What is the Healthiest Cooking Oil?
It’s maybe the most prevailing debate in the health and wellness sphere: are we supposed to be eating fat? If so, how much fat, and what kind? Unsaturated? Saturated? Plant-based, or lard all the way? Can we eat with oils? Will anything deep-fried kill us on the spot?
Here at Activation we are all about balance, and about busting the health myths that tell us some foods are “bad” and some are “good”. What you want to do always is to eat whole, unprocessed foods, lots of fresh produce, and less prepared items. When we switch to a low fat diet, we throw out a lot of good with the bad.
This is because we really need fat. Why? Because fat is a major source of energy. On account of the many vitamins that need fat in order to be properly absorbed into the body. And because our cells need it to build their membranes and the sheaths around nerves, and for proper blood clotting and muscle movement.
But as with all of the food we eat, we want to make sure our fats are chosen carefully. There is one absolute rule of choosing a cooking oil: No Trans Fats. As the Harvard Medical School reports, “Eating foods rich in trans fats increases the amount of harmful LDL cholesterol in the bloodstream and reduces the amount of beneficial HDL cholesterol. Trans fats create inflammation, which is linked to heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and other chronic conditions. They contribute to insulin resistance, which increases the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Even small amounts of trans fats can harm health: for every 2% of calories from trans fat consumed daily, the risk of heart disease rises by 23%.”
But what about the other options? What is the healthiest cooking oil out there, and how can we make sure we’re choosing it?
Let’s explore some of the top picks for healthy oils.
Avocado! The thing you’ve seen spread on toast, chopped into salads, and gracing the Instagrams of every millenial in the world. Spending money on it is apparently what’s going to prevent us from ever owning our own homes, but I think it’s arguably worth it.
Avocado oil is an interesting one because of how it’s made. Most oils are produced by pressing the seeds of a plant. With avocado oil, the flesh of the avocado itself is what’s extracted to produce the oil.
The oil of the flesh of the fruit is high in oleic acid, unsaturated fats, and vitamins A, E, and D. It contains protein and potassium and is high in antioxidants. But I love it for two reasons primarily. First, because eating it may help your body better absorb other nutrients. Mark’s Daily Apple reports, “The fats aren’t only healthy in and of themselves but make other nutrients, particularly carotenoids, in the avocado much more bioavailable. Research has shown that avocado or avocado oil increased the absorption of carotenoids in a meal anywhere from 2.6 times to 15.3 times depending on carotenoid.”
Carotenoids are the highly nutritious compounds that make a lot of our colorful food colorful. They put the reds, oranges, and yellows into our brightest fruits and veg. Usually carotenoids are found in foods that are lower in fat, and our bodies need that fat in order to properly absorb the nutrients. But when you consume even a small amount of avocado oil, your body’s absorption ability is amped up by as much as 15 times. You get more good from the good stuff when you combine it with avocado oil.
And the other reason I love it so much? Because in a world of highly nutritious oils there are a lot of nut products, which means a lot of people with common allergies can’t eat them. Avocado oil provides those nutrients without the allergy flare-ups. Good food for all, that’s what I say!
Whether it’s virgin, extra virgin, cold-pressed, or “pure” this is a hardworking oil that is also available at any grocery store (unlike some of our more niche offerings on this list).
We think Organic Facts sums up the benefits of olive oil really well. They say, “The health benefits of olive oil include treatment of colon and breast cancer, diabetes, heart problems, arthritis, and high cholesterol. It also aids in weight loss, improves metabolism, digestion, and prevents aging. It is a staple ingredient for many culinary preparations and also serves a variety of medicinal purposes.”
Olive oil is 70% monounsaturated fat. This means that it can lower the levels of bad cholesterol in your blood, and raise the levels of good cholesterol (yes, there is such a thing, and it is one of the main building blocks for most things in your body.) It’s also rich in antioxidants, which slows the process of aging and explains why olive oil keeps popping up in your favorite beauty products.
The oil also helps if you’re looking to trim your waistline. A study published in the Journal of Women’s Health compared two groups of women on diets. The first group was on a low-fat food plan, and the second ate a lot of olive oil. 80% of women in the olive oil group had a weight loss of at least 5%. In the low-fat group, it was only 31%. Which basically means we should all move to Greece and eat the Mediterranean Diet, but failing that, eat more olive oil.
Coconut oil is having a bit of a moment in the health and wellness world. There are people out there who use it like Frank’s Red Hot Sauce and put it on everything: their hair, nails, face, feet, and of course, in their mouths. And then there’s been the blowback of people saying that the oil isn’t nearly as nutritious as the supporters claim. You can guess where we come down on that argument.
