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Demystifying Cooking Oils

I want to take a little bit of a left-turn on this week’s “Wellness Wednesday.”

The last couple of weeks, we’ve been talking about the power of essential oils, like oregano, tea tree, and lavender oils. It’s an amazing study that goes back thousands of years, even though it’s just beginning to build awareness here in America. You could dig into that for months on end and never exhaust it.

But as interesting as that is, I think it’s important that we give direct attention to a different type of oil, specifically cooking oils. At last week’s Fundamental Foods dinner here at my office in Naples, we heard a tremendous presentation on cooking with oil by our good friends at Vom Foss. It really got me thinking about how important this topic is.

Cutting Through The Lies

It’s amazing to me how much misinformation is wrapped up in American marketing, especially about the food we eat. Unbelievable.

If you want to read something that will absolutely set your blood to boil, read this chilling expose of how the American Heart Association sold you out in the 1950s with the “Prudent Diet:” a systematic replacement of healthy meat-based saturated fats with toxic plant-based polyunsaturated fats. You probably grew up hearing that vegetable oil was the HEALTHY choice and that saturated fat causes heart disease. Pure garbage, foisted on a generation.

No matter how much they have been vilified in the past fifty years, dietary fats are an important part of a balanced diet, and it’s important that people understand how they work in our bodies. At the turn of the twentieth century, the American diet got upwards of 40 percent of its calories from animal-based fats, yet heart disease was rare and myocardial infarction was non-existent. Our bodies need a certain amount of fat in our food to lubricate our joints, build and protect our nervous system, and give us energy to get through the day. One of the biggest mistakes we have made as a culture is removing fat from our diet (and with it all of the flavor) and replacing it with sugar, which is toxic to our bodies.

At the same time, all fats are NOT created equal, and you can do just as much damage to your body with fat as good.

That’s why it’s so important to understand cooking oil. Whether you’re frying up a delicious wild Salmon or sautéing a skillet full of sliced zucchini and squash, you need to know what you’re working with. So, let’s start with a simple chemistry lesson.

Chemistry for Beginners

First of all, I recommend you eat at least 75% of your diet RAW (not 100%, as some groups suggest, which I’ve observed to be detrimental to your health in the long run). That said, there are times when cooked food is best. For example, cage-free organic turkey has some significant health benefits, but it has to be cooked before you can eat it.

When you raise the temperature of food above 110 degrees Fahrenheit, you begin burning off the nutrients in the food, especially the enzymes, which are crucial to activating the nutrients your receive.

Another important consideration is the difference between Saturated Fat, Monounsaturated Fat, and Polyunsaturated Fat. Dr. Joseph Mercola explains the difference this way:

“When you cook with polyunsaturated vegetable oils (such as canola, corn, and soy oils), oxidized cholesterol is introduced into your system. As the oil is heated and mixed with oxygen, it goes rancid. Rancid oil is oxidized oil and should NOT be consumed—it leads directly to vascular disease.

“Trans fats are introduced when these oils are hydrogenated, which increases your risk of chronic diseases like breast cancer and heart disease. But the problems don’t end there.

“The majority of these vegetable oils (at least in the U.S.) are made from genetically engineered crops, and they’re heavily processed on top of that. So not only are the polyunsaturated fats being oxidized, but these oils also contain other toxins, such as glyphosate and Bt toxin found in genetically engineered corn and soy.

“Glyphosate is the active ingredient in the broad-spectrum herbicide Roundup, which is used in very large amounts on all of these crops. So there are a number of reasons for avoiding vegetable oils, but the fact that they’re oxidized is clearly a high-priority one.

“Another important factor is that most vegetable oils are high in omega-6 fats and it is the ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fats that plays a powerful role in determining many illnesses. So if you are consuming large amounts of vegetable oils you will seriously distort this vital ratio and increase your risk of many degenerative diseases.”

Oils to Avoid

In light of this information, here are the oils you should avoid when cooking:

Seed-based oils: Safflower, Corn, Sunflower, Soybean, and Cottonseed. These oils are high in dangerous omega-6 fatty acids, low in beneficial omega-3 fatty acids, and rancid when cooked. Even though they are a featured product at your grocery store, you need to eliminate them from your diet, especially if you have children.

Canola oil is based on the rape seed, which is in the mustard family. It’s poison, especially when you heat it up.

And by the way…have you ever notice they package them in PLASTIC?!?! As if the oil itself isn’t bad enough. Plastic molecules leach into drinking water, so you have to expect they leech into oil. Buy your oil in glass bottles, preferably dark-tinted green or brown.

Oils to Limit

Peanut oil is relatively stable when cooked, but it’s also high in omega-6, so limit your exposure. One trip to the local Chinese buffet is probably enough for the month.

Sesame oil is useful for frying because it contains a strain of antioxidants that are not destroyed by heat.

Oils Best Served Cold

Flaxseed oil is a favorite in Scandinavia. It has a high omega-3 content, but it must be refrigerated and never cooked. Great to put on salad.

Olive oil is largely considered a “healthy” oil, which is true…with a caveat. Yes, it’s the foundation of the Mediterranean Diet. Yes, it is the safest of the vegetable oils, and I strongly recommend that you use it on salads because it a good source of antioxidants (especially extra-virgin olive oil). You can even cook with it, as long as you don’t overdo it. There are better oils to cook with, as I’ll show later.

When buying olive oil, follow these recommendations from Dr. Mercola, “It should be cloudy, indicating that it has not been filtered, and have a golden yellow color, indicating that it is made from fully ripened olives.”

Oils to Use Freely

Your best bet is organic coconut oil, which is safe in almost all raw and cooking applications. Palm oil used to be the basis of shortening and deep-fried foods. Both are highly-stable saturated fats, and coconut oil has been found to have anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties. After spending thousands of years as the oils of choice for countless cultures, these tropical oils have fallen from public attention, largely due to the efforts of the vegetable oil industry. It’s a shame.

More to Be Said

This is by no means a comprehensive review of available oils, but I want you to be aware of some of the misconceptions that are out there. This is one area where it pays to do a little extra research before shopping. Cooking oils can have a profound negative effect on your health, so you want to arm yourself with solid information.

If this article was helpful to you, share it with a friend. You never know who will benefit from it.

“At the end of feelings is NOTHING, but at the end of PRINCIPLES is a PROMISE.” — Eric Thomas

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