Fat is an important source of energy and is a part of all the cells in the body. You want to make sure you’re getting the right kinds and not too much.

Research shows that a diet high in omega-3 rich fish and plant foods but low in saturated, trans, and omega-6 fats can help reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes and obesity.

3 bottles of cooking oilThere are different types of oils. There are monounsaturated oils like olive, almond, avocado, hazelnut, peanut, safflower, canola, and sunflower oils. Corn, flaxseed, pumpkin seed, soy, and walnut oils are examples of polyunsaturated oils.

If you want to boost omega-3s, you can use flaxseed, pumpkin, walnut, or chia oil. Hempseed oil is also another option and can be used in salad dressing.

Oils are produced in different ways. They are extracted from plants by either pressing or refining. After it’s extracted, it can be further refined to make it more stable — less likely to oxidize and form free radicals. Using oxidized fats long-term may cause some undesirable consequences, such as premature aging of our cells and inflammation. Refining may also remove antioxidants.

Labels can be confusing. “Extra Virgin” has the best flavor and contains no more than 0.8 percent free acidity. “Virgin” is a little lower in quality but still has good flavor, but free acidity is higher. If these oils are refined, they have a medium-high smoke point, making them OK for cooking at moderate temperatures. “Light” olive oil has less flavor, not fewer calories! “High oleic” means the oils have a high percentage of oleic acid, which is a form of monounsaturated fat, and makes them more stable against oxidation. They also have a higher smoke point.

Smoke point is the maximum temperature that the oil can be heated to before it becomes damaged and it varies from oil to oil. You don’t want oil to smoke, because it releases carcinogens into the air and also creates free radicals! Free radicals cause cellular damage which may lead to disease.

When using low to moderate temperatures or mixing in salad dressings, you can use unrefined oils like walnut, corn, flaxseed, coconut, and olive oil. For higher temperatures you want to use refined oils more often like macadamia, canola, avocado, sunflower, and soy oil.

You can lengthen the lifespan of your oil by putting it in the refrigerator. You can keep unrefined oils for up to 14 months and refined oils up to 20 months. If you buy cold-pressed oils or oils rich in omega-3s, these require refrigeration when opened to ensure freshness.

Coconut oil can remain stable at room temperature for up to two years! This is the exception.

You can leave oils like olive oil at room temperature for about two months if you are using it frequently.

It’s a good idea to purchase oil in dark bottles or store in a dark place because light can cause oxidative damage. If oil becomes burned, get rid of it!

Some new oils to try:

TEA SEED OIL – This oil has a very high smoke point and is used in China and Japan. It is high in monounsaturated fat.

VIRGIN ARGAN OIL – This oil is from the fruit of the Moroccan argan tree and has a delicate and enticing nutty aroma and flavor. It has a low smoke point, so it’s not used as much for cooking as it is as a salad dressing or for dip! It’s packed with antioxidants also.

PUMPKIN SEED OIL – This oil is rich in phytoestrogens. It’s good drizzled over pasta, for sauteing fish, or in salad dressing. It also has a low smoke point, so it’s not good for frying.

BERRY SEED OIL – This oil is rich in powerful antioxidants and anti-inflammatory phenols, including zeaxanthin and lutein. It has a low smoke point so it’s good to use in salad dressings or drizzled over granola, etc. Don’t make the mistake of buying “raspberry oil” that is a cheaper oil infused with raspberry essence. Some of the berry oils are red raspberry seed oil, blueberry seed oil, or cranberry seed oil.

Oils can be healthy if you buy the right ones and use them wisely. Pay attention to your oil use and other food preparation methods for the healthiest and tastiest food. Enjoy your food as if your life depends on it, because it does!

Karen Russell is a certified health counselor, AADP, with Recipe for Wellness.

(Image courtesy of m_bartosch at FreeDigitalPhotos.net)
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