Cooking oils are a type of fat. Fat is a macronutrient (like protein and carbohydrate) that is made up of fatty acids. With so many different cooking oils available, most people don’t know which oil they should be using in their cooking for the healthiest results and often ask us what is the healthiest oil to cook with . This article will help to explain the different factors you should consider when choosing which oil to cook with.
What should we consider when looking at what is the healthiest oil to cook with?
When trying to decide which oil to cook with, we need to look at the following things. (We’ll explain each one a bit later on!)
– Saturated fat
– Unsaturated fat
– Trans fat
– Omega 3, 6 and 9
– Smoke point
– Vitamins and minerals found in the oil
What is fat?
Fat is a macronutrient (like protein and carbohydrate) and is made up of fatty acids. These fatty acids can be classified as saturated or unsaturated depending on their chemical structure. Unsaturated fatty acids include monounsaturated fatty acids and polyunsaturated fatty acids.
All fats provide 9 calories (kcal) per gram, regardless of the levels of saturated and unsaturated fatty acids, the big difference is the effect these fats have on your cholesterol levels so we need to ensure that we eat the healthiest fat we can.
Fat is a good source of energy and we need some fat in our diet to help us absorb the fat soluble vitamins A, D, E and K.
Within the body, fatty acids form part of our cell membranes and fat also helps to insulate and protect our internal organs, contributing towards maintaining our body temperature and is involved in lots of body processes such as the development of our brains and the communications which occur between different cells. Cholesterol is needed to produce bile acids, which help us to digest food, and also some of our hormones.
What is Saturated Fat?
Saturated fat is found in foods such as fatty meats, hard cheese and butter.
High intakes of saturated fat have been shown to raise levels of ‘bad’ (LDL – Low Density Lipoproteins) cholesterol in the blood. High blood cholesterol increases the risk of developing heart disease and stroke by building up in our arteries, causing them to narrow. It is best to eat foods that contain less saturated fat.
An easy way to tell if your oil contains high levels of saturated fat is whether it is solid at room temperature, if it is, it most likely contains a high amount of saturated fat.
Chemically speaking, saturated fats have don’t have any double bonds between their carbon atoms in the fatty acid chain.
What is Unsaturated Fat?
Often called ‘good fat’, unsaturated fat help to maintain a healthy cholesterol level and have even been known to help lower levels of harmful cholesterol. Unsaturated fats are either monounsaturated or polyunsaturated.
Our bodies are able to make most of the specific fatty acids we need apart from two polyunsaturated fatty acids which we must get from our diet. These two fatty acids are alpha linolenic acid (an omega 3 polyunsaturated fatty acid) and linoleic acid (an omega 6 polyunsaturated fatty acid). Our bodies need these for brain development, growth and for a healthy immune system.
Omega 3 and 6 are called essential fatty acids as we need to obtain small amounts of them from our diet. Alpha linolenic acid is found in rapeseed, walnut and soya oils and spreads made from these. Linoleic is also found in plant based oils such as sunflower, corn, peanut, rapeseed, olive, safflower, sesame, walnut and soya oil and spreads made from these. Both of the essential fatty acids are present in smaller amounts in foods such as meat, eggs and oily fish. Ideally our bodies need Omega 3 and Omega 6 in the right balance of one part Omega 3 to every two parts Omega 6.
What about Trans Fat?
These are the worst types of fat and should be avoided wherever possible as they have been known to increase blood cholesterol levels. Typically, foods with hydrogenated oils likely contain trans fats, such as fried foods, takeaways and hard margarines.
As you can see, the levels of saturated and unsaturated fat in your cooking oil is very important. We have broken down the most common oils in the simple table below for you.
* Ideal balance of Omega 3 to Omega 6.
Does Smoke Point matter?
Other than the levels of different fats in your oil, if you are cooking with oil, you need to ensure that the smoke point is suitable. It can be dangerous to take an oil over its smoke point as this can cause the chemical structure to break down, which is why we always recommend cold pressed rapeseed oil for high temperature cooking as it has a smoke point of 230°C.
Are Vitamins and minerals found in oil?
Some oils, especially those that are cold pressed, can contain naturally occurring vitamins and minerals. Plant sterols can also be found in some oils, learn more about these in our blog post.
Cold pressed rapeseed oil contains vitamin E, vitamin K and catotenoids including provitamin A. Vitamin E is an important antioxidant and vitamin K is needed for efficient blood clotting. Provitamin A is essential for healthy skin, eyesight, growth and reproduction and, carotenoids contain luteins which are an antioxidant and give the oil its distinctive yellow colour.
So what is the healthiest oil to cook with?
We want an oil with low saturated fat, high unsaturated fat (including both polyunsaturated and monounsaturated), a high smoke point and containing as many other vitamins and minerals as possible.
The obvious choice has to be cold pressed rapeseed oil (but we would say that, wouldn’t we!) From the table, we can see that cold pressed rapeseed oil has the lowest saturated fat levels, a good balance of both types of unsaturated fat, a high smoke point and also contains vitamin E and plant sterols.
All oils contain a mixture of unsaturated fat and saturated fat and the healthiest ones to use are those with the lowest saturated fat and highest unsaturated fat.
So, if you’re asked what is the healthiest oil to cook with, you now know that you want an oil with a low saturated fat content and high in unsaturated fat. Cold pressed rapeseed oil is ideal, find out more here and find stockists here.