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Best Oils to Cook With and Which to Avoid

Is olive oil or coconut oil better for you? Which oils are safe to cook with and which ones should you avoid? All of the information out there can be confusing. Even though an oil might be deemed healthy, it may not stay healthy when heated.

When you’re cooking at a high heat, you want to use oils that are stable and don’t oxidize or easily turn rancid. When oils undergo oxidation, they react with oxygen to form free radicals and harmful compounds that shouldn’t be consumed. Saturated fats and monounsaturated fats are rather resistant to heating, but oils that are high in polyunsaturated fats should be avoided when cooking.oil_and_pan

Best Oil Choices for Cooking:

Coconut Oil

This is one of the best choices for high heat cooking. It is made up of over 90% saturated fatty acids, making it very resistant to heat. This oil is semi-solid at room temperature and it can last for months and years without going rancid.

Coconut oil has powerful health benefits: It is particularly rich in a fatty acid called Lauric Acid, which can improve cholesterol and help kill bacteria and other pathogens. Also, the fats in coconut oil can boost metabolism and increase feelings of fullness as compared to other fats.

When buying, look for virgin coconut oil or raw on the label – they offer better flavor and more health benefits. Smoke point is 350°. Refined coconut oil can be used occasionally for recipes, which require heats over 450°, but make sure it isn’t hydrogenated or treated with hexane.

Clarified Butter (Ghee)

Grass-fed ghee is rich in the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, and K2. It is also rich in CLA (conjugated linoleic acid) — the essential fatty acid found almost exclusively in grass-fed animals, which is now believed to protect against cancer, heart disease, and type II diabetes.

Because the milk solids have been removed from ghee, the elements in dairy that many people are sensitive to, have been removed. The removal of the milk solids also allows you to use ghee at a higher temperature -up to 485° F.

Olive Oil

No surprise here, olive oil is a heart-healthy fat that that contains beneficial antioxidants and has also been shown to have anti-inflammatory properties. Make sure to choose high quality extra virgin olive oil. It has many more nutrients and antioxidants than the refined oil olives and it tastes much better.

And contrary to many reports, high quality, extra virgin olive oil can be used for high heat cooking as it has a high smoke point (365°- 400°).

Note – there have been many reports lately about unsavory olive oil dealers who have been combining olive oils with cheap vegetable oils. As a result, you might be unknowingly ingesting unhealthy oils. It is very hard to determine if an olive oil is pure. Artisan or locally produced olive oils tend to be your safest bet. Olea olive oils are 100% pure olive oil. They can be found at oleaestates.com.

Avocodo Oil

Avocado is an excellent choice for frying as it has a very high smoke point (475°- 520°). The composition of avocado oil is similar to olive oil. It is primarily monounsaturated, with some saturated and polyunsaturated mixed in. It can be used for many of the same purposes as olive oil. You can cook with it, or use it cold.

Oils to Avoid When Cooking:

Industrial Seed and Vegetable Oils:

These are highly processed, refined products that are much too rich in Omega-6 fatty acids. The world health organization’s (WHO) recommended ratio for omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids is about 4:1. However, the average ratio American’s ingest ranges from 10:1 to 25:1! (Look out for a future blog post on Omega 3’s and Omega 6’s).

Based on this overconsumption of Omega 6’s, it is recommended to avoid the following oils altogether, whether cooking with them or simply using them cold.o-5-NEW-USES-FOR-VEGETABLE-OIL-facebook

  • Soybean Oil
  • Corn Oil
  • Rapeseed Oil
  • Sunflower Oil
  • Grapeseed Oil
  • Safflower Oil

Canola Oil

Canola Oil should be avoided as well due to its harsh processing method. To create canola oil, rape seeds (what canola oil is made from) are heated to high temperature so that the oil can be extracted. This oil is then refined, bleached and deodorized Processing the oil under high heat causes it to go rancid, which is why industrial carcinogenic bleaches and deodorizers like hexane are needed. Additionally, about 87% of canola oil is genetically modified.

