Oils are so complicated. People ask me which ones to use all the time and the answer depends upon why you are using the oil, whether or not it is for hot or cold use and what you are hoping to accomplish. I put together a graphic about 10 years ago that actually is one of the most highly searched oil graphics on Google. It needed updating and the update is below. Please let us know how you like it and whether you have any suggestions or questions.
In the chart below we identify several of the important characteristics one should consider when choosing an oil. These include: The Oil Source, Fat Saturation, Omega 6 to Omega 3 Ratio, Fatty Acid Composition, Refined or Unrefined and Smoke Point. The chart also sorts on the basis of purpose for the oil (hot or cold,) refined versus unrefined and the good versus bad bats on the market today.
I have divided the oils into those that can be used for Hot, Hot and Cold, Cold Only and those that you should ditch in terms of eating them. As to the latter, it is hard to find processed foods without Canola, Sunflower or Safflower oil in them. As you can see from the chart, these oils are not good for us, primarily because of the way they have been processed (heated), but also in the case of Canola Oil, Corn oil, and Soybean Oil, because they are almost certainly GMO.
Sunflower and Safflower Oils make my no-go list because they are likely to be refined which means that they have been heated at high temperatures and as such have been denatured. They also have very high Omega-6 to Omega-3 ratios. Likewise, unrefined sunflower oil has a very low smoke point making it a poor choice for baked or fried foods. Unfortunately, you will find at least one of these oils in almost every processed/baked food.
The good news is that Sunflower and Safflower can both be used for external use if they are unrefined.
Fats are divided into Monounsaturated (MUFA), Polyunsaturated (PUFA), and Saturated (SAT) fats. Most people mistakenly believe that saturated fats are bad for you. As you can see from the chart below this is not the case. Coconut oil and raw grass-fed butter are two of the healthiest fats we can eat and both are highly saturated. Likewise, the monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats at the bottom of the chart which have the least amount of saturated fat, are the unhealthiest fats we can eat.
Omega-6 to Omega-3 Ratio
Omega-6 and Omega-3 fatty acids are both a type of essential fatty acid (EFA.) EFAs are fats that the body needs but cannot make on its own. Therefore, people must get EFAs by eating the foods that contain them or taking supplements. The ideal ratio of Omega 6 to Omega 3 fat is 1:1.
There are only 2 oils with a 1:1 ratio of Omega-6 to Omega-3. They are raw grass-fed butter and Macadamia Nut Oil. (Interesting fact: Human breast milk also has a 1:1 ratio of Omega-6 to Omega-3.) Fish oil (which is only used as a supplement) is the only oil that actually has less Omega-6 than Omega-3 with a ratio of .2:1 and Flaxseed Oil is not bad with a 2:1 Omega-6 to Omega-3 ratio.
Why is this ratio important? Because the ideal ratio for good health is 1:1. In the United States, the typical diet has a ratio of anywhere from 15:1 to 30:1; in other words, way too high on the Omega-6 end. This is primarily because we are the Fast Food Nation and we eat a lot of foods that are highly processed and loaded with the unhealthy Omega-6 fats, like conventional beef hamburgers, French fries, pizza, doughnuts and baked goods to name a few.
The source of these unhealthy Omega-6 fatty acids come from soybeans and corn, (which are almost all GMO now and which we find in abundance in processed foods) along with denatured safflower and sunflower oils, (also found in most processed foods.)
The good Omega-6 fatty acids are found in nuts and seeds, 100% grass-fed animal protein, fish and eggs.
We get good Omega-3 fatty acids from oily fish such as Krill, Cod, and Salmon and from flaxseed oil. You can see why most people in the US are deficient in Omega-3…not enough fish. And we also demonize butter, which has a perfect Omega 6:3 ratio of 1:1 as long as the butter is 100% Grass-fed.
Bottom line, eat more fish, supplement with fish oils (Krill and fermented Cod are best) and eat flaxseed or use flaxseed oil in salad dressings.
Fatty Acid Composition: Short Chain Fatty Acids (SCFA) Medium Chain Fatty Acids (MCFA), Long Chain Fatty Acids (LCFA), and Very Long Chain Fatty Acids (VLCFA)
Fatty acids, which primarily come from triglycerides or phospholipids, can be categorized according to the length of their chains which includes: Short-Chain Fatty Acids (SCFA) with 2-6 carbons; Medium-Chain Fatty Acids (MCFA) with 6–12 carbons; Long-Chain Fatty Acids (LCFA) with 13 to 21 carbons and Very Long Chain Fatty Acids (VLCFA) with 22 or more carbons.
Fatty acids are important sources of fuel in the body. Though most human cell types can use either glucose or fatty acids for energy, the brain cannot. Long chain fatty acids can’t pass the blood-brain barrier (BBB) and therefore can’t be used as an energy source for the central nervous system. However, short-chain fatty acids and medium-chain fatty acids can cross the BBB and therefore do act as an alternative energy source in the brain.
Grass-fed butter and grass-fed Ghee (clarified butter with the milk solids removed) are SCFA’s, making them good for the brain. Coconut Oil, Palm Oil and Palm Kernal Oil are primarily MCFA’s that are also good for the brain, especially the coconut oil.
