There has been a lot of controversy in recent years surrounding the health benefits of oils. Here’s what we know so far…
Oil. It’s a tricky one. Some “experts” will label certain oils miracle workers while others are convinced some – or all – oils are somehow detrimental to our health. Which is it? We dug into the research to get the final scientific word, and we picked up some good tips for cooking practices along the way.
This Italian staple is the mac daddy of all oils. Some people say they could drink the stuff, and experts have concluded that “substantial evidence” supports the “widespread opinion that extra virgin olive oil should, indeed, be the fat of choice when it comes to human health and sustainable agronomy.” A study in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition volume found a connection between olive oil consumption (within a typical Mediterranean diet) and reduced cardiovascular health risks.
Celebrity chef Jamie Oliver notes on his website that extra virgin olive oil is “super-high in omega 9” (which is said to be good for the cardiovascular system and brain). Dietitian and celebrity cook Nadia Lim promotes olive oil on her website as one of her favorites, particularly due to its healthy fat and antioxidant content. Vegan dietitian Sadia Badiei encourages consuming olives in their wholefood form rather than as an oil. Her blog Pick Up Limes includes a great resource on the nutritional aspects and heating recommendations of the popular oil. Olive oil is also great for drizzling over dishes and using within sauces.
Check out this grilled vegetable recipe for an easy guide to cooking with olive oil.
Coconut oil is probably one of the most controversial oils out there. Celebrities rave about it, but studies provide a more balanced review. An article published in Science Direct found coconut oil “fails as a weight-loss strategy” and even increases cholesterol levels. The overall consensus from chefs and dietitians is to enjoy this oil in moderation (it works great as a skin and hair moisturizer). When you choose to consume coconut oil, feel free to cook with it or include it within salads and sauces, just make sure to cook with moderate heat.
If you feel like a treat, try out these Coconut Oil Blueberry Scones with Rosemary.
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Ah, the avocado. It’s a millennial favorite, but is the oil any good? Recent academic reviews have only positive things to say. A study published in The Journal of Functional Foods in 2019 listed healthy fats and bioactive components as potential health benefits – adding that the oil can be used to positively manage high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes, and fatty liver disease.
Jamie Oliver likes it for its “monounsaturated fats, omega 9 and vitamin E, and is useful for lower-temperature cooking, dressings, marinades, and finishing.” Nadia Lim likes it too, noting on her website that “This emerald green oil is not as well known or widely used as olive oil, however, its health and culinary properties are just as impressive, maybe even more.”
For some of those healthy fats, have a go at making your own Avocado Hummus.
A 2017 study has shown a possible link between sesame oil consumption and lowered cholesterol, lowered inflammation, and a decreased risk of cardiovascular disease. The study also mentions its antioxidant properties. Great when used in Asian-inspired dishes, sesame oil should be heated at low temperatures to avoid burning. For a quick and delicious dressing, try mixing sesame oil and soy sauce.
You might also want to try these sesame glass noodles by The Lazy Broccoli.
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While there is some evidence that canola oil can reduce cholesterol and improve insulin sensitivity, some dieticians are wary of its production process.
“Personally, I don’t use these oils much,” Lim says, “as my food instinct doesn’t fully trust a product that requires so much processing and refining to make.”
The Pick Up Limes website does note that canola oil has a higher omega-3 to omega-6 ratio. Which can be a good thing (PUL recommends opting for omega-3 more often than omega-6).
Overall, canola oil is a versatile and affordable oil that can be used in cooking, baking, and salad dishes. As is the case with most oils, use it in moderation within a balanced diet.
If you have some canola oil on-hand, try this chocolate mug cake recipe.
Delicious within baked sweets and used as a topping, walnut oil is a good source of omega-3. Multiple studies suggest walnut oil as a natural remedy to treat certain types of diabetes, namely diabetes mellitus type I and type 2 diabetes.
For a whole food source of walnuts, check out this mushroom, lentil, and walnut pate.
If you’re thinking about reducing your oil intake and eating more wholefood sources of good fats, be sure to check out these oil-free recipes.
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Please note, this article is not intended as a replacement for professional advice. Please consult a health professional for personalized health advice.