Healthy Cooking Oils – what is MCT oil and is it healthy to cook with?
When it comes to cooking healthy food there is so much information out there about what actually is healthy and what is not. The same can be said of cooking oils – which oils are healthy to cook with and which oils are not? Once you’ve settled this, there are then so many choices, which do you choose? Did you know that certain healthy oils are not suitable for cooking? It’s important to have the basic facts at hand about each oil before choosing what to cook with.
What makes the difference? What would make certain oils healthy and certain oils unhealthy?
Unhealthy cooking oils are typically deemed unhealthy because they are highly processed, refined, and lack nutrients. They tend to be very high in polyunsaturated fats as well as Omega-6 fatty acids. While Omega-6 is needed by our bodies, a balance of more Omega-3 fats versus Omega-6 is required for good health. Since these oils tend to contain too many Omega-6, which is known to increase inflammation, they become an unhealthy choice.
According to Liz Weinandy, a registered dietitian at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, vegetable oil is an oil to avoid cooking with. Vegetable oil can be tricky to define, because the word ‘vegetable’ is used as a blanket term and can include corn, cottonseed, soy or canola oils. (These four oils are listed as the top four most unhealthy oils to cook with according to mindbodygreen). Liz Weinandy states that, “Vegetable oil is guaranteed to be highly processed…Processed oils have been pushed past their heat tolerance and have become rancid in the processing.”
Healthy oils, on the other hand, tend to be far less processed, and offer various health benefits. Healthy oils tend to have a good balance of Omega-3 and Omega-6. They tend to be good for the heart, have good levels of Vitamin E, and have antioxidant properties, if used correctly within their smoke points.
A few well known healthy oils options include:
- Olive oil
- Avocado oil
- You may be thinking, what about coconut oil?
- According to registered dietitian Mara Weber, MS, RD, LD, “virgin coconut oil is high in lauric acid, which raises bothgood and bad cholesterol levels.” Despite concerns about coconut oil’s higher content of saturated fats, studies have shown that unrefined coconut oil contains anti-inflammatory and antioxidant elements – which outweigh the negative aspects of coconut oil. Many err on the side of using coconut oil in moderation as a good option for overall health.
Less well-known healthy oils include Sesame oil, MCT oil, walnut and flax oil.
Now that I know of some healthy oils, how do I know which to use?
The answer to this, other than taste or specific health benefits, comes down to smoke point.
Smoke point is the temperature at which the oil becomes unstable, and begins to break down. When it breaks down it begins to oxidize. When something oxidizes it produces free radicals, which are known to contribute to inflammation in the body. This means that even when cooking with healthy oils, it is important to cook within their smoke point.
How do you know if you’re reaching a smoke point if you can’t measure the temperature of the oil while you are cooking? Here is a handy list of cooking activities and the smoke points they usually reach.
A good rule of thumb from Serious Eats: “The higher a fat’s smoke point, the more cooking methods you can use it for.”
- High smoke point – 450F
- Searing browning and deep frying
- AVOCADO OIL
- Medium high smoke point – 400F
- Baking, oven cooking and stir frying
- OLIVE OIL
- Medium – low smoke point – 300-350F
- Light sautee and sauces, some low heat baking
- COCONUT AND SESAME SEED OIL
- MCT OIL
- No heat oils
- Dressings, dips and marinades
- FLAX SEED AND WALNUT OIL
MCT oil – an option for cooking with?
One particular oil that has gained popularity over recent years is MCT oil. MCT oil has become especially popular among athletes, biohackers and people with diabetes, for its health benefits.
MCT stands for ‘medium chain triglycerides’ which basically refers to the molecular structure of the fat. This structure is important because it affects how it is broken down and utilized by the body. MCT is a form of saturated fat, but has a low calorie count. As explained in a very informative blog article by Tanasi, MCT oil is digested easier than long chain triglycerides (found in avocado and olive oil- making it a good choice for cooking!). This easier digestion is made possible by how it breaks down in the liver, is absorbed quickly in the body and therefore can be utilized for energy more rapidly. A key fact to note about MCT oil is that it is broken down into an accessible energy source, but If they are not immediately used up by the body, they are turned into ketones. Ketones are used by the body for energy. By utilizing ketones for the body’s energy and not glucose, it means that the energy boost given by the MCT oil will be steady, stable and longer lasting than energy gained by glucose. According to Luke Coutinho, ketones are able to cross the blood-brain barrier, making MCT’s an excellent energy source for brain cells too.
To summarize, MCT oil has benefits in weight loss, weight control or appetite control. At Natural Bio Health, we offer a great MCT oil product that can be used as a dietary supplement or for cooking. Click here for more detail on the health benefits of taking MCT oil.
Can you cook with MCT oil?
The answer is there are a few ways to take MCT oil and yes- it is a good choice for cooking!
MCT oil can be taken as a supplement, mixed into smoothies or shakes, drizzled over food, added to shakes, or you can cook and bake with it (low baking temperatures).
MCT has a lower smoking point of 320F (Tanasi), so sautéing is a good option. MCT oil is flavorless, and a liquid at room temperature. By using MCT oil, you will be gaining the health benefits for your exercise or weight loss regime – but remember not to use it past its smoke point!
Choosing a healthy cooking oil can seem overwhelming, but our advice:
Keep a stock of 2-4 healthy cooking oils in your pantry, and use them based on the cooking method, and the health benefits you’re needing.
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