You may have heard that coconut oil is high in saturated fats, artery clogging and dangerous. Not so. The truth is, the medium chain fatty acids (MCFA) found in coconut oil are rare in nature and offer extraordinary health benefits. They are digested by the body in a different way than the common long chain fatty acids (LCFA) found in most other foods. MCFA are quickly digested, producing energy instead of body fat. They go straight to the liver and provide almost instant energy. They also do not produce arterial plaque like LCFAs. About 50 percent of the MCFA in coconut oil is lauric acid, which strengthens the immune system and is also found in human breast milk. Caprylic acid and capric acid are also present in coconut oil, contributing to coconut oil’s antifungal, antiviral and antibacterial properties.
Coconut oil has been shown to be so good for the brain that it is the only thing, in combination with exercise, ever shown to prevent Alzheimer’s Disease. One of the theories is that the coconut oil, which fights bacteria (seriously put it on a cut and watch the infection go away) may protect the brain from infection. This is important because we know that the plaque that causes Alzheimer’s is only there in the first place because it is a misguided attempt at fighting infection in the brain. The problem with the over production of plaque in the brain is that it ends up causing dementia by suffocating the brain. (Sort of…) This is one theory, and there are other theories, but this one makes sense to me based upon my own experience using coconut oil to improve brain function.
The higher the smoke point, the better the oil in the sense that it is more versatile. In other words, if it has a high smoke point, we can cook with it without denaturing it. If it has a low smoke point, we cannot cook with it, but we may be able to use it for cold purposes like dressings or even for topical applications.
Grass-fed butter, coconut oil, ghee, palm-kernal oil and palm oil all have high enough smoke points to allow us to use them for cooking, with butter being the lowest smoke point. So never use butter to fry at a heat over 250-300 degrees. Butter and coconut oil are listed as oils to use for hot purposes because we can cook with them, but also because they are solid at room temperature. But you can use both on hot vegetables or toast.
In general, US citizens have been sold a bill of goods when it comes to healthy oils. We were all taught growing up that vegetable oils were good for us, right? Wrong! So wrong. There is ample evidence suggesting that animal fats aren’t the primary cause for our epidemic levels of heart disease. It’s the vegetable oils. Research shows us that butter consumption at the turn of the century was about 18 lbs. per person per year and the use of vegetable oils was non-existent. Cancer and heart disease were rare at that time.
Today butter consumption is only about 4 lbs. per person per year while the use of vegetable oils and refined oils has SOARED! But so have the rates of heart disease and cancer which are presently epidemic in the US. Not only that but we are now the most obese nation in the world, with the most obese children. Part of the reason is the amount of rancid oil in the food chain. If all of that is not bad enough, our children are less likely to survive being born that almost any other children in the developed world. Something is very wrong and it has everything to do with our food, especially our oils.
Refined Vs Unrefined
The best way to damage an oil is to “refine” it. Olive oil, for example, that is unrefined, uses olives that have been expeller pressed to extract the oil. There are many health benefits to using pure, unrefined extra virgin olive oil, not the least of which is that it supports healthy cholesterol levels and good vascular health. Just make sure it says unrefined. If it just says olive oil, it can be a blend of refined, virgin and extra virgin olive oils, and that is not good.
Likewise, unrefined coconut oil has incredible health benefits whereas refined coconut oil is actually quite damaging. Coconut oil is not unique, as all refined oils are all damaged.
Let’s start by defining terms: An oil that has been “refined” has been altered by using chemicals that are harmful to us. In the process of extracting oil from a seed, depending upon how it is extracted, we can end up with a trans-fat, the smell of which is so rancid that a cleaning process is needed that uses bleach to deodorize it. Yummy, right?
Or it may mean the oil has to be treated with acid, or purified with an alkali. (Never buy chocolate that has used alkali to make the cocoa.) The smell can also be neutralized, filtered or deodorized in other ways. But the bottom line is that all of these processes may require chemicals like Hexane. And then we eat them? What? The worst part though is that these rancid polyunsaturated fatty acids DO NOT hold up well under high heat making them even more dangerous for us to eat.
Too much trans-fat in your diet increases your risk for heart disease and other health problems. Trans fats are also made when food makers turn liquid oils into solid fats, like shortening or margarine, through a process known as hydrogenation.
As dangerous as refined oils can be to our health, hydrogenated oils like Crisco and margarine are even worse. In fact, they are so bad that they have been BANNED in 2 European countries, but are still deemed safe in the United States. What a surprise. Hydrogenated oil is made by forcing hydrogen gas into oil at high pressure. Of course it is.
Despite how damaging trans fats are for you, the FDA estimated in 2003 that approximately 95% of prepared cookies, 100% of crackers (?) and 80% of frozen breakfast products contained them. Most companies today have removed trans fats from their products because they are too embarrassed to keep them in now that they have to be labeled, but not all. Vegetable oils, margarine, microwave popcorn, fast foods, and non-dairy coffee creamers are a few “foods” that still have trans fats in them.
Restaurants are another issue which is why I rarely eat out and if I do, it is an organic restaurant. (I live in the Midwest which sorely lacks good options when it comes to dining out so I stay home a lot and enjoy the deliciousness of my own clean meals.) Some states have taken the right action. Since restaurants can serve whatever they want, California’s governor recently signed legislation to phase out trans fats from restaurants and baked goods in bakeries and New York city became the largest city in the nation to demand restaurants, cafeterias and schools go trans free.
Refined Oils You Should Avoid:
- Canola oil
- Grapeseed oil
- Peanut oil
- Vegetable oil
- Corn oils
Dr. Renae Norton specializes in the treatment of eating disorders. Located in Cincinnati, Ohio. Call 513-205-6543 to schedule an appointment or fill out our online contact form for someone to call you to discuss your concerns. Tele-therapy sessions available. Individual and family sessions also available.
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