What’s the best nutritional advice?

Sometimes it seems as if nutritional recommendations change too frequently. One moment we are told to avoid butter and eat margarine, the next moment we are advised to use flaxseed oil and a few years later coconut oil is trendy. We wonder whether professionals have any idea themselves which is better, and at times even the professionals can’t agree.

So what is the truth? Is it better to cook with oil or butter? And can we ever be totally sure which is healthier? There are a few issues at play before we decide.?

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Caramelisation

If we forget about the oil or butter argument for one moment, and concentrate on the food we are cooking, the one thing we are absolutely sure of is that the frying process changes the look and taste of food; chicken skin becomes nice and crispy, potato turns a golden colour and as such we crave a McDonalds or KFC.

However, that tasty caramelisation that we love has caused a reaction between the sugar and protein in the food and formed acrylamide, which is known to cause cancer. This reaction from sugar takes place between the temperatures 110c (in the case of fructose) and 160c for sucrose and glucose.

So even before we contemplate the effects of fat and frying we can see that using high temperatures is not the healthiest way to cook.

Even if we are angels of the kitchen, generally steam and keep cooking temperatures low to avoid caramelisation, drizzling our cold pressed organic oil at the end of cooking, there will be times when frying is unavoidable. How do we make this process healthier? There are so many different oils and fats to choose from.Do we cook with oil or butter?

Smoking point

Every cell in the human body is surrounded by a lipid (fat) membrane. What you consume is used to build your body, and if the fats you consume are damaged, the body will not produce healthy cells and eventually will lead to ill health. The smoke point so often spoken about by TV chefs is the destruction of fatty acids and glycerol

This smoke point varies depending on the type of fat used; for example heat damage from butter occurs at 160c, and olive oil smoke point is approximately 185c.

Frying usually takes the cooking temperature to 190c, therefore whether using oil or butter, cooking in this way is not healthy. Some oils should never be heated, such as unrefined flaxseed oil, safflower and sunflower, as they damage at a very low temperature.

Toxins

The issue of cooking with oil or butter is not just about the smoke point, or the caramelisation. Some even recommend lard for cooking as it has a higher smoke point than butter or coconut oil, but at 182c it is still lower than the frying temperature of 190c.

I do not recommend using lard for cooking; not because it is saturated fat, but because toxins are stored in the fat of the animal and if you are in less than superb health with a diet to match, this will add to your toxic load, unless of course you have access to organic lard.

Vegetarians who think they are safe using use cottonseed oil (more of an issue in the USA), which has a heat point of 216c, are also at risk. Cottonseed farming uses very high levels of pesticides, and it really is not safe to consume either heated or raw.

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Manufacturing

Many oils, such as canola, are manufactured by an unnatural process which heat them to a high temperature causing oxidation (rancidity and destruction of the antioxidants), and use petroleum solvents, acids and other chemicals to transform it into the processed oil on the supermarket shelf. These are usually packaged in a plastic bottle, also exposing us to BPA’s (environmental estrogens).

To avoid these heavily processed oils, choose extra virgin cold pressed and buy in glass bottles. Unfortunately these oils also have a lower smoke point temperature and are more suitable for using raw.

Gosh! It seems like a never ending list of negatives for the use of fats and oils so far, but I promise we will get to a practical way of incorporating cooking with oils and fats.

What about the new kid on the block-  avocado oil? It is unrefined and has a higher smoke point , making it suitable for frying. Unfortunately it is quite expensive and isn’t widely available, making it an unrealistic choice for many.

The bottom line

Balance the free radical damage from occasional frying with a diet heavy with raw colourful vegetables and fruit (high antioxidant content). Steam when possible, then drizzle with extra virgin cold pressed organic oils. Vary your oils to obtain a balanced fatty acid ratio. For example flaxseed, olive and rapeseed. You should store these oils in the fridge.

When stir frying add a splash of water or stock to reduce temperature.The more refined the oil, the higher the smoke point, but the more chemically processed and unnatural. Avoid!

Avocado oil has the highest smoke point and is safest for frying. If you can afford it and find it, then this is the best choice.

In the absence of avocado oil, use coconut oil or organic butter or lard for frying. Turn the heat down to reduce the frying temperature and avoid colouring the food too much.

Finally…

Make practical, mindful and balanced decisions about your food and then ENJOY it. Don’t worry too much, as food is there to be enjoyed and stress is equally damaging for the health.

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