Fish Oil and Flaxseed Oil:

These are high in omega-3s, but should not be heated because they are sensitive to oxidation.

Nuts and Peanut Oil:

There are many nut oils available and many have amazing flavors, but due to their high level of polyunsaturated fats, it is recommended to avoid them when cooking.

There is one exception. Macadamia nut oil is mostly monounsaturated (like olive oil) and has great properties and is safe for cooking

Happy cooking 🙂

  • Elizabeth Girouard

    Great article Lisa! Thanks for the useful information.

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Grass Is Good

No, I’m not referring to recent legalized medical marijuana, but I do hear there are some great benefits to using it 😉 I am talking about grass fed animals vs. grain fed. With all of the new labeling in the market: GMO, “responsible sourced”, antibiotic free, wild vs. farm caught, there seems to be a lot of confusion about what is safe to eat and what foods are ok to ingest.

Let’s try to clear up some of the confusion:

GMO
We’ve covered this once before in a blog entry titled “What’s In A Label”.

GMO stands for Genetically Modified Organisms. The genetic material of food organisms have been altered using genetic engineering techniques, creating unstable genes that do not naturally occur. In the U.S., GMOs are in as much as 80% of conventional processed food. Most of which, are unlabeled in America.

GMOs are deemed bad for your body & environment as the health consequences of ingesting them are unknown and potentially dangerous. Controversy stems over whether or not GMOs are Organic-vs-Naturalrendered toxic when ingested as they require massive amounts of pesticides.

The best way to avoid GMOs is to buy organic.

Organic
A food labeled “organic” has specific guidelines defined by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) National Organic Program.

The guidelines state:

  • Organic meat, poultry, eggs and dairy products come from animals that are not given antibiotics or growth hormones.
  • Organic plant foods are produced without using most conventional pesticides, fertilizers made with synthetic ingredients or sewage sludge, bioengineering or ionizing radiation.
  • A government-approved certifier must inspect the farm to ensure these standards are met. In addition to organic farming, there are USDA standards for organic handling and processing. There are three levels of organic claims on food labels:

o   “100% Organic”: these products are completely organic or made of only organic ingredients and qualify for a USDA Organic seal.

o   “Organic”: products in which at least 95% of its ingredients are organic and qualify for a USDA Organic seal.

o   “Made with organic ingredients”: Products in which at least 70% of the ingredients are certified organic. The USDA organic seal cannot be used but “made with organic ingredients” may appear on its packaging.

FYI – did you know the little stickers on produce either come with 4 or 5 digits? Only produce with 5 digits and the number “9” in front of it are organic. Check out the labels on fruit next time you shop.

Natural
Take a walk down a supermarket aisle and you will see a flood of products labeled “natural”. This is basically marketing fluff.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration nor the U.S. Department of Agriculture has issued a formal definition for the use of “natural” on food labels. The FDA follows policy from as far back as 1993. The USDA allows the use of the term “natural” to be used in meat and poultry labeling on products that contain no artificial ingredients or added color and is only minimally processed. The label must explain the use of the term natural. For example: “no added coloring” or “minimally processed”.

As good as the word “natural” sounds…it really doesn’t mean much.

Grass Fed vs. Grain Fed
This mostly pertains to the beef that we eat. There is a pretty significant difference in meat quality, based on the diet of the cows. Most cows do graze on a grass pasture; however, some cows are transitioned to a concentrated feed mix of corn, soy, grains, supplements, hormones and antibiotics to facilitate an advanced, unnatural growth spurt in the cows for the US beef industry to sell larger volumes, quicker. Basically, conventional factory meat is cheaper since they have sped up the growth while lowering the cost of the feed.

Bottom line – solely grass fed beef is said to be lower in calories, contains more healthy omega-3 fats, more vitamins, higher levels of antioxidants and 7x’s the amount of beta-carotene. Grass-fed beef is believed to have less health concerns than cows raised by unnatural means with added hormones and antibiotics.

