In The Kitchen: Comparing Oils

by Rebecca Huber

Nuts and seeds have long been used as a source of oil for culinary, medicinal and cosmetic purposes. If you are like many consumers, all the discussion about oil has led to a great deal of confusion and you may be left wondering which oils you should be using.

We've all heard the terms saturated and polyunsaturated by now but do we understand what they mean in terms of our health? Saturated fats are fats derived mainly from animal sources but also include some fats from nuts and seeds. The tip-off is how solid a fat gets with refrigeration. Saturated fats are not bad for us in and of themselves, it's that the average American diet contains too much saturated fat. The saturated fats do have very stable molecules which makes it hard for the body to break them down; they accumulate in your blood vessels. On the other hand, their stable molecules also makes them less likely to cause free radical damage.

Then we have the darling of the west, polyunsaturated oils. Which most of think resolves the issue and we continue to overuse fat. Corn, canola and soy continue to be the most popular oils­­ advertised as not adding that oily taste to food. A refined oil has its impurities removed. Those impurities are vitamin E, lecithin, chlorophyll, carotenes, aromatic oils and free fatty acids that may have important health promoting properties.

The average grocery store oil has been expressed from the seed with chemicals or extreme heat causing free radical damage, deodorized which reduces the rancid smell produced by the free radicals, then has synthetic anti-oxidants added to stabilize and preserve. Don't be deceived by the clear looks and smell of the oil thinking how pure it is!

Another culprit worth mentioning here is cottonseed oil. Cotton is not considered a food by the FDA, therefore the oil can be extracted by the cheapest means possible which is many times with hexane­­ a petroleum derivative that is a known human carcinogenic. Be sure to read your labels; whipped toppings and microwave popcorn many times contain cottonseed oil.

So, what does constitute a safe oil that is good for the body? First and foremost, read the labels. Buy only oils that are cold pressed or expressed, or the wording might say first pressed, or extra virgin. Oils that have been extracted by these means are naturally cloudy, have some flavor and color and still contain some of the natural benefits of fatty acids and fat soluable vitamins. For the most part, you will not find these kinds of oils in the grocery stores here in Galesburg. I encourage all my clients to buy their oils in the health food store.

Finally, a word about monounsaturated oils­­ which I myself and others feel is the best alternative. It's chemical composition is simpler which makes it easier for the body to utilize. Olive oil is the highest in monounsaturated oil. It is generally soothing and healing to the digestive system. It is beneficial to the gall bladder and liver, strengthens and develops body tissue and is a general tonic for the nerves. Studies show that in spite of the high fat diet in Mediterranean regions, their history of coronary artery disease is very low. Many experts attribute this to their use of crude unrefined olive oil.

Other good alternatives to soy and corn oil are peanut, safflower and sunflower.

Till next time, Rebecca.

This article posted to Zephyr online April 11, 1997
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