Oil – The Good, Bad and the Ugly
The world of cooking and salad oils can be somewhat confusing. There is much confusion about what is truly healthy for you and what may be causing ill health. I will discuss a few of the most common oils.
Let’s start out with the big one–olive oil. Most people know that including extra virgin olive oil in your diet is beneficial. In addition to bolstering the immune system and helping to protect against viruses, olive oil has also been found to be effective in fighting against diseases such as cancer, diabetes, heart disease, rheumatoid arthritis, high blood pressure, obesity, osteoporosis and more. Olive oil is very low in Omega 6 and high in flavonoids. Most flavonoids function in the human body as antioxidants. In this capacity, they help neutralize overly reactive oxygen-containing molecules and prevent these overly reactive molecules from damaging parts of cells. Research has shown that olive oil, one of the main components of the Mediterranean diet, has also been associated with improved physical and mental health. There are many more health benefits of adding extra virgin olive oil to your diet. When buying extra virgin olive oil, it is best to buy in dark green glass bottles.
What you might not know is there are plenty of phony oils out there that claim to be extra virgin olive oil. Olive oil fraud is rampant. The FDA does not regulate olive oil and whenever there is an opportunity for fraud and greed, there will be someone or some company willing to take advantage of the unknowing public. Many of the olive oils sold in our grocery stores are not truly 100% extra virgin olive oil. They can contain a blend of oils that include soy, canola or corn. They could be processed and contain additives that are not beneficial for your health. The true definition of “extra virgin” olive oil is that it is just the juice of olives–nothing more! Tom Mueller, the leading expert on olive oils has written a wonderful book entitled “Extra Virginity, The Sublime and Scandalous World of Olive Oil.” This book discusses the history of olive oil and the amount of fraud that happens in the world of olive oil. He suggests that 85% of the oil sold in this country as extra virgin olive oil is fraudulent. To find out more, listen to my interview with Tom Mueller on Food Integrity Now (www.foodintegritynow.org) and search the blog for olive oil. Mueller has a website where he lists true extra virgin olive oils and where to buy them (www.truthinoliveoil.com). Enjoy your true extra virgin oil!
One oil that I enjoy is coconut oil. Coconut oil is low in Omega 6 and high in good saturated fat. It is best to buy it unrefined or virgin. The health benefits of coconut oil include hair care, skin care, stress relief, cholesterol level maintenance, weight loss, boosted immune system, proper digestion and regulated metabolism. It also provides relief from kidney problems, heart diseases, high blood pressure, diabetes, HIV, and cancer, while helping to improve dental quality and bone strength. If you want to use it for internal consumption, simply replace butter or vegetable oils with coconut oil in your recipes. I like it in my gluten-free chocolate brownies!
Let’s talk about butter. I love pasture butter. Pasture butter is butter from pasture-fed cows. Pasture feed cows graze on grasses and are not fed grain. Grain-fed cows may be fed with GMO grains such as corn and soy. If you are using conventional butter, chances are you are getting GMOs in that butter. The greater the percentage of a cow’s diet that comes from grass, the greater the amount of unsaturated fatty acids, the lower the amount of saturated fatty acids, and the more optimal the ratio of Omega-6 and Omega-3 fatty acids in the milk. Butter made from the milk of pastured cows has also been shown to contain increased levels of the antioxidants betacarotene and Vitamin E.
If you currently are using margarine, throw it away! Margarine and all margarine-like products managed to rank No. 5 on my “Ten Foods You Should Never Eat” list. I’m sure it wasn’t easy, since there are so many unhealthy contenders out there, but this trans fat family has really earned its bad reputation. How? Basically, the harder the margarine or shortening, the more highly hydrogenated it is. The main problem with the hydrogenation process is that it causes trans fats to act somewhat like saturated fats in terms of their effect on blood cholesterol levels, but with some very dangerous side effects. Do your own research to learn more about the dangers of using margarine.
Canola oil is derived from the rape seed which is a member of the mustard family, which also includes broccoli, kale, cabbage and mustard greens. Canola oil is named for a Canadian scientist who developed it, hence, Canadian oil or canola. This new rape seed was bred to have a fatty acid profile of 57% monounsaturated fat; 5% saturated fat; 24% omega-6 fat and 10% omega-3 fatty acids. Because there is a decent level of omega-3 fatty acids, it is not recommended that canola oil be heated above 120F or trans fats are formed. Considering the profile, canola oil looks like a decent product. However, there are some canola oils whose smoke point is 520 F – how did that happen? That is all from chemical manipulation of the chemical structure of the oil through refinement and processing. So, although there is a 2:1 ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids, unless canola oil is used cold, and even then there is controversy, it is of little use and the levels of trans fats are extremely high at 4.5%, more so than margarine.
Further, canola oil is one of the most commonly used oils in processed foods. Since this oil has already been damaged by its refining process, it then undergoes another process that I have already described called hydrogenation, which further increases the trans fatty acid content of a given food. Canola oil is preferred in the processed food industry not only because it is cheap but because it hydrogenates better than soy or corn oil – an important component for shelf life stability, but not human health.
Another problem I have with Canola Oil is that most of it is genetically modified and I don’t even trust organic canola oil because of the cross-contamination issue. Nearly 90% of all canola is genetically modified. If you read labels, which you should, you will see canola oil in many products–especially processed food.
In my opinion, soybean oil is one of the worst. Soybean oil is partly to blame for our country’s obesity problem. Soybean oil limits the functionality of the thyroid, draining our energy levels, and making us less likely to exercise. When your thyroid is depressed, it slows down your metabolism; therefore, you begin to gain weight. In general, soy has been linked to many health conditions including thyroid dysfunction, infertility, increased risk of cancer, heart disease and Type I Diabetes. Eating a soy-based diet can actually starve your body of nutrients. Once you add in the fact that most partially hydrogenated oils are derived from soybean oil, you have a toxic mix of dangerous ingredients! Also, nearly 90% of all soy has been genetically modified.
Vegetable oils (and margarine, made from these oils) are oils extracted from seeds like the rapeseed (canola oil) soybean (soybean oil), corn, sunflower, safflower, etc. They were practically non-existent in our diets until the early 1900s when new chemical processes allowed them to be extracted. Unlike butter or coconut oil, these vegetable oils can’t be extracted just by pressing or separating naturally. They must be chemically removed, deodorized and altered. These are some of the most chemically altered foods in our diets, yet they get promoted as healthy. Again, most vegetable oil is genetically modified so avoid it when possible.
There are other healthy and not so healthy oils out there. These are just a few of the most common ones. As always, do your own research. Learn to read labels and ask questions. Knowledge is power!