Nut, Seed and Flower Oils – Flavors, Uses and Health
|January 27, 2015||Filled under Healthy|
I feel like every time I turn around, there are conflicting reports about which oil to use for what, and which oil is healthier than the others. Of course, coconut oil is the latest and greatest, but is it all it’s cracked up to be? Which oil is best for cooking and baking? What’s the deal with monounsaturated, polyunsaturated and saturated fats? I don’t want a bunch of confusing medical stuff or new age cure-all stories. We’ve got to have a look at the most common nut, seed and flower oils.
Essentially, what I’ve learned is that there are two basic categories of fats. Healthy fats are unsaturated and include vegetable oils, fish oils, and plant fats in nuts, avocados, and seeds. These fats should be the primary fats in your diet because they are either neutral or raise HDL cholesterol but don’t raise LDL cholesterol.
The less healthy saturated fats found in animal fats and tropical oils, including coconut oil, are allowed, but in lesser amounts because they raise LDL cholesterol.
Trans fats in processed foods are the worst fats, capable of lowering HDL and increasing LDL, and should be kept as low as possible.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, most of the fat that you eat should come from unsaturated sources: polyunsaturated fats and monounsaturated fats. In addition, polyunsaturated fats can also be broken down into two types:
- Omega-6 polyunsaturated fats — these fats provide an essential fatty acid that our bodies need, but can’t make.
- Omega-3 polyunsaturated fats — these fats also provide an essential fatty acid that our bodies need. In addition, omega-3 fatty acids, particularly from fish sources, may have potential health benefits.
The table below provides examples of specific types of unsaturated fats.
|Monounsaturated Fat Sources||Omega-6 Polyunsaturated Fat Sources||Omega-3 Polyunsaturated Fat Sources|
High oleic safflower oil
Fish: trout, herring, and salmon
What the deal with coconut oil?
Coconut oil, according to recent reports, is the latest food cure-all. Claims abound that coconut oil is a health food that can cure everything from poor immune function, thyroid disease, and heart disease, to obesity, cancer, and HIV. So should you stock up on coconut oil? Not so fast. The evidence that coconut oil is super-healthful is not convincing and these claims appear to be more testimonials than clinical evidence.
Pure virgin coconut oil, containing no hydrogenation (the process of adding hydrogen to make a liquid fat hard), contains 92% saturated fat — the highest amount of saturated fat of any fat.
Most saturated fats are solid at room temperature, found in animal products (such as meat, dairy, poultry with skin, and beef fat) and contain cholesterol. Unlike animal fats, tropical oils — palm, palm kernel, and coconut oils — are saturated fats that are called oils but depending on room temperature can be solid, semi-solid, or liquid, and do not contain cholesterol. (I know, but what else could they call them, right?)
Like all fats, coconut oil is a blend of fatty acids. Coconut oil contains an unusual blend of short and medium chain fatty acids, primarily lauric (44%) and myristic (16.8%) acids. It is this unusual composition that may offer some health benefits. The lauric acid, the stuff everyone is so excited about, is a medium-chain triglyceride that turns out to have a number of health-promoting properties, including the ability to improve levels of “good” HDL cholesterol. People can also more easily digest medium-chain triglycerides and convert them to energy, according to The Wall Street Journal, making coconut oil a good choice for athletes. That said, because it’s so high in saturated fat, even the purest, most natural coconut oil could be problematic for longterm heart health. As for calories, all fats have the same number of calories per gram. One tablespoon of coconut oils contains 117 calories, 14 grams fat, 12 g saturated fat, and no vitamins or minerals.
Bottom line here is that most experts agree that to reduce the risk of heart disease, replacing saturated fats with healthier unsaturated fats is preferred, and more research is needed in the area of fatty acids and its relationship to health.
About face…for now.
OK, so now that I’ve decided to dial back the amount of coconut oil I use, what should I choose to incorporate into my kitchen to be healthy and make great tasting food?
With such a huge range of nut, seed and flower oils on the market to choose from, all boasting their own array of nutritional and superfood benefits, it can be hard to know where to start. Oils, although they may seem similar in appearance, offer a variety of flavors and health benefits. By understanding each oil’s unique characteristics you can take a good meal and make it amazing.