While every kitchen is different, there are a few items that are pretty universal. Olive oil is one such item. I don’t know a single person, whether it be broke college student or vegan health junky, that doesn’t have some EVOO lying around the house somewhere. Until recently, I thought that was the only oil out there I could cook with. And then I watched the documentary Forks Over Knives. It talked about a “whole foods, plant-based diet”, which is basically being vegan, but also omitting refined sugars and flours along with oils from what I call the “real food list”.
The real food list is the name I gave to foods worth eating. Yes, a big mac is “edible”, but is it really giving your body what it needs? Society has claimed caloric intake as the “trendy” item to watch on the nutrition labels these days (before that, it was carbs we were all looking at, and before that, fat content), but what should really be taken into consideration is the nutrition within the calories. A 300-calorie breakfast sandwich could be made up mostly of carbohydrates from bleached flour and refined sugars, while a 300-calorie smoothie made up of spinach, sunflower seeds, coconut water, mangoes, and peaches (one of my favorite breakfasts) will contain none of that refined sugar or flour, and instead will be filled with iron, calcium, phytonutrients, more electrolytes than your precious Gatorade, Vitamin E, protein, antioxidants, and carbohydrates from natural sugars. If one person drinks the smoothie while their friend eats the sandwich, they’re both eating 300 calories, but it’s obvious that the smoothie-drinker is getting way more payback per calorie than her friend. The point I am trying to make here is that yes, you can put just about anything in your body, but wouldn’t you rather use premium fuel instead of cheap sludge? Hence my “real food list”.
When considering this real food list of mine, one of the items I began to question was oil. I was hearing mixed reviews about it, and like I said, I thought the only cooking oil out there was my trusty EVOO. One person would tell me “No way! Oil is terrible and you should definitely stay away from it!”, while another was chiming in “Go ahead and use your oil, it’s good for you!”. Who to listen to? I turned to my handy-dandy Kindle to download a few nutrition books, and proceeded to devour them. Turns out, there are lots of different oils to use in the kitchen, like EVOO, hemp oil, pumpkin oil, flaxseed oil, and coconut oil! Each one holds their own in the nutritional ring, and each has their place in the kitchen.
I was very interested in learning about these other cooking oils I never knew existed, but first and foremost I wanted to get what I came for: information on olive oil. Olive oil is a tricky oil, because it is only healthy if used properly, hence the conflicting information I was hearing from different sources. If olive oil is extra-virgin, that means it is first-pressed, and that means that it is in its most natural state, therefore the healthiest it can be. It does contain Omega-3 fatty acids which are essential fats, but only in minimal amounts. The problem with EVOO is that when it is heated, its chemical makeup is compromised, and the molecular composition changes the once-healthy oil into a trans-fatty acid. Trans Fat is a big FAT no-no (I’m such a riot sometimes). So using EVOO in your frying pan is probably not such a great idea, but drizzling it on your salad or in some raw carrot-ginger soup (a cold soup) is perfectly acceptable. Unheated Extra-Virgin Olive Oil makes the real food list for me.
So EVOO is out of the picture for use on the stove, but what should we put in its place? Coconut oil is an exceptional alternative. Sold in jars at most grocery stores, this oil is solid at room temperature, but liquefies quickly under heat, and we can all breathe easy because this superfood is so amazing, it won’t break down into trans fat under heat! Hooray! Coconut oil also contains something called Medium-Chain Triglycerides, or MCTs. MCTs are great because they take very little energy from the stomach to digest, and are used in the liver directly following consumption. Sounds like a win-win situation to me!
Hemp oil is something I had never heard of, and its dark green color can make some a little wary. We all grew up with olive oil, the golden-yellow master of the kitchen, so a dark green oil with similar uses can be difficult to get used to. It’s health benefits however, entirely make up for its chary appearance. This oil contains the ideal Omega-3: Omega-6 ratio (2:1) and can be easily incorporated into salads as an innovative dressing idea!
Flaxseed oil contains the highest amount of Omega-3 fatty acids when compared to Omega-6 fatty acids in a 5:1 ratio. Both of these fatty acids are essential, meaning our bodies need them to function properly, but many foods contain more Omega-6 fatty acids, while the Omega-3s are lacking.
Pumpkin seed oil is not used often, but studies have shown that its consumption does improve prostate health. Healthy prostates are never a bad thing in my book!
The information I have found speaks for itself. EVOO did prove to have its health benefits, and these other oils seem to add even more nutrients and variety to cooking, neither of which are bad things! While some people say that oil is not healthy, all the ones I talked about today make my real foods list when used properly. Branching out and trying new things keeps life interesting, and in this case, nutritious, too! So next time you grab the EVOO that I know is in your kitchen, you won’t have to feel guilty about tossing it in with your salad or cracking some black pepper in it for dipping Italian bread (super tasty, but watch out for the bleached flour in the bread!). Now that the “health-in-oil” debate is a little more clear, I hope we can all make some more informed decisions about our health instead of listening to Joe Schmoe’s uncorroborated ideas about health!