Free-Range
Free-range refers to food (ie. meat or eggs) that are produced from animals that have access to outdoor spaces or are free to graze or forage for food. It does not mean organic.

Free-range, unlike organic, is not a certification. Organically raised food is free-range, meaning animals must have access to pasture, but to be certified organic, food must meet very strict criteria.

Free range food doesn’t have to meet any particularly stringent or even legal requirements. Access to outdoor spaces can mean as little as 15 minutes a day, which is why “organic” means so much more than free-range.

Wild vs. Farm Caught
Wild caught fish eat food from their natural environment including kelp, algae, seaweed and other fish, which gives them higher levels of vitamins and minerals.

Diets of farm raised fish often include genetically modified crops that are unnatural and nutrient-poor. Farm raised fish with industrial farming methods often include antibiotics, hormones, PCBs (potentially carcinogenic chemical), pesticides and toxins – causing fish to index high in mercury and other industrial toxins. Some farms (as in a video I recently watched) feed fish the feces of other animals and inject them with antibiotics to keep them alive. Just sayin’.

Gluten Free
The recent flood of “gluten free” products on the market has led to the belief that these products are healthier choices. This is not necessarily true. Gluten-free substitutes are often made with ingredients such as white rice flour, milled corn flour, even potato or corn starch – carbs with less fiber and higher glycemic indices than the original foods people are trying to avoid.

For some, gluten-free is a medical necessity including the 1% of the population who has celiac disease, an autoimmune disorder that damages the small intestine. Or, like millions of others, they may have a diagnosed gluten sensitivity that causes inflammation throughout the body. Research suggests the epidemic of sensitivities is a result of the refined, GMO processed foods that our bodies are unable to digest.

Unless it’s a necessity, gluten-free foods are not a solution to a healthier diet or weight loss. It’s important to read the labels to see what is substituted for gluten.

Made With Whole Grains
The “whole grain” stamp which appears on some food labels is misleading. Companies pay fees to belong to the Whole Grains Council, which administers the program. Qualifying products need only have eight grams of whole grains to bear this stamp on labels. So, a 2-ounce serving of pasta (56 grams) with 8 grams of whole wheat could actually come with 48 grams of white refined flour.

You will find the whole grain stamp on sugary cereals like Lucky Charms – giving a false sense of what is “healthy”.  Food manufacturers making whole grain claims or using words like “multigrain” on labels are just hiding the fact these products are mostly made with highly refined white flour.

Don’t believe the hype.

“FED UP”, a recent movie release discussing the food industry and what it doesn’t want you to know, is playing at MONDO in Summit on October 17thClick here for details. I’ll be there. Join me.

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Protein Powders Explained

As I promised in my last blog, (http://173.247.253.167/~heelstolaces/protein-questions-answered) below is a description of the most common types of protein powders on the market. Protein powders have grown in popularity and are no longer just for elite body builders. They are a way to ensure you are getting enough daily protein, serve as a quick meal substitute or provide a post-workout recovery. I like to add mine to smoothies, make a shake after a workout or add a scoop to my oatmeal or pancake batter for a protein filled breakfast. It’s important to remember, protein powders are supplements and are best used to supplement a healthy diet of nutritious whole foods.

The Basics First:

‘Concentrated’ or ‘Isolated’. In order to make the powder, the non-protein parts are removed from the food source. ‘Concentrated’ powders are about  70-85% pure protein (with the remaining 15-30% consisting mostly of carbohydrates and fat). Powders that are ‘isolated’ take the process one step further, and remove even more of the non-protein content resulting in a protein powder that is up to 95% pure.

Complete vs. Incomplete Protein: Amino acids that cannot be produced by the body are known as essential amino acids. Complete proteins contain all 10 essential amino acids, whereas incomplete proteins contain some, but not all, of the essential amino acids.

