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Mar 15, 2009 04:06 PM

Healthy High-Heat Cooking Oils? Oxymoron?

Today I've read opposing Internet-based views of what constitutes a healthy, high-heat cooking oil. There is the (serious?), issue of oxidation causing dangerous free radicals that are linked to cancer. These free radicals supposedly occur easily with polyunsaturated oils as they oxidize, but not so much with lard and coconut oil. I don't fry much, at all. I am still concerned about what I ingest and lard doesn't seem like a good choice for regular use. Then there's coconut oil, which is a "medium chain saturated fat" and supposedly the long chain saturated fats of animal fats (like lard), are bad for you. Coconut oil can come in refined and unrefined versions.

Other information states that canola, grapeseed, sesame seed, sunflower seed, avocado and peanut oils are good (and healthy), for frying. I think one comment was that "most seed oils are good". Some are not terribly practical because of price and availability. Rice bran oil is impossible to find in normal stores but is available for $26.62/gallon from Avocado oil is incredibly expensive. I use it for salad dressing, only.

I don't know what to use or what to do. All my oils are stored at room temperature, which, according to Gordon Ramsey, is bad. Others say don't refrigerate; they will separate. Implied is that returning them back to solution is difficult or impossible...

I keep out only what I use fairly quickly, but quickly means a month or two. I go through EVOO and grapeseed oil fairly quickly. Some oils are in clear containers, like my corn oil, and are in daylight all the time. I feel I need to consider having only one or two high-heat or all-purpose oils.
I was reading this which seems credible enough, but lacks any detailed information about health risk from oil breaking down or oxidizing:

Is there anyone out there with scientific knowledge on this subject? Factual data? Studies? Web Links? I'd like to make an informed decision and thought others would like to know more, too.

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  1. IMO, in order to prepare a truthful statement, the words "healthy" and "oil" should never be used in the same sentence. My research has convinced me that it's a matter of selecting the cooking oil that will create the lowest obvious health risk.
    I'm left with the impression that if the standard classification of cooking oils has not provided the average cook with the data needed to feel comfortable with using one or more of them (least unhealthy Flax seed oil, canola oil, flax seed oil, olive oil, non-hydrogenated oils etc.) (most unhealthy Vegetable shortening, Palm oil, Coconut Oil, Butter, etc.) it may be time to just forget about oil altogether and become a steaming expert.
    Preparing meals, not to mention consuming the prepared dish, while having to worry about the health hazards of the oil I use in their preparation certainly dilutes the enjoyment of the food.
    These people
    have studied the subject to death. (No pun intended)

    6 Replies
    1. re: todao

      Thanks! This has a lot of good info. Coconut oil, which I will never use, seems to be used only in restaurants as a refined, medium-chain saturated fat.
      Still don't understand why you should not put oils in the fridge. I do keep oils in the fridge if I have used them only once.

      1. re: todao

        That's 1990's era information. Turns out that the major culprit in heart disease is sugar and refined carbs. Excesses of these lead to high triglyceride levels, the stick-to-arteries kind of fat. We all need some fat in our diet and fats vary widely in terms of their effects on the body, so I think it might be throwing the baby out with the bathwater to say that all oils are not healthy. This is not to say that all fats are created equal.

        Many vegetable oils are high in Omega-6 content and are getting the bad rap right now. We need them but not in the whacked out ratios that we've been eating them. Too much leads to inflammation and sticky blood, two things that promote the spread and growth of cancer. Corn oil is the worst offender followed by other omega-6 heavy fats like safflower, sunflower, peanut, sesame, and more.

        Most of us need to consume more Omega-3 fats such as olive, walnut, flax, and that found in wild salmon. Unfortunately, these are usually damaged by high heat cooking The jury is out on coconut oil. Some say it's bad because it is a saturated fat. Others say you have to eat organic and unrefined which contains beneficial polyphenols and which is metabolized right away for the most part instead of being stored. Proponents often point to generations of South Pacific islanders who consumed up to 40% of their diet from coconut oil and did not have significant problems with heart disease.

        The more I read about fats, the more I realize what an incredibly complicated topic it is!

