By Tiffany Jackson, N.D.
Most people don’t realize that oils have a “smoke point” which indicates how high a heat the oil can take before, literally, beginning to smoke. When an oil smokes, it releases carcinogens and free radicals within the oil and turns it into a TRANS FAT. This is very unhealthy. I am finding that most patients only cook with olive oil which has a low smoke point.
See the chart below to learn which oils have different uses and which oils perform best within a certain range of temperatures.
Some people also question if fats are all the same? They, in fact, are not at all!
- Monounsaturated fats are at the heart of the highly touted Mediterranean diet. These types of fats are tied to cholesterol regulation in the blood, promoting healthy cardiovascular function. Olive, canola, avocado and sunflower are examples of oils with high monounsaturated fat content.
- Polyunsaturated fats include the ‘essential’ Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids. These play an integral role in several areas—from strengthening our cell structure to reducing the risk of heart attack and stroke. Oils high in Omega-3 fats include flaxseed and fish.
- There are two main types of saturated fats—animal-based (like lard), and plant-based (such as coconut and palm oils). Most of what we consume in the U.S. are artery-clogging, ‘long-chain’ saturated fats derived from animals. But plant-based saturated fats are made up of ‘short- and medium-chain’ fatty acids which our bodies use for energy—the reason oils like coconut oil are popular with athletes.
- Trans-fats may well be our worst enemy. Trans-fats are formed during a chemical process called hydrogenation whereby cellular chains of fats are artificially altered to create a more solid, stable substance. The result is a fat that is virtually impossible for our bodies to break down.
Some people also have questions about fatty acids. Here is the LOWDOWN!
The two fatty acids that are essential to our health, but that our bodies cannot manufacture on their own, are Omega-3 fatty acid, such as Alpha Linolenic Acid (ALA), and Omega-6 fatty acid, like Gamma Linoleic Acid (GLA). These fatty acids are often called ‘Essential Fatty Acids’ (EFAs) precisely for this reason. There is another fatty acid intrinsic to good health that our bodies do produce naturally, and that is Omega-9 fatty acid. Read on for how to incorporate each into your diet.
Omega-3: Omega-3 is particularly critical to our body because it’s put to use literally everywhere—our eyes, hair and skin, brain, heart, nerves and joints. Every cell in our bodies needs Omega-3 fatty acids to thrive and survive. Studies show that populations that consume a diet high in Omega-3 fatty acids have the lowest mortality rate from cardiovascular disease. But about 80% of Americans are deficient in Omega-3. Nutritionists suggest off-setting this imbalance through adding an Omega-3 supplement to our diets, of which flaxseed and fish oils are the richest sources.
Omega-6: Omega-6 fatty acids are more plentiful, and can be found in many vegetable oils including walnut, soy and corn, and in supplement oils such as borage and evening primrose oil. Omega-6 fatty acids are broken down by the body into AA (Arachadonic Acid) and GLA (Gamma Linoleic Acid) which has been shown to help with skin disorders like eczema and psoriasis.
Omega-9: Omega-9 fatty acids are important monounsaturated fats that occur naturally in our bodies. But they are also prevalent in kitchen staples—olive oil, canola oil, sunflower oil and almond oil. Much of the praise showered on the Mediterranean diet is due to the cardiovascular benefits derived from Omega-9 fatty acids. Olive oil has been proven to raise good cholesterol (HDL) and lower bad cholesterol (LDL), and has more antioxidants than any other oil, including hydroxytyrosol, a polyphenol with a high level of free radical scavenging activity. Another role Omega-9 plays is to help offset the overconsumption of Omega-6 rich oils like corn and soy. By consuming more Omega-9, we are balancing out our fatty acid profile to a ratio our bodies prefer.
Make sure to print out the above chart so that you can hang it on your refrigerator as a reminder when you are cooking with oils!