Archive for the tag - olive oil

Olive Oil Vs. Vegetable Oil: Which is Healthier?

A trip to the grocery store will reveal more oil choices than I have pairs of underwear. And that’s saying a lot. So it’s no wonder that there’s lots of confusion about which oils are healthiest.

In general, the choice generally comes down to either extra virgin olive oil or vegetable oil.

Extra virgin olive oil is a very natural oil that is pressed from olives. Even when pressed in factories, olive oil is still minimally processed. Though olive oil is a fat, and therefore something to be consumed in moderation, it’s rich in heart-healthy monounsaturated fatty acids (called MUFAs).

According to the Mayo Clinic, a diet high in MUFAs – and low in unhealthy saturated fats – may lower your risk of heart disease. MUFAs may lower total cholesterol and normalize blood clotting. In addition, MUFAs may even help control blood sugar levels.

However, relative to other oils, extra virgin olive oil has a lower smoking point. Once an oil reaches its smoking point, it starts to breakdown and the health benefits quickly deteriorate. You’ll want to use olive oil for lower temperature recipes with cooking temperatures under 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Virgin olive oil, as compared to the extra virgin variety, has a slightly higher smoke point and is a good alternative for cooking.

It’s important to note that light, air and storage temperature can also affect the stability of olive oil. Keep olive oil in a room-temperature cupboard, and use within six months of opening.

Vegetable oil is an umbrella term that usually involves the industrial solvent extraction of oil from plants. Most commonly, a petroleum-derived chemical called hexane is used to quickly and cheaply extract the oils for high yields. Soybean oil is the most popular, but other vegetable oils include palm, rapeseed and sunflower.

While many vegetable oils are also high in MUFAs, the industrialized processing of these oils makes them a less desirable choice for health-conscious consumers. Nonetheless, refined soybean oil has a smoke point of 460 degrees Fahrenheit making it a better option for high temperature recipes. Moreover, some consumers prefer vegetable oils because they don’t transfer as much taste and flavor during the cooking process.

The bottom line: Olive oil is the clear winner from a healthy perspective – but it really depends on the recipe and cooking temperature!

Is Coconut Oil Good for You?

Virgin coconut oil is a popular fad diet food - but is it good for you?

The other day, I was cooking dinner with a friend who is on the paleo diet. The diet tries to emulate that of our paleolithic ancestors by including fish, grass-fed or free-range meats, vegetables, nuts, fruits, vegetables and the like – but excludes grains, beans, dairy, salt, sugar and processed oils.

While critiquing the paleo diet is beyond the scope of this article, I was surprised when my friend wanted to cook our meal with coconut oil. Like any health conscious individual, I immediately looked at the nutrition information – and was surprised to see a saturated fat content that is 6x higher than that of heart-healthy olive oil. In fact, a single tablespoon of coconut oil has more than 60% of you daily value of saturated fat. That’s more saturated fat than butter.

So, if coconut oil has so much saturated fat, why has it become a popular fad diet food? Coconut oil supporters point to the health and longevity of tropical populations that have been cooking with and consuming large quantities of coconut oil for hundreds of years. These coconut oil advocates don’t think the nutrition information tells the whole story. And they may have a point. For example, some of the fats in coconut oil are known as MCTs (short for medium-chain triglycerides), and they are metabolized quickly by the liver and less likely to be stored as body fat.

But it really comes down to the facts. And, according to the Food and Drug Administration, consumers should avoid coconut oil. Though there is some evidence that coconut oil may have beneficial properties, these studies haven’t yet met the FDA’s standards. Some of the studies are not extensive enough or adequately controlled enough to be scientifically valid or conclusive.

Of course, all that could change as coconut oil gains popularity and is subjected to additional research. And, it’s worth noting, both sides agree that processed or partially hydrogenated coconut oil (as opposed to virgin coconut oil) is unhealthy. When coconut oil is hydrogenated, it becomes a trans fat – something all of us should avoid.

In the meantime, I’m sticking with olive oil for my fat consumption needs. Just be sure to keep olive oil under 405 degrees Fahrenheit and use within six months of opening.

Myth: Cooking Olive Oil Destroys Its Benefits.

Not all fats are created equal.

Olive oil is a monounsaturated fat, and like other unsaturated fats, it offers some great health benefits and is generally considered to be a “good” fat. According to the Mayo Clinic, unsaturated fats:

  • Lower risk of heart disease by improving related risk factors
  • Lower total cholesterol and low-density lipoprotein cholesterol levels
  • Normalize blood clotting
  • Benefit insulin levels and blood sugar control

Of course, even unsaturated fats are rich in calories – and though they are healthier than saturated fats, they should still be consumed sparingly.

For years, I’ve heard the rumor that the benefits of healthy oils – and olive oils in particular – are destroyed when heated. It’s simply untrue; research shows that olive oil can take the heat. The plant-based compounds are actually very stable up until the oil’s smoking point at around 375 degrees Fahrenheit. If you use virgin olive oil, as opposed to extra virgin, you’ll get a few extra degrees.

More important is how you store the oil. Keep olive oil in a room-temperature cupboard, and use within six months of opening. Light, air and atypical storage temperatures have a dramatic effect on the oil’s stability.