        I refer everyone to the following books:

        Anticancer: A New Way of Life
        Life Over Cancer
        Natural Strategies for Cancer Patients

        1. re: lemurleap

          coconut oil is very good for you, I am living proof of that. It is great for high heat cooking. I won't touch canola oil (GMO), and corn oil (GMO) anymore.

          1. re: Taterbugruns

            I am totally on side with you Taterbugruns and sedimental, and I've done a lot of research on this too ... one very good source of info on oils (for cooking or otherwise) is Mary Enig "an expert of international renown in the field of lipid biochemistry". One of her key publications is "The truth about saturated fats" where she discusses pros and cons of various oils and warns about some common misconceptions ... you can read her synopsis of the science or you can scroll right to the end and just read her "Summary".

            1. re: Taterbugruns

              We've split a sub-thread about GMO foods over to our Food Media and News board since that's where this topic usually gets discussed:

            2. re: lemurleap

              Another good book is Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon. It is a huge book with good discussions about conflicting research -and why it is conflicting.

          2. What about grapeseed oil? I understood that was best for high heat.

            7 Replies
            1. re: escondido123

              And what about pecan oil? A friend gave me some and it is wonderful for high heat and has a nice clean taste.

              1. re: magiesmom

                I don't know about pecan oil, but if it's like other nut oils is better for medium heat. Peanut oil is a different case because peanuts are actually not technically nuts and the the oil from peanuts is better for high heat. I am pretty sure in nourishing traditions they describe it as a so-so fat that you want to use in moderation. Grapeseed oil is the same as canola oil so it's generally very refined and damaged. You are better off with butter or coconut oil for high heat. Lemurleap is right, it's sugar and damaged refined fats that you have to watch for.

                1. re: DetectiveGrace

                  Dont forget duck fat, lard, and tallow potatoes fried in duck fat are heavenly

                  1. re: DetectiveGrace

                    Actually, I just did some internet reading and pecan oil is recommended for very high heat esp. deep frying , similar t unrefined grapeseed oil if one can find it, no longer easy but not impossible.

                    1. re: DetectiveGrace

                      Grapeseed is not the same as canola oil. Canola is the marketable name for rapeseed.

                  2. re: escondido123

                    It's said to be good for high heat but it is high in omega-6 fat so, for health purposes, probably not as beneficial since most of us eat too much omega 6 to begin with.

                  3. Im just going to address the super weird notion that oil "separates" when refrigerated and cannot return to solution.

                    Oil goes rancid. To delay its spoilage, many people keep their oils in the refrigerator.

                    Most oils thicken and grow cloudy.

                    They do not separate. There is nothing to separate. Oil is not a solution, after all.

                    Oil which has thickened quickly grows clear and pourable once its left at room temperature for a bit.

                    1. On free radicals: Your body produces them naturally (byproduct of using oxygen). It's also in the atmosphere (pollution) and just about everything else out there. Now, the theory behind them is that because they have a free electron spot, they'll react with cells/molecules, causing damage and age us. All that's fine - In vitro. Whether or not that happens in life is an unknown. Last December there was an experiment (published in "PLoS Biology") where worms (No, not humans, but it's a start) that had abnormally high free radical activity were created - They lived longer than usual. When they were introduced to antioxidants, their longer life was cut short. A review released last month ("The Cochrane Library") that focused on antioxidant supplements concluded that they weren't beneficial and even potentially harmful (a good chunk of your immune system fits into what is a free radical).

                      In other words, we really don't know for a fact if all this free radical and antioxidant thing is good or bad. So, it shouldn't be a huge concern at this point.

                      A healthy oil is one that has low saturated fat and a high amount of monounsaturated fat (compared to poly). The contenders are olive, canola, peanut, avocado and (high oleic) sunflower oil. All of them, in their refined states (such as light olive oil), have high smoking points (450 F and above). So, take your pick. You can use the following link to find and compare the oils:

                      "But, they're refined/processed!" To that I say, tobacco and opium and natural products. Natural doesn't mean healthy. Processed doesn't mean unhealthy.

                      I use extra virgin olive oil for no/minimal heat and flavor situations, canola oil for high heat and neutral flavor situations and butter for butter situations. Butter is tasty and fine in moderation. And, face it, there is no substitute.

                      Finally, you should have fat in every meal, since it helps absorb certain (fat soluble) nutrients. So, adding oil to a meal with no/minimal fat is healthier than eating it as is.

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