Are Your Oils Killing You?

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One of the most overlooked aspects of healthy eating is which oils people use in their diet.  While it seems easy enough the rules change a bit depending on how you are using the oil.  In order to learn this it is best to first understand why it is so important.  Oils (and their corresponding foods) are most commonly known for their type of omega, most notably omega 3, 6, and 9.  All of these are typically good for us and serve slightly different purposes.  We probably wouldn’t even need to have this conversation if people had just continued to eat real, whole foods and nothing was processed.  However, that is not the reality that we live in so we must adapt.  One of the biggest things we need to pay attention to is the ratio of Omega-6: Omega-3 in our diets.  Many people have started hearing that Omega-6 fats are bad and we need to only consume high levels of Omega-3.  This is not entirely true.  The reality is that both are healthy, but the modern diet is full of high density Omega-6 oils which skew this ratio greatly towards Omega-6.  The problem with this is that this promotes an inflammatory state in our body.  Having a ratio closer to 1:1 is ideal.  So, the reason that people are told to greatly increase their levels of Omega-3 in their diet (wild fish, fish oils, etc.) is mostly because we are trying to get that ratio close to 1:1 for people who are eating lots of processed foods filled with vegetable oils and Omega-6 heavy foods.  Again, if people only ate real, whole foods then it would probably suffice to just also eat foods with high levels of Omega-3 in them to achieve this balance, and use supplement forms to only increase the benefits of higher levels of DHA and EPA. 

Oils are one of the biggest ways that we add all types of fat to our diet since they are very dense and contain high levels of fat in only small amounts.  So, if we add the wrong types of oils we can quickly take our Omega-6: Omega-3 ratio in the wrong direction.  However, if we use the right oils we can easily bring it in the RIGHT direction!

So, a couple of things we need to consider.

Which Oils Should I Be Eating?

This section pertains to oils specifically that we are consuming without cooking them.  So, oils that we use on salads or poured directly over meals that have already been cooked.  The first rule is that you should stay away from most vegetable oils.  Canola oil is an absolute no-no!  If it is in your house, throw it away!  There is never an OK time to use this oil and will only add to the inflammation within your body.  Two great oils to use that have many notable benefits are coconut oil and olive oil.  It seems that many people use olive oil as a staple in many foods so this might not be new information.  The problem with this oil only arises when you cook with it, which we’ll get to in a bit.  For now, just know that if you are consuming a raw oil stick to the basics and just use one of these 2 oils.  This doesn’t mean that certain forms of various vegetable oils aren’t acceptable, but to keep things easy just stick to these two oils and you’ll get plenty of health benefits.  The only other recommendation in this section is to get organic, unprocessed versions as their health benefits will supersede others.

What If I’m Cooking With the Oil?

Here’s where it gets a bit tricky.  This section depends entirely on the smoke point of the oil.  The smoke point is basically when the oil begins to smoke, which is essentially changing the molecular structure of the oil.  When this happens the oil becomes more unstable in its makeup.  This is important because unstable oils have a much higher potential of becoming inflammatory in your body.  So, if you take a healthy oil and heat it past its smoke point, you are now creating an inflammatory oil!  Not a good strategy.  Your good health intentions have now become health hazards.  Extra-virgin olive oil is a common oil that many people use for all purposes.  While the oil is really good in itself, its smoke point is very low which means you must be careful how you cook with it.  Take a look at this list to see the smoke point of various oils:

Fat

Smoke Point )

Avocado

520

Ghee

485

Olive oil (extra light)

468

Palm oil

455

Coconut oil (expeller pressed)*

450

Macadamia oil

413

Beef tallow

400

Duck fat

375

Lard

370

Coconut oil (extra virgin)

350

Olive oil (extra virgin)

320

Butter

250-300

 

As you can see there is a big difference in smoke point between various oils.  You will also notice that depending on the type you buy, the smoke point can change drastically.  For instance, extra-virgin olive oil has a low smoke point, while refined olive oil has a high smoke point.  The same goes for coconut oils.  So, you really need to pay attention to which one you’re using and have 2 versions in your house, using them according to how you’re preparing your food.

Smoke points are the most important when you are using oils to heat up in a pan before adding food.  This rises the temperature in the oil most dramatically so you must be careful.  If this is how you are using the oil you must use one with a very high smoke point, like avocado oil or refined, organic coconut oil.  However, if you are adding oil to a pan that also has other liquids in it, the temperature will not get nearly as hot, so you can get away with using oils with somewhat lower smoke points.  Start to pay attention to how you’re cooking and this will dictate which oil you can use.  While this may seem like a pain at first, just remember that this alone can determine whether the meal you are eating is helping to promote inflammation or reduce it!

What if an Oil is in the Food I am Buying?

This is where you really need to be careful!  Many companies use only inflammatory oils, like canola oil, in their products because it is cheap to use.  But remember, this oil is a ‘no-no’. It can make a ‘healthy’ product immediately unhealthy.  Sometimes this can become difficult to find.  One common food that is considered fairly healthy, but almost always uses unhealthy oils is hummus.  Start paying attention to labels and you will see.  I tell my clients that they are not allowed to buy a product unless they have read the ingredients label and it has passed the test.  You’ll be surprised how many foods you eat are littered with these bad oils, even though they are passed off as ‘healthy’ food options.  So, if the product you are buying uses canola oil, put it back and keep searching.  Even places like Whole Foods use many of these oils in their prepared foods.  If you tend to get some of your lunches or dinners from their self-service area, read the ingredients they provide for each food and start avoiding the ones that are prepared with canola and vegetable oils.  Again, you’ll be surprised how many products use these harmful oils even at places like Whole Foods! 

Eating healthy doesn’t really need to be that difficult.  We have made food a very complicated topic when all we need to do is start eating more whole foods.  It can really be that simply.  From that point all we need to do is start learning a few more tricks to really make our diets healthy.  Figuring out how to use oils is one of those tricks that can really make a huge impact on your health.  Start your learning process in this world and soon it will become second-nature!