Fats and oils are one of the most contentious areas of nutrition today. Which oils are we supposed to eat? Which are we supposed to avoid? Do we trust Sally Fallon of Nourishing Traditions who says to go hog wild with animal fats, or do we trust the cancer researchers who advise a more restrained approach? I thought I knew a lot about this topic a few years ago, and I must admit, I know far less now.
So while I'm admittedly no expert, I do try to pay attention to the research on this continually moving target. For what it's worth, here are my own thoughts and practices.
These are the oils I do know for sure are bad, and make a point to never eat:
Soybean oil (also simply called "vegetable oil") - it's nasty GMO and hormone disrupting.
Unfortunately, most of the oils used in restaurants and processed foods today are soybean oil. Look for it (and avoid it) in salad dressings, mayonnaise, hummus, and oil-packed products like canned fish. When eating out, assume that all foods are fried in GMO soybean oil unless told otherwise.
Canola (rapeseed) oil - Man, is this one ever controversial. You can do your own research and reach your own conclusions, but at the very least, it's GMO, and that's reason enough for me to avoid it.
Cottonseed oil - It's high in pesticides and industrial contaminants, plus it's not a food.
All hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils ("trans" fats) - Adding a hydrogen atom to liquid fats makes them solid at room temperature and less likely to spoil. However, adding that hydrogen atom turns those fats into neurotoxins that can strip away the myelin sheath surrounding your nerves and lead to premature aging, diabetes, brain and nerve damage, and more. Read details here:
Here are the oils that are currently in fashion and considered good:
- Olive oil (unless heated to the smoke point)
- Walnut oil
- Coconut oil
- Omega 3 fatty acids (like those found in salmon and mackerel)
Here are the oils that are now in question, in part because of their Omega-6 content, which can potentially be inflammatory:
- Safflower oil
- Sunflower oil
- Corn oil (most of which is already bad for you because unless it's organic, it's GMO)
WHAT I USE
These are the oils and fats in my own kitchen nowadays:
- Olive oil (for low-heat sauteeing)
- Extra virgin olive oil for raw use
- Walnut oil - for medium heat cooking
- Coconut oil - for higher heat cooking when the coconut taste won't matter
- Rice bran oil from the Asian market (I use it because I haven't seen anything opposing its use yet and it's cheap)
- Peanut oil - for high heat frying (also from the Asian market and cheap, comparatively)
- Organic butter and ghee (for occasional use with eggs, Indian dishes, or added to oatmeal)
- Rendered goose fat (for the very rare, occasional, splurge when it adds joy to a French bean or potato recipe. We cook a goose each Christmas and save the quart of fat that results in the fridge.)
- Cocoa butter (mostly for topical use, but I'd be willing to eat it in a pinch)
My own cholesterol and blood numbers (HDL, LDL ratio, etc.) are consistently excellent -- way, way better than the high end of the healthy range, so I must be doing something right. I limit my use of oils and don't eat much fried food at all. I eat red meat (beef or lamb) maybe once a month, never eat pork, eat organic or free-range poultry regularly, including lots of ground turkey instead of ground beef, eat lots of baked chicken, and love baked fish of all kinds. A good baked piece of salmon has plenty of fat, and it's the good kind, so that's what I eat when I want something filling and greasy. :)
I hope I didn't steer my radio listeners too far wrong when I recommended safflower oil a few years back. I used it for years, then transitioned away from it when the new research started coming out. Now we buy expensive oils like walnut and coconut, and cheap oils like rice bran and peanut. And then we cross our fingers.