Monday, June 28, 2010

Olive Oil and Beyond

Have you ever taken a close look at the oil selection on the supermarket shelves? There are close to three dozen different oils to choose from, so how do we know which one to select? The truth is, there are a number of different types of culinary oil that you should keep on hand in your home kitchen, each having it’s own purpose and health benefits. Knowing how to select and purchase, discovering the beneficial health properties of each type, and correctly using them in your cooking makes all the difference in oil exploration.

Deciding on the correct type of oil in the grocery store is where it all starts. Oils, especially those that are that are liquid at room temperature, are susceptible to oxidation. Once oil is oxidized, if consumed, it creates a cascade of harmful free radicals in your body leading to systemic inflammation. There are three things that cause oxidation of oil: light, heat, and air. Take precaution, and you can easily prevent your oils from spoiling. When purchasing liquid oil, make sure that it is in an opaque glass bottle or metal can so it is protected from light. Store oil at home in a dark cabinet or in the refrigerator, away from the stove, and always keep the lid on the jar securely fastened. Choose oils that are cold pressed, meaning that they haven’t been exposed to high heats in the refinement process. It is also best to purchase oil in smaller containers, that way they are consumed faster, and exposed to less air. If you buy oil in bulk, share it with a friend and store it in smaller jars.

Each oil has it’s own unique health benefits. Olive oil is rich in oleic acid, a monounsaturated fat. Consuming a diet rich in oleic acid can improve HDL levels, the heart healthy type of cholesterol. Olive oil is also loaded with polyphenols, powerful antioxidants that scavenge free radicals and reduce inflammation. Olive oil has a low smoke point so it is best used for low heat sautéing, salad dressings, and dips.

Coconut oil has a high percentage of medium chain triglycerides, which are essential for healthy gut function. It is also rich in lauric acid, giving it anti-viral and immune boosting properties. Coconut oil is a saturated fat, meaning that it is solid at room temperature, making it more stable and less susceptible to oxidation. For this reason it is a perfect substitute for butter, margarine, or shortening in baked goods and excellent for medium heat sautéing or frying. Beyond culinary uses, coconut oil can also be used as a lotion on dry and sensitive skin.

Flax seed oil is rich in alpha-linolenic acid, an omega 3 fatty acid. Omega 3 fatty acids are essential for proper brain function and can be used therapeutically to combat inflammation. The American diet is especially low in these wonderful fats, so by adding some flax seed oil to your diet, you will be doing your body a huge favor! Flax seed oil should not be exposed to heat at all. It is great for adding to smoothies and for drizzling over salads.

Sesame oil is definitely one that you will want to have on hand. It is especially resistant to rancidity and adds wonderful flavor to Asian stir-fries and dressings. The toasted version is especially tasty and its unique flavor is an excellent addition to many dishes. The health benefits of this magnificent oil go far beyond use in the kitchen. Ayurvedic practitioners in India use it to cure many different ailments such as athlete’s foot, dandruff, diaper rash, and the common cold.

Using your oil properly in the kitchen will insure that you gain all of the health benefits that it has to offer. When sautéing, make sure that the pan is heated prior to adding the oil, and then add your vegetables or meat immediately. This will lessen the time that the oil is exposed to high heat and air, decreasing the chances of oxidation. It is also important to note that if an occasion arises when your oil begins to smoke in the pan, dump it out and start over. Smoking oil has certainly been oxidized and has changed flavors. It is unhealthy and tastes unappealing.

Now that you have a wonderful selection of healthy oils in your kitchen, the sky is the limit. Enjoy making nutritious stir fries and salad dressings packed with wholesome essential fats. You will feel great knowing that you are cooking healthfully and your taste buds will thank you too!


  1. OK...guess it's time to move the oils into the refrigerator!

  2. Great post! Thanks Marion.
    I rarely ever fry, but for things like eggplant parm what's the best oil to use at a high heat?

  3. i honestly did not know (until recently) the difference between all of the olive oils in the store that you can choose from! now, though i pay more - it is very important to me to get good quality oil and to treat it the right way once i get it home. this is an important topic that many people do not know about!

  4. RRS, The best oil to use for high heat frying is a high quality, organic, expeller pressed oil like safflower. Make sure that your oil is 350-370 degrees before frying in it. :) GG

  5. Such great information, I have been learning a ton from you and just wanted to say...Thanks!