case here.
Scientists now understand that you need a healthy amount of fat in your diet to feel full, lose weight, produce hormones, maintain a healthy immune system, and more important health functions.
In fact, not eating enough dietary fat and cholesterol will absolutely lead to hormonal imbalance, which is directly related to weight gain, fatigue, high blood pressure, and more serious health problems that don’t resolve even with a low-calorie diet and exercise. (2)
What They Got Right: Trans Fats
The exceptions here are trans fats, which have been scientifically proven to:
- increase your risk of heart disease,
- raise your bad cholesterol,
- and cause weight gain—especially in the abdomen.
Most trans fats come from highly processed hydrogenated and partially hydrogenated oils, which are usually made from canola, vegetable, and palm oils.
Small amount of trans fats can be found in animal foods like chicken skin and butter, but it would be very difficult to eat enough of those foods for the trace amounts of trans fats to be a problem.
The real culprits are greasy, fried fast foods and processed baked goods–like fries and Little Debbie cakes.
That’s because hydrogenated and partially hydrogenated oils were designed as frying oil that can be filtered and reused over and over again without breaking down (yuck!), as well as to increase shelf life of packaged foods (also yuck!).
But aside from those foods, which you already know are terrible for you…
One of the biggest culprits that is usually hiding somewhere in your pantry, especially if you have kids, is peanut butter.
If you buy one of the “natural” kinds, especially the weird kind that separates on you, with the oil at the top–you’re probably fine. But most of the regular kinds contain hydrogenated or partially-hydrogenated oil.
If you’re trying to be healthy, you’re probably staying away from fried and processed foods anyway, especially if you’re also trying to lose weight!
However, even foods that say “fat-free” or “trans fat-free” can still have trans fats, as long as they have less than 0.5 grams of trans fat per serving.
To be sure you’re not getting hidden trans fat in your diet, simply check ingredients lists for hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils. Problem solved! (3)
Not All Oils are Created Equal
When you go shopping for culinary oils, pay attention to how the oil was processed.
The healthiest processing method is cold pressing oils. This extraction method doesn’t affect the integrity of the oil, and leaves all of the minerals and nutrients intact.
Once an oil has been heat-processed, it starts to break down.
Processing actually pushes oils past their heat tolerance, so you can use them to cook at a higher heat, but this also makes them rancid.
It also removes much of the flavor of the oil, and breaks down important proteins and nutrients—even turning antioxidant properties into toxic free radicals.
Even if you choose a minimally processed oil, you should be careful not to heat it past the smoke point, or it will have the same effect on the oil’s health properties. (4)
Additionally, research has shown that overheating or heat-processing polyunsaturated fat (the healthiest kind of fat) will break the healthy fat down into trans fats–which, as we already mentioned, actually contribute to weight gain and poor health! (2)
Our Top Three Culinary Oils
1. Extra Virgin Olive Oil – The Old Standby
Why We Love It:
This tasty oil loved by so many is full of heart-healthy monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids.
It has been shown to raise your good cholesterol and lower your bad cholesterol, reducing your risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke.
What it is Best For:
Extra virgin olive oil has a relatively low smoke point of just 375°F, so it is best for low and medium heat cooking, such as sautéing and baking.
It also makes a fantastic salad dressing, and can even be enjoyed in coffee or drizzled on foods for extra flavor or as a healthy butter substitute.
What to Avoid:
Make sure you purchase extra virgin olive oil (EVOO), as virgin or pure olive oils have been heat processed, and will not have the same health benefits as EVOO.
Don’t use olive oil in high heat cooking situations, such as grilling or frying.
Finally, check the label before you buy your oil to see where it came from. Recently, researchers discovered a surprising amount of olive oil in the market is fake!
Sellers were marketing and labeling their oil as extra virgin olive oil, when in fact it was processed olive oil, or even peanut, soybean, or other cheaper oils.
To make sure you’re getting what you actually want, look for brands like this one from California, and avoid oil from places like Spain, where a large number of the adulterated oils have come from.
2. Coconut Oil – The Misunderstood Superfood
Why We Love It:
Coconut oil is high in saturated fats, which got a really bad reputation thanks to some old studies which have since been deemed inconclusive regarding saturated fats in general.
