There are so many different oils to choose from, how do you know which ones to use and which ones to avoid? When shopping at the grocery store you’ll probably find quite an array of oil, from the ever popular canola oil, to the expensive olive oil, to the lesser known coconut oil. But only one of these oils can help you lose weight, have energy, and nourish your body at the cellular level. The rest will either make you gain weight, or worse, lead to array of ailments such as heart disease or cancer.
If you guessed that coconut oil is the only oil that will help you lose weight, have energy, and nourish your body at a cellular level, you guessed correctly! Some grocery stores may even sell coconut oil, but at the rate we use it, I need to buy bulk. My first coconut oil purchase was extra virgin organic Nutiva, which was incredible, but too pricy at $70/gallon for my budget and as much as I would like to buy everything organic, for me staying home with my kids is more important than getting another job to pay for it. We recently bought a fifty pound, five gallon bucket of coconut oil from Country Life for $62.50. After reading Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon, I feel confident in making coconut oil my go-to oil for everything. It does not have a distinguishable odor or taste and we try to cook as much as we can with it. I use it to make my own bread, and I plop generous dollops for cooking eggs, pancakes, stir fries, and even burgers! Not only can it be used for baking and frying, but it has many other uses as well. I love mixing coconut oil with tea tree oil and lavender for my face and body moisturizer. Here are some of the wonderful attributes that make coconut oil so wonderful:
- Coconut oil is made up of 92% saturated fatty acids. Saturated fatty acids are structured so that all available carbon bonds are occupied by a hydrogen atom. This makes them highly stable and straight in shape, so that they are solid or semisolid at room temperature. As a result, they are less likely to go rancid when heated during cooking. If you keep coconut oil in its solid state (below 76 degrees) and out of direct sunlight, it can maintain a shelf life of two years.
- Over two-thirds of the saturated fatty acids found in coconut oil are comprised of medium-chain fatty acids. When your body digests fat in the form of medium chain fatty acids it doesn’t need to be digested in the small intestine with bile acids and lipases like it does with longer-chain fatty acids, but can instead be shuttled directly to the liver and converted to quick energy. This is why coconut oil is great to use if you’re trying to lose weight. As long as you don’t eat it with any carbs it CANNOT be stored as fat! It is also a gentle way for people who aren’t used to eating fat to start incorporating it into their diets.
- The main medium-chain fatty acid in coconut oil is lauric acid, which is a proven antiviral, antibacterial, and antifungal agent. It is converted in your body to a substance called monolaurin, which helps you defend against viruses, bacteria, and other pathogens. Basically, it strengthens your immune system and protects you from a wide range of diseases. The only other places you can get lauric acid are in mother’s milk or in small amounts in butterfat.
- Lauric acid is the most rapidly oxidized fatty acid. The amount of energy used by the body to oxidize it is greater than the energy it provides. Since coconut oil is comprised of 50% lauric acid, it has a “thermogenic effect” meaning that it raises your body temperature, which boosts your energy and metabolic rate. So if you were to just eat a big spoonful of coconut oil, you would actually lose more weight than eating nothing at all!
- Palm oil is another good tropical oil, but it is only 50% saturated.
Now I can finally throw my Crisco away! I used to feel guilty about greasing my pans with my super expensive extra virgin organic coconut oil, but now that I have a fifty pound five gallon bucket at my disposal, I can use it liberally for EVERYTHING without feeling guilty and I can FINALLY throw away this Crisco that I’ve had sitting in my cupboard for more years than I’d care to admit.
In case you’re wondering, Crisco is just about the worst thing you could purposefully put in your body. It is made from hydrogenated oils (trans fats) that block your body from using important fatty acids and can lead to paralysis of the immune system, cancer, atherosclerosis, diabetes, obesity, low birth weight babies, birth defects, decreased visual acuity, sterility, difficulty in lactation, and problems with bones and tendons.
- The process for making hydrogenated oil is enough to make me want to steer clear of it! It begins with the cheapest vegetable oils possible (soy, canola, or corn) that are already rancid from their extraction process. Then they are mixed with tiny metal particles usually in the form of nickel oxide. This nickel catalyst combined with a high temperature causes a chemical change called hydrogenation which changes the position of the hydrogen atom on the fatty acid chain from the slight bend of a double bond to a straightened molecule. This trans formation is toxic to your body, but your body doesn’t recognize it as a toxin. It actually incorporates it into cell membranes and this wreaks havoc with cell metabolism. After the nickel catalyst, soap-like emulsifiers and starch are squeezed into the mixture in order to give it a better consistency. The oil is then steam-cleaned at a high temperature to remove its unpleasant odor and bleached, dyed, and pumped full of strong flavors to get rid of its unappetizing grey color and horrible taste. Now, doesn’t that sound yummy!
Olive Oil is okay to use every once in awhile. It isn’t likely to go rancid and so it’s great for things like salad dressing and hummus because of its antioxidant properties, but IT WILL MAKE YOU FAT (Beware, so will other monounsaturated rich foods like nuts and avocados!) Use it if you must, but I try to use it sparingly.
- It is comprised of 75% oleic acid, 13% saturated fat, 10% omega-6 linoleic acid, and 2% omega-3 linoleic acid.
- Oleic acid is an 18-carbon monounsaturated fatty acid that has one double bond in the form of two carbon atoms double bonded to each other and therefore lacks two hydrogen atoms. They have a kink or bend at the position of the double bond so that they do not pack together as easily as saturated fat and therefore tend to be liquid at room temperature but solid when refrigerated. They are relatively stable and do not go rancid easily and hence can be used in cooking (Keep temperatures under 425 degrees).
