Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Choosing Healthy Cooking Oils

I have just returned from the most relaxing weekend away in the Barossa Valley.  When I get through the mountain of washing and catch up I have to do, I'll post some pictures.  In the meantime, as part of my new 'healthy' lifestyle, I've been researching cooking oils, and wanted to share some of what I've found with you.

Until I started researching a more healthy lifestyle, I hadn't thought much about what cooking oils I was using.  Then when I started reading about them I was totally confused (and a little bit frightened), but finally I have started to narrow it down and have found some oils I am happy with.

Cooking oils
Source - Choice

A Little Bit About Fats & Oils

There is a lot to learn about fats and oils but here is a brief summary:
Saturated Fats
  • Includes animal fats (meat & dairy) and some non-animal sources (coconut and palm oil)
  • These fats have high melting points and are generally solid at room temperature (except for palm and coconut oil)
  • They have long carbon chains, connected with single bonds and are saturated with hydrogen.
  • They are stable and resist oxidation
  • Saturated fats are hard, inflexible cells that tend to stick together.

Unsaturated Fats
This is a more soft, pliable fat.  There are 3 types:

Monounsaturated Fats (also known as Omega 9)
  • Include oleic acid in olive oil, macadamia oil, avocado oil
  • These fats have lower melting points, so they are liquid at room temperature.
  • The carbon atoms have a double bond at the ninth carbon from the omega end
  • They have a neutral effect on inflammation

Polyunsaturated Fats
These are known as essential fatty acids.  They are essential for normal bodily function but cannot be made by the body so we have to include them in our diet.
Omega 6
  • Includes most cooking oils - linoelic acid in sunflower oil, safflower oil, corn oil, canola oil
  • These nut and seed oils oxidise and can go rancid quickly.  They should be stored in the fridge.
  • The carbon atoms have a double bond at the sixth carbon from the omega end
  • Omega 6 oils can promote inflammation
Omega 3
  • Includes oily fish (salmon) and plant sources (flax/linseed oil, walnuts, pecans)
  • These oils also need to be stored in the fridge.
  • The carbon atoms have a double bond at the third carbon from the omega end
  • Omega 3 oils tend to reduce inflammation. This is important to me with my MS, as the lesions on my brain and spine are areas of inflammation.  In fact when I had my first blood test my inflammation marker was high (outside normal).

How to Choose the Right Cooking Oil

There is an interesting article (well worth a read) on choosing the right cooking oil at The Conscious Life.  On this web page you will find a great chart that shows the different types of oils together with their composition, their omega 6 to omega 3 ratio, and their smoke point. David Gillespie also makes some interesting points on 'vegetable oils' in his book Big Fat Lies.

Rather than repeat all the information in this article (and everything else I've read), I will just summarise that in choosing what cooking fat/oil you use you should consider:

  • The balance between saturated, monounsaturated, and polyunsaturated fats particularly the balance of omega 6 to omega 3
  • How the oil is extracted - is it cold-pressed or extracted using a chemical/heat process?
  • The smoke point - once an oil begins to smoke, it starts to break down and it's composition changes.
The Oils I Cook With

Cold-Pressed Extra-Virgin Olive Oil

Me at an Olive Farm in Mildura, Victoria.  We learnt all about olives and how they are cold-pressed to extract the olive oil.  It was over 40 C that day - very hot!

Why EVOO (Extra-Virgin Olive Oil)?
  • High in mono-unsaturated fat
  • Has a lovely flavour so is great to use on salads, in Mediterranean cooking, and to dip bread into.
  • It has a low smoke point of 191C/375F so is best used cold or to gently sweat/lo-heat fry food (below 120C).
  • Is a cold-pressed unrefined oil.
  • There is a large selection of good Australian made EVOO's to choose from, just make sure your oil has a green colour and good fragrant smell.

