Fats get an unjustifiably bad rap. In fact, you MUST have fat in your diet to supply your body with two essential fatty acids that it can’t make. Plus, not getting enough fat in your diet can have other repercussions. A very low-fat diet can:
· Reduce the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins from the foods you eat
· Cause skin issues since fats are what keep your skin moist & act as a barrier against bacteria
· Lead to overconsumption of refined carbs since low-fat foods are higher in sugar and fillers
· Contribute to mood problems, including depression
· Create hormonal imbalances
· Lead to overeating due to lack of satiety
The key to meeting your body’s fat requirements safely is to consume healthier fats – but what constitutes a healthy fat has been debated for years. For example, you may have heard that saturated fat is bad for your heart, yet studies looking at whether saturated fat increases the risk of heart disease are inconsistent. What is undebatable is the negative impact trans-fats have on heart and blood vessel health. In fact, the FDA has given manufacturers a 3-year window period to remove trans-fats from their products.
What about saturated fat? The most recent consensus is that saturated fat likely isn’t the strong contributor to heart disease as experts once believed. In fact, highly processed vegetable oils, the golden liquids you see in plastic bottles, may be no less harmful. Yet, these are the fats most health professionals recommend. These oils, being unstable, break down into toxic chemicals called aldehydes when you heat them. Plus, they’re highly processed and rich in inflammation-inducing omega-6 fats.
The type of fat that may be the most heart-healthy are monounsaturated fats, the type of fat abundant in extra-virgin olive oil, the mainstay of the Mediterranean diet. This diet rich in fruits and vegetables has been called the healthiest in the world. In fact, research shows the Mediterranean diet may lower the risk of heart attack and stroke in people at high risk for these diseases. Despite eating fat, in the form of olive oil, at most meals, people who eat a traditional Mediterranean diet have a low incidence of lifestyle diseases, like cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, stroke, and cancer.
Cooking Oil: A Downside of Olive Oil
Extra-virgin olive oil, with its health benefits, sounds like the perfect cooking oil, doesn’t it? The problem is that it has a relatively low smoke point and this limits its use in the kitchen. For example, it’s not the best option for cooking food at high temperatures. The smoke point of extra-virgin olive oil, the healthiest, least processed form of the oil, is around 220 degrees F, while lower quality non-virgin olive oil has a smoke point of around 410 degrees F.
Why is this important? When you take an oil above its smoke point, chemical reactions can take place that produce unhealthy by-products. If olive oil isn’t an option, what heart healthier options do you have for high-temperature cooking, like frying? Although fried food shouldn’t make up a large part of your diet, when you do fry, use the healthiest oil possible. What might that be?
As it turns out, oil derived from the ever-popular avocado fruit withstands cooking temperatures up to 500 degrees F. without breaking down or forming toxic by-products. In fact, avocado oil has some of the same health benefits as olive oil. It consists of over 70% monounsaturated fats with the remainder made up of about half saturated and half polyunsaturated fats.
Cooking Oil: Health Benefits of Avocado Oil
Like olive oil, avocado oil has favorable effects on blood lipids. For example, it helps lower LDL-cholesterol and blood triglycerides and that bodes well for the health of your heart. Plus, like olive oil, it contains antioxidants that vanquish harmful free radicals. What’s more, avocado oil contains lutein, a carotenoid that may lower the risk of some age-related eye diseases, including cataracts and age-related macular degeneration, the most common cause of age-related vision loss.
Avocado oil may have other health benefits as well. Some studies have linked diets rich in monounsaturated fats, like extra-virgin olive oil and avocado oil, with improvements in insulin sensitivity and with reductions in belly fat. One study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition showed participants who ate a diet rich in monounsaturated fat for 6 months experienced a 9.4% drop in insulin level and a 3% drop in blood glucose
Cooking Oil: How to Use Avocado Oil
Grab the bottle of avocado oil when you need an oil that can stand up to high temps. It’s ideal for grilling, frying, and pan-roasting, but you can also saute and stir fry with it. You can also use avocado oil to make salad dressing, although it’s more expensive than extra-virgin olive oil. That’s why you might want to keep it in reserve for occasions when you need an oil with a high smoke point. You can even use avocado oil as a substitute for butter when baking.
The Bottom Line
Don’t toss the extra-virgin olive oil – it has too many health benefits. However, make room in the cabinet for avocado oil as well. When you have a bottle of avocado oil on hand, you have your cooking needs covered, no matter what temperature you’re using. Avoid processed vegetable oils as much as possible as they offer no health benefits and may be harmful. Keep in mind that vegetable oils, mainly soybean and corn oil, are what you find in most processed and packaged foods.
Most importantly, eat a varied diet of whole, unprocessed foods, including lots of plants. You don’t have to be an expert cook or have lots of ingredients to make healthy foods that your whole family will love. Stick to the basics – simple, unprocessed foods prepared with healthy oils.
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Medical News Today. “Mediterranean Diet Reduces Heart Attack, Stroke In High-Risk Groups”
Authority Nutrition. “”9 Evidence-Based Health Benefits of Avocado Oil”
Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. 2013 May; 53(7): 738–750.
Healing Gourmet. “Avocado Oil: The Healthiest Cooking Oil You’re Not Using Yet”
J Bioenerg Biomembr. 2013 Jun;45(3):271-87. doi: 10.1007/s10863-013-9502-3. Epub 2013 Feb 27.
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