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WHEY PROTEIN

Whey is the most popular protein supplement on the market. It is the by-product in the process of turning milk into cheese and is a complete protein that is quickly absorbed into the body.  Whey has been shown to promote lean muscle growth and fat loss. It can also help repair and rebuild muscle especially when consumed within 60 minutes of a workout. Look for whey protein isolate—not concentrate—as it contains the highest protein concentration and very little fat.

Cautions: Because it is a by-product of milk (aka lactose), people with allergies to lactose may find it hard to digest. Additionally, be wary of the artificial sweeteners and chemicals added to many of the different flavors available. Be sure to read the label.

CASEIN PROTEIN

This protein is also derived from milk, but uses a separation process that isolates the milk protein from the carbs and fat. Because casein digests over a long period of time, it is a good choice for a meal replacement, as it helps you feel fuller longer. It is can also be taken right before bed to prevent muscle breakdown and promote muscle growth while you sleep.

Cautions: As a by-product of milk, casein can also be difficult to digest for those with lactose allergies. Look for “calcium caseinate” on the label to be sure that you are getting the purest form of this protein. And, again check for artificial ingredients, which are often used to improve the taste of casein as it doesn’t mix as easily with liquids. Lastly, expect casein to be more expensive than whey.

SOY PROTEIN

Soybeans are one of the few plant protein sources that are a complete protein. The protein is concentrated or isolated after the soybeans have been hulled and dried into soy flour. Soy can be a good option for vegetarians and those with milk intolerances. Soy has been shown to improve immune function and bone health.

Cautions: In recent years, soy has come under heavy scrutiny because it is often genetically modified to produce greater crop yields at a very low cost. Many foods are already full of soy and, depending on your current diet, it may not be wise to add yet another source of soy. Additionally, some studies have linked soy consumption to health concerns. If you do choose soy, consume it in moderation, and be sure to look for labels that read soy protein isolate, which contains more protein and isoflavones, and less cholesterol and fat as compared to soy protein concentrate.

EGG PROTEIN

Egg protein is just that – protein from eggs. It is a complete protein made by separating out the yolks and dehydrating the egg whites. These powders also contain valuable vitamins and minerals found in whole eggs.

Cautions: Egg protein is also one of the most expensive protein supplements available and can be a problem for anyone with egg allergies.

BROWN RICE PROTEIN

Yes, there is small amount of protein in rice! It is extracted from the rice to make the powder. Brown rice protein is hypo-allergic and easily digested, making it an excellent alternative for anyone with a sensitive stomach or allergies to soy or dairy.

Cautions: Brown rice protein is not a complete protein and is best when paired with other plant-based options like hemp or pea powder to ensure that you are getting all the essential amino acids.

PEA PROTEIN

This plant-based protein, derived from the yellow split pea, is highly digestible and has a fluffy texture (no mushy peas here!). Pea protein is high in glutamic acid, which helps convert carbs into energy so they won’t be stored as fat. It is considered a highly satiating protein, which may help promote weight loss. And if those reasons aren’t enough, it often has few additives or artificial ingredients, and is closest to its whole-food source.

Cautions: Isolated pea protein is often labeled as complete because it can contain many of the essential amino acids, but it is still deficient in certain amino acids. So, like rice protein, pair it with other vegan sources of protein, such as brown rice or hemp.

HEMP PROTEIN

Hemp protein is derived from the seeds of the cannabis plant. A complete plant-based protein, hemp also offers the inflammation-fighting power of omega-6 essential fatty acids and is high in fiber. It is hypoallergenic and excellent choice for those following a vegan diet. Some studies have also suggested hemp protein may be more helpful in weight loss than other protein powders, due to its high fiber content.

Cautions: Since hemp is only harvested in select countries due to its association with cannabis, it is often the most expensive protein powder available.

There are lots of choices out there to fit all different nutritional needs. Don’t be afraid to try different blends and options to see what works best for you. And lastly, be wary of very low cost powders as they often use inexpensive protein blends that are hard to digest and may contain many artificial ingredients.

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