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Understanding Cooking Oils

How to determine the best cooking oil for you!

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Olive oil

The annual oil purchase!

It’s that time of the year!

I’ve reached the point where my litre bottle of extra-virgin olive oil is empty and I need to buy some more.

It’s very rare I buy oil and, by now, at the ripe age of 28, I think it’s about time I actually understood what I’m scrambling my eggs in and drizzling on my salads!

So here it goes… my research into oils…

Is oil healthy?

These questions come up time and time again…

Is “x” healthy?

Should I “y”?

What’s the best “z”?

Generally, these are not the right questions because everyone has different needs.

If you enjoy a Mediterranean diet, you don’t overdo it on the oil and you want to add fat to your macros, then olive oil may be a good option for you.

However, if you’re allergic to olives or you drench your Cesar salad so that your anchovies look like they’ve been caught up in Deepwater Horizon, then olive oil may not be such a good option!

Personally, I like to take a common-sense approach…

If it’s made naturally, it’s nutritious and it doesn’t make me spontaneously combust, I eat it; otherwise, I don’t (within reason, we all have our flaws).

To apply my common-sense approach, we need to find out how oil is made…

How is extra-virgin oil made?

Extra-virgin oil is an unrefined oil. “Unrefined” means that it has not been “processed” to remove impurities or unwanted elements – more on this later.

Unrefined oil is the purest form of oil, made literally by squeezing it out of cold fruits and vegetables, rather than separating it using heat or chemicals – it’s basically fruit juice!

You often find unrefined oils labelled as “unrefined,” “pure,” “extra-virgin,” or “cold-pressed.”

For true extra-virgin status, there are other standards that oils must comply with, like free fatty acid percentages, oleic acid levels and peroxide levels, but this is less of an issue for me.

If it’s squeezed directly from a fruit, I’m happy that I can benefit from all of its natural goodness!

How is refined oil made?

The definition of “refined” is to remove impurities or unwanted elements by processing. In other words, “to purify through processing.”

The trouble is, “purify” and “processing” are very abstract terms. They can include treating with heat, acid or alkali, or bleaching, neutralising, filtering, deodorising or hydrogenating.

If there is one thing you take from this article, please let it be this…

Avoid trans fats and partially hydrogenated oils!!!

Trans fats and partially hydrogenated oils (margarine, fried foods, baked goods, processed snacks, etc.) are made by forcing hydrogen gas into oil which converts it into a solid fat. The more solid the oil, the more hydrogenated it is; for example, margarine or lard.

When oil is hydrogenated, a new type of fat is produced – trans fat.

Trans fats are so bad that they are no longer considered safe! They have been officially banned in most countries because, amongst other factors, they raise low-density lipoprotein (“bad” cholesterol) which contributes to the build-up of fatty plaque in arteries, significantly increasing risks of heart disease, heart attack, strokes and diabetes.

Even the USA have ruled trans fats as unsafe, banning hydrogenated oils in products since 18 June 2018!

Forcing hydrogen into oils is just one form of refinery, there are many others.

To give you another example of how refined oil is produced, let’s take a look at how canola oil is made (my simplified version):

  1. Obtain seeds – Now, canola seeds don’t exist, so a variety of rapeseed is used that is probably genetically modified and heavily treated with pesticides.
  2. Rapidly heat the rapeseed to unnaturally high temperatures for 15-20 minutes, oxidizing them and making them rancid.
  3. Press the cooked seed flakes to extract some of the oil.
  4. Extract more oil from the seed flakes by mixing with a petroleum-derived chemical, hexane.
  5. Heat some more for 50-90 minutes and add some acid to remove any solids that formed during the first round of processing.
  6. Filter the oil through clay and bleach with more chemicals to remove any unattractive colour.
  7. Steam distil the oil to remove any nasty smells and tastes generated from the chemical processing.

And, of course, you can always hydrogenate it until it becomes solid!

It doesn’t matter to me whether manufacturers argue that this is safe, it’s clearly not natural.

Let’s just compare it to how cocaine is made (again, my simplified version):

  1. Obtain coca leaves – Probably more natural than canola seeds.
  2. Dry and finely ground the coca leaves.
  3. Extract cocaine from the leaves by mixing with a petroleum-derived chemical, kerosene.
  4. Filter the mixture and add some acid to separate the cocaine from any unwanted chemicals.
  5. Sypher the cocaine from the chemicals.
  6. Heat the liquid to get cocaine paste.
  7. Remove the excess solvents either by hand and/or by pressing, then cook in a microwave to obtain a dry powder.

I make this comparison in jest, but the point I am trying to make is that both refined cooking oils and cocaine are produced in unnatural ways with chemicals that harm our bodies!

Go back and compare them again – the processes aren’t that different, and I’m sure people are willing to argue which causes the most social, environmental, economic and health related issues.

In summary, refined oils are not natural, their nutritional content has been exterminated by chemical processes and they may even cause me to spontaneously combust, so I don’t eat them!

What’s the best cooking oil for me?

As always with nutrition, the message is…

If it makes you happy, fits into your beliefs and helps you to achieve your goals, then eat it.

In order to really make good choices, make sure you know what’s in your food, where it came from, and don’t overdo it!

It’s really that simple!

The question is never…

Is “x” healthy?

Should I “y”?

What’s the best “z”?

It’s more… Does “x, y, z” suit me?

Refined oils and extra-virgin oils are only different by the way they are produced.

I personally don’t like consuming anything that goes through more toxic baths than something created by Dr. Neo Cortex from the Crash Bandicoot series… Anyone remember that guy?!

It’s up to you what decision you make, just ensure it’s an informed one!

If you don’t know how something is produced, just ask and don’t acquiesce to the first answer you get, most businesses (restaurants, food producers, drug companies, etc.) will put their bottom line ahead your health!

It’s unfortunate but it’s true.

So be safe and make good decisions!

Now, let me get back to my shopping list… Shaun.

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