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  • Writer's pictureIrene

Let's Settle The Big, Fat Debate


Of all the foods out there, nothing elicits more controversy and debate than cooking oil and

fats. I am hoping that I can put the record straight and get some clarity around this slippery

subject.


Which oil is best? There is no one-size-fits-all answer to this question as the best oil to cook

with can depend on a variety of factors, including cooking method, the temperature and

personal preferences. Some oils are more heat-stable than others, meaning they can

withstand high temperatures without breaking down and producing harmful compounds.


Coconut oil: This oil is high in saturated fats and is particularly well-suited for high-

heat cooking methods like frying.


Ghee or clarified butter: These are forms of butter where the milk solids have been

removed, making them more heat stable as the remaining oil is mainly saturated fat.

Saturated fats, because of their chemical structure, are less likely to be broken down

by light or heat, making them the more suitable for cooking, but not necessarily

healthier. Lard and dripping also belong to this group of saturated fats.


Avocado oil: This oil is high in monounsaturated fats and has a high smoke point,

making it a good choice for high-heat cooking.


Olive oil: This oil is high in monounsaturated fats and has a lower smoke point than

previous oils mentioned. It is best used for low to medium heat cooking, as well as a

finishing oil for dishes, and cold applications such as dressings and dips.


Monounsaturated fats, because of their structure, having one (mono) double bond

holding the molecule together, means that it is possible, at very high temperatures

or aggressive processing, to break it down, but it is not easily done.

Other oils, such as rapeseed oil, sunflower oil, vegetables oil, flaxseed oil or hemp oil are not

heat-stable and can produce harmful compounds when exposed to high temperatures and

UV light. They are high in polyunsaturated fatty acids, meaning that they have several (poly)

double bonds that hold this molecule together and the more bonds, the easier it is to break

it down. This means that these oils are most unsuitable for cooking.


Another way to imagine these structures is to compare saturated fat with one piece of Lego.

Monounsaturated fat is made up of two pieces of Lego (with one bond). Polyunsaturated fat

is made up of several pieces of Lego, with several bonds. Which structure is most likely to be

broken down with the least amount of effort? Answer = polyunsaturated; because of the

multiple bonds keeping it together it is the easiest one to take apart. It is in the taking apart

of these molecules of fat that dangerous and harmful compounds are created.


It is also important to consider the quality of the oil when cooking. Look for oils that are

minimally processed, cold-pressed, non-GMO and organic when possible. Additionally, be

mindful of how much oil you are using in your cooking and use alternative cooking methods,

without frying, for most of your meals.


Polyunsaturated fatty acids, while not suitable for cooking, are crucial to our health. Omega

3 and Omega 6 belong to this group. They are referred to as “essential” fatty acids not just

because of their significance but because the body cannot make these types of fat and rely

entirely on the diet to provide them.


Omega-3 fatty acids, such as EPA and DHA are typically found in fatty wild-caught fish, such

as salmon, sardines, mackerel. These fatty acids are known for their anti-inflammatory

properties, which are beneficial to the heart, joints and brain. ALA is another type of

Omega-3 found in plant sources like walnuts, chia seed and flaxseed. Plant-based Omega-3

is not as useful as the fishy type because the body must convert ALA to EPA and DHA, and

that is not always successful. However, if you prefer to consume plant-based omega-3 have

the walnuts and seeds regularly and top up with an algae-based EPA/DHA supplement.


On the other hand, omega-6 fatty acids, such as linoleic acid (LA), are commonly found in

vegetable oils, nuts and seeds (and their oils). While they are also “essential” for health,

they can have a pro-inflammatory effect when consumed in excess. The problem nowadays

is that these refined oils are used in most cooking, food processing and mass food

manufacturing. Research suggests that human beings evolved on a diet with a ratio of

omega-6 to omega-3 of 1. Meaning, back in the day, we used to consume equal measures of

omega 6 and omega 3. Nowadays, the typical Western diet the ratio is between 15:1 and

20:1, in favour of omega 6. This change in composition of fatty acids parallels a significant

increase in the prevalence of obesity, chronic inflammation and metabolic disorders such as

Type 2 diabetes, Cardiovascular disease, Cancer and Alzheimer’s Disease.


Many studies indicate that maintaining the ratio between 4:1 and 1:1 is one of the most

important dietary factors in the prevention of obesity. Many studies indicate that

maintaining this ratio is also one of the most important factors in the prevention of chronic

inflammatory disease, as mentioned above. Despite all the studies, knowledge and

evidence the public are perpetually encouraged to consume omega-6 seed oils such as

rapeseed oil, sunflower seed oils and vegetables oils in processed foods, refined cooking

oils, breads, cereals, confectionary and countless other junk foods.


Here’s the short version - when it comes to oils, use saturated or monounsaturated fats for

cooking. Correct the ratio between omega 6 and omega 3 in your diet. Reduce omega 6

intake by avoiding all refined seed oils and limit ultra-processed foods. At the same time,

increase omega 3 foods in the diet or supplement if needs be to get the balance right.

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