Those studies were meant to observe the effects of a diet high in saturated fats, but in reality they studied diets high in common sources of saturated fats–foods like red meat, butter, and full-fat dairy products.
Those foods also contain high amounts of cholesterol, and often go hand-in-hand with a high calorie, high sodium diet—so this is certainly not conclusive for all sources of saturated fats.
Coconut oil is about 90% saturated fat, but unlike butter and red meat, it doesn’t contain cholesterol.
While coconut oil has been shown to raise your LDL or bad cholesterol levels, it also raises your HDL or good cholesterol levels—and having a healthy balance of both LDL and HDL is what is most important for your cardiovascular health.
Studies have shown that coconut oil is actually great for your cardiovascular health, and certain cultures that have diets rich in coconut and coconut oil actually have little to no heart disease.
What it is Best For:
While refined coconut oil has a fairly high smoke point of 400°F, you’ll want to avoid this processed version and opt for virgin or unrefined coconut oil—which unfortunately has a much lower smoke point of just 350°F.
This makes it great for low to medium heat cooking, but not so good for frying.
Coconut oil is a fantastic option for baking, especially as a substitution for butter.
Use 25% less coconut oil than butter when subbing this oil in your baking recipes, and you’ll have a slightly lighter, and much healthier baked treat that still has lots of richness and flavor.
You can also blend it into your coffee for a “bulletproof” twist to your morning routine.
This is a great, dairy-free way to add richness to your morning cup, while keeping hunger at bay, and is a really helpful tip if you’re trying intermittent fasting for weight loss.
What to Avoid:
Make sure not to overheat your coconut oil, and store it in a cool, dark place.
Despite what a lot of fad diet trends might suggest, it is not a good idea to slather coconut oil on everything you eat.
Even though it has a lot of great health benefits, it’s still a very high-calorie food, and should be consumed in moderation.
3. Avocado Oil – The New Kid on the Block
Why we Love it:
These similarities make sense considering avocados and olives are both high-fat tree fruits.
As an added bonus, avocado oil is a good source of lutein, which is necessary for eye health.
Many veggies are also high in lutein and other carotenoids, but your body requires fat in order to process these antioxidants—so make sure to add avocado oil to your veggies and salads for an eye-opening treat!
What it is Best For:
If you’re looking for the healthy oil that can do it all, this is it!
Unlike EVOO and coconut oils, unrefined avocado oil has a naturally high smoke point of 482°F.
This makes it a fantastic (and tasty!) choice for grilling, frying and other high-heat cooking methods.
You don’t have to stop there, though—avocado oil is delicious on salads, as a drizzling or dipping oil, and as a lower heat cooking oil as well.
What to Avoid:
Avocado oil can be a bit pricier than olive oil or other cooking oils, but don’t just go for the cheapest version without doing your research.
Make sure to avoid the refined versions, which as we’ve mentioned, can actually be harmful and can cause weight gain.
Despite the higher price point, avocado oil has so many health benefits (especially in comparison to other high-heat cooking oils), that it’s totally worth the investment!
Ready to Take Control of Your Health?
Swapping out your old cooking oils for a healthy version is a great first step; but if you really want to get healthy and lose weight, you need to take your whole diet into consideration.
And if you’re like many of our readers, you have probably tried more diets, pills, fixes, workout plans, and “magic solutions” than you can count.
And yet, those stubborn pounds are STILL hanging on for dear life!
We created our 21 Day Fat Loss Challenge for people exactly like you—people who feel like they’ve tried everything under the sun, but just can’t shed the weight or keep it off.
Our challenge provides a step-by-step plan to help you lose up to 21 lbs in just 21 days, with far less effort than you may think!
Tons of our clients have turned it into a lifestyle diet and have lost as much as over 100 pounds with the challenge!
The best part? Besides just losing weight, the 21 Day Fat Loss Challenge was designed to heal your gut, rebalance your hormones, and retrain your tastebuds—so you’ll actually be able to keep the weight off!
And in case you were wondering, NO—you don’t have to cut out fats or count calories on the Challenge!
If you’re ready to make some changes in your life, this is the ONLY place you should start. We’ll teach you exactly how to make the necessary changes in your diet and lifestyle, and how to keep them “beyond the diet.”
Leave a comment below if you enjoyed this article on healthy oils, or if you have any questions!