Cold-Pressed Extra Virgin Macadamia Oil
first-cold-pressed-macadamia-oils image
Brookfarm Macadamia Oil
Why Macadamia Oil?
  • High in monounsaturated fat (83%)
  • Has a good balance of omega 6 to omega 3 (Conscious Life suggests a ratio of 1:1)
  • It has a smoke point of 210C/413F so it's suitable for higher heat cooking methods (such as baking and pan frying) than olive oil.
  • Has a mild neutral flavour so it works well in baking cakes and muffins.
  • Made from Australian macadamia nuts.  Try Brookfarm above or Purity Pressed

Cold-Pressed Avocado Oil

Grove Range 2012
Grove Avocado Oil
 Why Avocado Oil?
  • High in monounsaturated fat (approx 70%)
  • Cold pressed unrefined oil
  • It has a very high smoke point 255C (according to Grove) which means it is suitable for high temperature frying such as BBQ and stir fry's which I do a lot of.
  • Versatile can be used cold as a salad dressing or for high heat cooking.
  • Try Grove  above or Purity Pressed.

Now I am not a dietitian or nutritionist, I'm just a girl with MS trying to eat well. These are the oils I have chosen so far, but I'm still researching and learning.  I haven't included saturated fats such as Ghee (Clarified butter) or Coconut oil, as I'm trying to follow a low saturated fat diet, but these may be an option for you.  Whatever you decide to cook with, at least if you've researched it, you're making an informed decision, not just influenced by the advertising we are bombarded with.

Tip - Only buy oils in small quantities so that you can use them in a short amount of time.  This will help reduce oxidisation and the oil becoming rancid.

Further Reading & References:
The importance of the ratio between omega-6 and omega-3 essential fatty acids can be seen in an article at PubMed Library here

A guide to what our fat intake and ratio should be is found at The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (  here)  Here they recommend a ratio of Omega 6 to Omega 3 of between 1:1 - 3:1. This is what the ratio used to be going back quite a few generations.  The rate now can be as much as 20:1 as omega 6 oils are used in so many processed foods we buy.  A very interesting read.

Another interesting article on the omega balance at Wild Health Food here which I found when researching rice bran oil.

An article about what happens to oils when they are over-heated at Nutrition Diva here and a particularly good article outlining the effect of heat on extra-virgin olive oil at WH Foods here.
The difference between refined and unrefined oils - PCC Natural markets article here


  1. Thanks Kylie - man of the house here is a nutritionist so we already do a lot of these things but this is really well written and easier to understand than anything he tells me! He tends to hover while I am cooking and "constructively" critique my technique and ingredients. Not always helpful! I haven't used avocado oil - how do you find it taste wise? F xx

    1. How lucky are you to have a nutritionist in the house? I would love that, except for when they tell you what you are doing wrong I guess. I am enjoying the avocado oil. Oddly enough it tastes like avocados but quite mild. You can taste it on salads, but not really in cooking, although I do notice that prawns and chicken can turn slightly green when you first start cooking as the oil coats it. This soon disappears. The macadamia oil is great in baking as it has such a mild flavour that you don't really notice it.

  2. Very useful information Kylie. I use canola or sunflower for most cooking,and cold pressed olive for some cooking and salads,so I think maybe I'm on the right track.
    So pleased you enjoyed the Barossa,I live only about 1/2 hour away. It's so beautiful,good wine too. xx

  3. hi kylie, glad you had a great trip.
    i like the sound of avocado and macadamia oil.
    i only use coconut oil for cooking now, olive oil for dressing.
    my daughter who is studying nutrition has me doing this.

  4. Great recommendations for suitable high smoke point oils. I only use olive oil but knew there was a worry using it at high temperatures, so Im glad for the information.
    Penny x

  5. I know I left a comment on here previously not sure what happened to it?
    Have you researched coconut oil and MS? I have come across lots of very positive info, it is quite different to animal derived saturated fat- might be worth looking into. I have also come across lots of people with MS who are having great success following a paleo diet- taking out grains etc.
    It is so great that you are willing to try dietary changes to help your disease, so many people can't be bothered!

  6. I found so many interesting stuff in your blog especially its discussion.Thanks for sharing keep updating.

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