I'm about to answer one of the most controversial question dieters and health conscious individuals ask. And this is “what’s really the best type of oil to use in cooking?”
The abundant options together with commercial promotions of these oils make it difficult to make a wise choice. So before I answer the question what’s really the best type of oil to use, let me first give you a brief background on the different types of oil in the market.
There are 3 main types of dietary fat: Saturated, Monounsaturated, and Polyunsaturated.The main difference between these dietary fats is their bond structure.
SATURATED FATS has no double bonds. Each carbon atom has two hydrogen atoms attached to it hence making it “saturated” with hydrogen. This type of fat is generally solid at room temperature. Examples include animal fats like, butter, lard, and tropical vegetable oils like coconut and palm oil. Because coconut and palm oils are saturated fats, they are very heat stable oils. Which means when used for extremely high cooking temperature such as frying, they are not easily damaged and retain their quality. Unlike other saturated animal fats which are known to increase bad cholesterol, Coconut oil is high in medium chain triglyceride called LAURIC ACID that can decrease the ratio of total to HDL cholesterol. The ratio of total to HDL cholesterol is a more specific marker of coronary artery disease compared to LDL cholesterol.
UNSATURATED FATS are further subdivided into two categories.
MONOUNSATURATED FATS (MUFAs) have one carbon double bond. This means two hydrogen atoms are not present thus forcing the two carbon atoms with missing hydrogens create a bond with each other. This is what we call as point of unsaturation. MUFAs are known to decrease bad cholesterol and increase good cholesterol. Example of which are olive oil, peanut oil, avocado oil.
POLYUNSATURATED FATS have more than one double bond. Meaning more than two hydrogen atoms are missing hence creating multiple carbon to carbon double bonds. PUFAs are further subdivided into Omega-3 fats and Omega-6 fats. Examples of omega 3 rich fats are flax seeds and fish oil. Examples of Omega 6 fats are canola oil, safflower oil, soybean oil, sunflower oil. PUFAs are known to decrease both the bad and good cholesterol. That’s why they are very appealing to health conscious individuals. Even doctors and other practitioners in the medical field are recommending PUFAs for frequent use. The most commonly recommended PUFA oil is canola oil.
However, it is very important to consider that the ratio of omega 6 to omega 3 in the diet plays a very critical role in inflammation and disease progression in the body.
Human diet has evolved from an omega 6 to omega 3 ratio of 1 all the way up to 16 to even 20:1 (omega 6-omega 3). Our diets today are so high in refined omega 6 fats and very low in omega 3 fats. This is one reason why there is a prevalence in lifestyle related diseases such as cancers, autoimmune diseases, inflammatory diseases such as CVDs and asthma. And many studies have shown that improving omega 6-omega 3 ratio (i.e. increasing omega 3 intake while subsequently lowering omega 6 intake) can have suppressive effects, if not prevent these diseases.
So given these information, what do I really suggest as a nutrition coach? Well, first and foremost, if we’re talking about weight management, the key here really is controlling overall calorie intake. We create a negative calorie balance either through gradual calorie restriction alone or in combination with exercise. And one way of controlling calorie intake is to control the consumption of fat in the diet. Please take note that controlling doesn't mean eliminating it from the diet. It is just easier to control calories by having a fat controlled diet because fat is very high in calories (i.e. 9 kcal per gram compared to 4 kcal per gram of carbs and protein). When I make my diet prescription, the maximum amount of fat that I give is 20-25% of calorie allowance. And because of this, when I create a meal plan for our clients, I rarely include fried dishes. What I do recommend to them is to use allowed fat portions as oil for sautéing or stir-frying or consume it from nuts and seeds. Because this way, it is easier for me and for my clients to ensure that they will not exceed their allowance for fat calories.
Remember, frequent consumption of fried foods on top of high consumption of refined carbohydrates is the perfect formula for unhealthy weight gain and occurrence of lifestyle related diseases.
When it comes to the type of oil, I usually recommend coconut oil because of its high MCT content, which is the LAURIC ACID. Lauric acid has been shown to improve the ratio of TOTAL to HDL cholesterol. And being a MCT, this makes it easier for our bodies to burn it as fuel because MCTs do not require transport protein to get inside our cells for metabolism.
I also just want to emphasize that aside from recommending coconut oil to our clients over the more famous canola oil, I also teach them to use flax seeds and at times supplement with fish oil to boost their omega 3 intake. (coconut oil, high in MCT- auric acid. Canola oil high in omega 6. Flax seeds and fish oils high in omega 3).
As mentioned, our diets now are so high in omega 6 and very low in omega 3. The ideal ratio is 1:1, but majority of us are consuming up to 20:1 omega 6-omega 3. Using omega 6, PUFA rich oils for frying (like canola, soybean, etc) can only increase omega 6-omega 3 ratio hence can aggravate diseases such as cancers, CVDs, and also promotes inflammation in the body.
What about you? What type of cooking oil do you use? Let me know in the comments section below.