- Because it is a long-chain fatty acid, it requires bile acids and lipases from the small intestine for digestion (after they are broken down, they are reassembled as triglycerides, which is basically how your body stores fat) and is more likely to contribute to the buildup of body fat than the short- and medium-chain fatty acids found in butter and coconut oil.
- Your body can make monounsaturated fat from saturated fat, so there is really no need to consume it if you’re getting enough saturated fat.
- If you do consume olive oil, it should be extra virgin olive oil, which is rich in antioxidants. It should be cloudy, indicating that it has not been filtered, and have a golden color indicating that it is from fully ripened olives.
- The extraction of olive oil is a very gentle process. The process begins by gently by crushing olives between stone or steel rollers using low temperatures and with minimal exposure to light and oxygen, which protects its antioxidants, integrity of the fatty acids, and natural preservatives. The longer fatty chain acids found in olive oil are more likely to contribute to the buildup of fat than the short and medium chain fatty acids found in butter and coconut oil, so you’ll want to use it sparingly for salad dressings and baking, but it is still a much better alternative to the other polyunsaturates.
Polyunsaturated fats make up the remainder of the fats on my review: Canola, safflower, corn, sunflower, soybean, and cottonseed oils should be avoided at all costs. Sesame, peanut, and flax seed oil should be used sparingly if at all. Polyunsaturated fatty acids that have an imbalance of omega-6s to omega-3s are found in the remaining oils and that is why they should be avoided.
- Polyunsaturated fatty acids have bends or turns at the position of the double bonds and hence do not pack together easily. They remain liquid, even when refrigerated. Unpaired electrons located at the double bonds make these oils highly reactive. When they are subjected to heat or oxygen, as in extraction, processing, and cooking, free radicals are formed. These free radicals can initiate cancer and heart disease as well as lead to wrinkles, premature aging, tumors, and plaque buildup.
- The two polyunsaturated fatty acids found most frequently in our foods are linoleic acid with two double bonds (called omega-6) and linoleic acid with three double bonds (called omega-3). (The omega number indicates the position of the first double bond.
- The polyunsaturated oils found in the following oils contain a high amount of omega-6 linoleic acid and a low amount of omega-3 linoleic acid. This imbalance disrupts prostaglandins that leads to blood clots and inflammation, high blood pressure, irritation of the digestive tract, depressed immune function, sterility, cell proliferation, cancer, and weight gain.
- Because your body cannot make omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, they are called “essential” and must be obtained from foods. This is how manufacturers get away with saying that these fats are “heart healthy”. However, when you consume enough saturated fatty acids, which help to retain and use essential fatty acids, your body actually needs only a very small amount of essential fatty acids (both omega-3 and omega-6 found in polyunsaturated fats). One great source for getting a perfect balance of omega-3s and omega-6s is pastured eggs.
- The process for making vegetable oils should be enough to make you want to steer clear of them in the first place! In order to extract the oils in vegetables, they are heated and crushed, which exposes them to damaging light and oxygen. In order to get the last 10% of the oil, a solvent such as hexane (which is a constituent of gasoline) is used. The solvent is boiled off, but a portion still remains (100 parts per million). The high temperatures cause the weak carbon bonds of the polyunsaturated fatty acids to break apart (especially triple unsaturated linoleic acid) and cause dangerous free radicals. Vitamin E, which is a natural antioxidant, is stripped away by the heating process and replaced with BHA (butylated hydroxyanisole) and BHT (butylated hydroxytoluene) as preservatives to prevent fat spoilage and are suspected of causing brain damage and cancer.
- Canola oil is the worst oil of all and should be avoided at all costs, even though it has been labeled as “heart healthy”.
- It contains 5% saturated fat, 57% oleic acid, 23% omega-6, and 10-15% omega-3.
- It is made from rape seed, which is considered unsuited for human consumption because it contains a long-chain fatty acid called euric acid, which under some circumstances is associated with fibrotic heart lesions.
- It has a high sulphur content and goes rancid easily. Goods baked with canola oil develop mold very quickly.
- During the deodorizing process, the omega-3 fatty acids of processed canola oil are transformed into trans fatty acids. This is the worst part of all!
- A recent study found that it actually creates a deficiency of vitamin E, which is needed for cardiovascular health.
Safflower, Corn, Sunflower, Soybean, and Cottonseed Oils should also be avoided.
- They all contain over 50% omega-6 and except for soybean oil, contain only minimal amounts of omega-3. (Soybean oil…and anything with soybeans for that matter, should be avoided for a host of other reasons as well, including its high estrogen content.) Safflower contains 80% omega-6.
- These oils should never be consumed after they have been heated.
Sesame and Peanut Oils can be used, but should be done sparingly.
- Peanut oil contains 48% oleic acid, 18% saturated fat, and 34% omega-6 linoleic acid. Like olive oil, it is relatively stable and therefore appropriate for the occasional stir fry. But the high omega-6 presents a potential danger.
- Sesame oil contains 42% oleic acid, 14% saturated fat, and 43% omega-6 linoleic acid. It is similar to peanut oil and it contains unique antioxidants that are not destroyed by heat. But once again, the high omega-6 is concerning.
Flax Seed Oil is a great source for omega 3s.
- It contains 9% saturated fatty acids, 18% oleic acid, 16% omega-6, and 57% omega-3.
- Because of its high omega-3 content, it is a great remedy for the omega-6/omega-3 imbalance that causes so many problems.
- It should be kept refrigerated, never heated, and consumed in small amounts in salad dressings and spreads. The fat from flax seed oil WILL make you fat, so use sparingly!
For further reading:
To learn more about coconut oil, read A New Look at Coconut Oil by by Mary Enig, phDfrom the Weston A. Price Foundation website.
For more information read The Oiling of America, by Mary Enig, phD, and Sally Fallon from the Weston A. Price Foundation website.