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Photo by Brooke Lark on Unsplash

Here’s What You Need To Know About Healthy Cooking Oils And Smoke Points

Here's how to be strategic with your oil usage.

Ok, ok—while this might not sound like the most riveting article you’ve ever stumbled across, it will almost definitely help you cook healthier in the future. We all know that *good* oils are jam-packed with healthy fats that keep us fuller for longer and, as women, are especially good for hormonal balance (hello, Mediterranean diet) but do you know much about how to properly cook with them to reap maximum benefits?   

All oils have a smoke point, which is pretty much what it says on the tin—the point at which the oil will start to smoke and break down. But, they’re all different—making some better for cooking and others better for drizzling. We spoke to Cyndi O’Meara, nutritionist at Changing Habits to get an expert opinion on oil usage in the kitchen.

How smoke points interfere with cooking

According to Cyndi, smoke points are a signal that you’ve taken the oil too far and it is damaged by heat, causing toxic fumes and free radicals. A healthy body may be able to deal with this on occasion, but if your body is compromised and you use oils that have been overheated, then the burden of free radicals will need more antioxidants to counteract the damage they cause to the body. Overheated oils can also spoil the goodness of the food; so if this happens to you, Cyndi’s best advice is to throw it out and start again.

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Image via iStock

Oils that can handle high heats

As a general rule, don’t heat the oils past 180°C—this is a safe point for most good-quality cooking oils. If you want to go past this, Cyndi recommends using animal rendered fats in the place of cooking oils. Tallow is high in saturated fat and very low in polyunsaturated fatty acids, making it particularly heat-stable. Its high smoke point makes it a great option for pan-frying meat or veggies.

Oils for drizzling

Cold pressed oils which are filled with fat-soluble vitamins and antioxidants are the perfect choice for drizzling on salads to add flavour (and increase the nutritional profile) of a meal. They contain a mix of omega 3, 6 and 9 and small amounts of saturated fat (which means the oil flows and is not solid). If you’re on the hunt for a new oil, Cyndi recommends the Inca Inchi oil (from the mountain nut in South America). It is 48% omega 3, 86% essential fatty acids (omega 3 and 6) with some omega 9 and saturated fat, as well as Vitamins A and E. Other oils that she loves to use on salads and vegetables are walnut, hazelnut, olive, almond, macadamia, sesame and black sesame.

cooking oil salad
Image: MACROS by Sophie Guidolin

The hidden problem with takeaway food

One of the main problems that come with eating takeaway is the compromised oil that the majority of restaurants will use. Many takeaway places and food manufacturers use additives in the oil and refine the oil in order to increase the smoke point and the time that they can use the oil for (up to 7 days).

This does not mean that they are better, in fact, the opposite is true. They will be high in polyunsaturated fats, low in fat-soluble vitamins and naturally occurring antioxidants and probably have other toxic ingredients, like BHA (Butylated hydroxyanisole) and BHT (Butylated hydroxytoluene) that the body has to deal with. As previously mentioned—these are fine for a healthy body to deal with on occasion, but should not become a regular feature of your diet. 

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