The big oil debate…olive oil, sunflower oil or rapeseed..which do you cook with?

I don’t know if it is just me but I feel as though we are bombarded with messages about which oil we should cook with. I look at it from a health point of view. After all I do an awful lot of cooking,  using oil to soften foods as part of the cooking process, so knowing which oil to cook with is crucial. In the past I cooked with rapeseed oil, high in omega 3 and half the fat of olive oil. But olive oil is ok too, right? Good fats are ok aren’t they? This is what I mean. Good fat. Bad fat. Saturated. Unsaturated. Mono-saturated. Trans fats. The list appears to go on and on. One thing is definite. All fats are bad for you in high quantities,  particularly for your heart.  Fats have a trick of hiding themselves secretly inside other foods, and so this is another lesson we have to teach ourselves. Not only which oil to cook with but which foods we should eat in order to get the good fats and which ones we need to avoid. For information I turned to the British Heart Foundation. A wonderful UK organisation tasked with the job of educating everyone about the benefits of a healthy lifestyle and keeping our hearts healthy too!! Not an easy job.

So, this is my understanding of which are the good guys and the bad guys…….

Saturated fats = butter, lard, ghee & coconut oil (I have read a lot recently about the use of coconut oil in cooking as a replacement but it is very high in saturated fat)

Monounsaturated & polyunsaturated fats = rapeseed, olive oil & sunflower oil

Trans fats occur in commercially made cakes & biscuits. It is advised that they are avoided as they can increase the amount of cholesterol in your blood.

What is cholesterol? It is a type of fatty substance carried around the body by proteins. Just to confuse things there are good types of cholesterol, LDL, low density lipoproteins, the bad guys and HDL, high density lipoproteins, the good guys. In essence too much LDL in your blood causes fatty materials to build up on your artery wall.

The good news is that monounsaturated fats found in foods such as nuts and seeds and the good oils, rapeseed, olive oil and sunflower can help to maintain healthy cholesterol levels in your blood stream.

More good news, polyunsaturated fats found in fish, soya(great especially if you follow a vegetarian or vegan diet) sunflower oils and spreads and nuts such as walnuts also help to maintain healthy cholesterol levels in your blood stream. Plus they also provide essential fatty acids. Phew!!!

I know at times I feel as though I am forever reaching for the bottle of oil. I know in relation to the amount of food that is being cooked it is quite low and now that I have switched back to rapeseed oil I feel happy in my usage. Just take a look at this….

What are the health benefits of Rapeseed Oil?
  • Contains the lowest saturated fat content of any oil – less than half that of Olive Oil.
  • Has 10 times more Omega 3 than Olive Oil.
  • It is a good source of Vitamin E.
  • High in monounsaturated fats.
  • Contains no artificial preservatives and is trans-fat and GM free.

But having said all this I think with anything to do with our health we should never be complacent. I like to think I follow a healthy lifestyle but I still might be doing something wrong. We all need to take time to learn what is good and bad and just because we look like a picture of health from the outside does not mean we are a picture of health on the inside. When reading the fasting book by Dr Michael Moseley he wrote about how the MRI scan that he had done as part of his reasearch for his book had shown that inside his body he was a heart attack waiting to happen. But from the outside he looked perfectly fine just a little overweight. I have a good friend who is a sonographer at our local hospital. I would be really interested to hear what the profile of her patients is. Over-weight, I imagine yes for many but I wonder how many are just a bit over weight with maybe a bit too much fat around the middle? Next time I see her I think I will ask her.

In the meantime here are a few handy tips from the British Heart Foundation.

I am certainly going to try a few….

Top tips to help you reduce your saturated fat

  • Swap butter, lard, ghee and coconut and palm oils with small amounts of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, such as olive, rapeseed or sunflower oils and spreads.
  • Choose lean cuts of meat and make sure you trim any excess fat and remove the skin from chicken and turkey.
  • Instead of pouring oils straight from the bottle, use a spray oil or measure out your oils with a teaspoon.
  • Read food labels to help you make choices that are lower in saturated fat.
  • Opt to grill, bake, steam, boil or poach your foods.
  • Make your own salad dressings using ingredients like balsamic vinegar, low fat yoghurt, lemon juice, and herbs, with a dash of olive oil.
  • Use semi-skimmed, 1% or skimmed milk rather than whole or condensed milk.
  • Cottage cheese, ricotta and extra light soft cheese are examples of low fat cheese options. Remember that many cheeses are high in saturated fat so keep your portions small – matchbox sized. Opt for strongly flavoured varieties and grate it to make a little go a long way.

I realise that this is just a summary about oil, and unfortunately I am not a nutritionist but the point of writing a post like this is simply to make us all think about our practices. It is easy to become set in our ways when it comes to any part of our lives and that is really what I love about education. We can all learn something new every day no matter how old we are or how much we think we know. Sometimes a spring clean of our habits makes us feel better and maybe in the process it will improve our health and our lifestyles too.

Thanks for reading. L x


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