There is so much confusion around what types of fats are safe for cooking that I’ve written this months article to help clarify things and to make you rethink your point of view possibly. What I’ve learnt on my health journey is to question long-held beliefs and more often than not it means eating how we ate before processed food became available. I urge you to do further research yourself.
I’m sure you’ve heard a lot about the smoke point and how the higher it is, the more stable the oil is. However, in 2015 research by Prof Grootveld demonstrated that vegetable oils, such as corn, rapeseed and sunflower produce two previously unknown aldehydes (potentially carcinogenic compounds) when heated. Coconut oil produced the lowest levels of the harmful chemicals.The time the oil is heated for is very important too, which you can see demonstrated in the graph below. The difference between 10, 20 and 30 minutes cooking time is dramatic.
Unrefined coconut oil has a smoke point of 176 C, so it’s best not to heat it over that temperature. Refined coconut oil has a smoke point of 232 C, much higher than normal cooking. So if you’re going to be heating unrefined oil make sure the temperature is below 176 C or if you know the temperature is going to be higher then ensure you use refined coconut oil.
There are other things to consider about consuming vegetable oils such as soya, corn, sunflower and rapeseed. Part of the problem is that they are polyunsaturated (PUFAs), which for years we’ve been told are the best types of oil to consume. PUFAs are unstable and easily damaged during processing and refining. This means that your bottle of cooking oil will contain toxic breakdown products; when these oils are heated they degrade further, generating additional toxins.
They are also high in omega 6’s, and the ratio of omega 6’s in our diets is generally way out of balance with omega’s 3. A general rule of thumb is to reduce our omega 6’s and increase omega 3’s which can be found in seafood, flax and chia seeds to name a few. As a result, our bodies are suffering from terrible levels of inflammation, which is the route of most illnesses.
The fat in our bodies is mostly made up of saturated and monounsaturated fats, and that is where we should be getting most of our fats contrary to popular opinion. Please bear in mind that if you want to reduce aldehyde production choose an oil or fat high in monounsaturated or saturated lipids – higher than 60% for one or the other, and more than 80% for the two combined. It should also be low in polyunsaturates – less than 20%. The image below will help explain more and details which are a healthier choice.
Another consideration relates to 4-hydroxynonenal (4-HNE), which forms during the processing of most vegetable oils. 4-HNE is highly toxic, especially to your gut bacteria. 4-HNE causes cytotoxicity (toxicity to our cells), DNA damage and instigates free radical cascades that damage the mitochondrial (powerhouse of our cells) membrane. We need to protect our gut health like a newborn baby and avoid these compounds.
You might be thinking that organic vegetable oil is the answer. However, 4-HNE occurs even if the oil is obtained from organic crops. It’s an intrinsic byproduct of the refining and processing of the oil, no matter how healthy the oil was initially.
Coconut oil has had a bad press in recent months, but for me personally, I use it for cooking and keep the temperature below the smoke point. If you eat dairy then clarified butter or ghee is an alternative.