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Which Cooking Oil is Healthiest? The Truth About Olive Oil

One question we see come up, again and again, is which cooking oil should I use? Our answer is always the same – for 98% of all cooking, we advise using olive oil. For the remaining 2% – for high-temperature cooking or something with a long cooking time, use coconut oil. That’s it. It’s pretty simple, but let’s explore why we advise avoiding other cooking oils when considering health:

Fatty Acid Balance

We are fairly obsessed with fatty acids, and with very good reason. Fatty acids are a group of vitamin-like substances that are found in the fats and oils we consume in our diet. There are 4 main fatty acids of note – Omega 3, Omega 6, Omega 7, and Omega 9. Out of these,  two are deemed essential, meaning we MUST get them from our diet.

Fatty acids have two main roles to play – they are either used as structural materials in areas such as the eyes and the nervous system, or they are the metabolic precursors to key compounds such as the prostaglandins.

Prostaglandins main role is regulating the inflammatory response. There are three types of prostaglandins – Series1, Series 2, and Series 3. Some switch off and reduce inflammation, and others switch on and exacerbate the inflammatory response. Series 1 is mildly anti-inflammatory, and Series 3 are powerfully anti-inflammatory. Series 2, on the other hand, switch on and ramp up inflammation. Different fatty acids will be metabolised to form different prostaglandins – this is a key point.

The omega 3 fatty acids EPA and DHA form the anti-inflammatory prostaglandins. DHA tends to go down the pathway that forms the mildly anti-inflammatory Series 1 prostaglandins, and EPA forms the powerfully anti-inflammatory Series 3 prostaglandins. Omega 6, on the other hand, are metabolised to form the powerfully pro-inflammatory Series 2 prostaglandins.

You should be able to deduce from this that more omega 6 can ramp up inflammation, and more omega 3 can reduce it. You got it!

This is where our justification for using only olive and coconut oil use comes into play:

Why use only coconut and olive oil for health?

For the past 4 decades, we have been told to avoid saturated fat like the plague, that it will kill us in one sniff. We’ve been told to opt for ‘heart healthy’ vegetable oils and margarine instead. Oh dear, oh dear.

When this advice kicked in, we took it en masse. Most vegetable oils like sunflower oil, corn oil, soya bean oil, rapeseed oil etc. are composed of MASSIVE amounts of omega 6- can you see what is coming?

We do need a small amount of omega 6 every day for neurological and hormonal health.  Once we go past that needed amount, we shuttle any extra down a pathway that manufactures something called arachidonic acid. Small amounts of this are used in the brain, the remainder feeds straight into the pathway that creates the pro-inflammatory Series 2 prostaglandins.

On average we are taking in around 23 times more omega 6 per day than we need, due to our shift towards cooking with vegetable oils.

Olive oil does have a small amount of omega 6 in it, but its most dominant fatty acid is Oleic acid, and omega 9 fatty acid that has no influence on the inflammatory mediators. By switching from vegetable oils to olive oil, you will drastically cut your omega 6 intake – simple as that.

Then use coconut oil for high-temperature cooking over long periods of time (think roast potatoes for example).  This is because for most cooking, including frying, olive oil is perfectly fine and stable. Forget the old wives tales and half-baked stories that a bit of heat will make it implode the Universe. For general day to day stovetop cooking, it is totally fine to use olive oil. BUT, take it up to high enough temperatures, for long enough, and it will begin to degrade. It then forms trans fat and free radicals, which we don’t want.

Coconut oil doesn’t yield trans fats when taken to high temperatures as it is a saturated fat. Making it the best oil to use for that other 2% of your cooking.

Learn the culinary skills and gain the nutrition knowledge to confidently adapt your own favourite recipes to better support your health with our Sano Courses in Applied Nutrition.