About 62% of coconut oil is made up of three medium-chain fatty acids (or MCFAs), and is largely a healthy saturated fat (yes, such things exist. We’ll do a whole blog post on it one day). Dr. Axe breaks down the benefits:
“Unlike long-chain fatty acids found in plant-based oils, MCFAs are:
- Easier to digest
- Not readily stored as fat
- Antimicrobial and antifungal
- Smaller in size, allowing easier cell permeability for immediate energy
- Processed by the liver, which means that they’re immediately converted to energy instead of being stored as fat”
The oil is great for your hair because of its unique fat makeup. It is great for your skin, and a wonderful replacement for all those mysterious beauty products with 22 unpronounceable ingredients. Coconut oil is also a very durable oil, with a higher heat tolerance than a lot of other superfood oils, which means anything you want to do in your kitchen, you can do with this oil.
If you know Activation Products, you know that flaxseed oil is one of our absolute favorites. If you want to really get into the reasons why, you should have a look at our Top 10 Benefits of Flax post. But just to give you a sampling of the powers of this excellent oil…
Flax loves your heart! According to Herbwisdom.com: “Several studies indicate that flaxseed oil, as well as ground flaxseed, can lower cholesterol, thereby significantly reducing the risk of heart disease.” That’s because flax is rich in healthy fats and it has other key nutrients that are important for keeping your heart in tip-top shape.
It loves your digestive system! Flax is high in fiber which is essential for a healthy digestive system. It contains both soluble and insoluble fiber. Fiber improves the movement of food throughout the intestines. The mucilaginous fiber in flax also makes it easier for your intestines to absorb nutrients. This soluble fiber dissolves in water and creates a gel-like substance, keeping the stomach full for a longer time.
And it loves your waistline! There are three important components of flax that can assist with weight loss: omega-3 fatty acids, fiber and lignans.SuperfoodProfiles.com outlines the benefit of using flax oil for weight loss: “Taking flaxseed oil regularly is believed to improve metabolism and increase thermogenesis (fat-burning). Thermogenesis is a very beneficial process for weight loss wherein specialized brown fat cells increase their fat-burning capabilities. Ironically, one of the best ways to stimulate thermogenesis is by eating more essential fats, like those found in flax.”
You’ve had a sesame seed bagel before, but have you tried out sesame oil? No? You should.
Sesame oil contains a lot of copper and zinc. Those minerals are responsible for the production of red blood cells, which carry oxygen to the lungs and ultimately to all the tissues of the body. Healthy red blood cells promote good circulation and ensure that toxins are filtered out of the body. The writers at Organic Facts note that: “With the significant percent of copper in sesame oil, your body is sure to get the right amount of blood flowing to the organs and tissues, ensuring a healthier and more high-energy lifestyle!”
Sesame oil also has high levels of magnesium and calcium, which are known to relieve stress both mentally and physically and help you to get deep, restful sleep. According to Diana Herrington at Care2, “Sesame also contains the calming vitamins thiamin and tryptophan that help produce serotonin, which reduces pain, assists moods, and helps you sleep deeply.”
Pumpkin Seed Oil
Ah, pumpkin. Great for pies, great for snacking on seeds, great for its oil. Fellas, this one is particularly helpful for you. It’s here to support your bladder and prostate health.
How? Well, pumpkin oil strengthens the muscles that support the bladder. A study published in the Journal of Traditional and Complementary Medicine suggests pumpkin seed may be able to prevent symptoms of overactive bladder and other urinary issues. We’ve got a more in-depth blog post about the surprising benefits of pumpkin oil for your bladder, here.
And there is evidence that pumpkin seed oil can prevent prostate enlargement—a major issue for men over 60. Dr. Mercola explains that pumpkin seeds have a “high zinc content, which is important for prostate health (where it is found in the highest concentrations in the body), and also because pumpkin seed extracts and oils may play a role in treating benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH, or enlarged prostate).”
This benefit of pumpkin seed oil for the prostate has been extensively studied and tested. In a controlled study from the Nutrition Research and Practice journal, it was concluded that pumpkin seed oil can improve BPH symptoms.
But don’t worry ladies, pumpkin’s here for you too. Ever tried rubbing pumpkin oil into your hair? We love the benefits so much it became the star of our How to Get Perfect Eyebrows post. Try it out. Plus, the green oil makes your hair a super fun color while it’s on there.
The Perfect Blend
Too many oils, not enough time? Never fear, we have the solution. Activation took some of our favorite oils and mixed them all into the Five Seed Blend. This oil is a perfect mix of pumpkin, flax, sunflower, sesame, and coriander seed oils. If you need a one stop shop, this oil is your best friend. And because it’s one of ours, every bottle contains thousands of perfectly pressed, undamaged seeds. No wonder it’s our most popular product.