Not all cooking oils are created equal. And they are not interchangeable when it comes to cooking, nor do they come with the same risks and health benefits.
Those are some of the takeaways offered by our speakers – Registered Dietitian Nicole Klem and Danny Gagliardo, owner of D’Avolio Olive Oils and Vinegars — at our February meeting, held in D’Avolio’s Williamsville store.
More than 30 people, a “capacity crowd” for the space, were in attendance. The meeting was held in conjunction with National Heart Month and, synergistically, on the same day that the “New England Journal of Medicine” published the results of the first major clinical trial showing a diet rich in olive oil reduces deaths from heart disease.
As health-conscious Americans in recent decades have turned away from animal fats in favor of those from vegetables, U.S. production of fats and oils has surpassed 12 million metric tons. Telling the “good” from the “bad” when it comes to vegetable and gourmet oils isn’t easy and labeling on bottles promotes them all as “healthy.”
Focus on the healthier oils
Because they vary in the kinds of fats they contain, Klem said that when it comes to purchasing and using cooking oils, it’s important “to match your fats to your use. Your goal is to maintain as much nutrition as you can in food preparation.”
Your focus, she added, should be on the healthier oils based on their fat content and on using those oils appropriately in cooking, depending on their “smoke point.” Oils that are more temperature-sensitive are better for dressings, while those at the other extreme are better for cooking, explained Klem, a full-time assistant professor in the Food and Nutrition Department at Trocaire College and a member of the board of directors of Slow Food Buffalo Niagara.
Polyunsaturated fat (the trans fat found in processed foods) should be avoided. Used to enhance flavor and preserve freshness, it may increase inflammation and harmful LDL cholesterol, and promote build up of plaque in your arteries.
Monounsaturated fat — found in olive, canola and peanut oils – can decrease total cholesterol and harmful LDL cholesterol when used in place of saturated fats like those from animal sources (such as found in butter, whole milk, animal meats and lard).
Polyunsaturated fats known as Omega-6 and Omega-3 are essential to a healthy diet. Omega-6 (in vegetable oils and poultry fat) can have the same beneficial impacts as monounsaturated fats, but also may decrease beneficial HDL cholesterol and promote the inflammatory process. Omega-3 (in oils high in linoleic acid, such as flaxseed, canola and walnut oils, as well as human milk, shellfish and cold-water fish: mackerel, salmon, anchovies, tuna) has three benefits: decreasing harmful LDL cholesterol and total cholesterol when used in place of saturated fats, and having potential anti-inflammatory properties.
The “ideal” diet, Klem noted, is one in which the ratio of Omega-3 to Omega-6 is 1:2.
The healthiest oils, she said, are extra virgin olive oil (EVOO), unrefined coconut oil and avocado oil. EVOO has a low smoke point of only 320-degrees Fahrenheit. It can be used for cooking food at lower temperatures, and is best suited to be used in dressings and on foods after they are cooked.
Unrefined coconut oil is Klem’s preferred oil for cooking since it has a smoke point of 350-degrees Fahrenheit. While it smells like coconut, she said it does not impart a coconut flavor to foods prepared with it. High-quality extra virgin olive oil that has a low acidity level has a smoke point of 405-degrees Fahrenheit, she added.
To learn more about cooking oils, read the “Cooking Oil Comparison Chart” at http://www.eatingrules.com/2012/02/cooking-oil-comparison-chart/
Look for the “first press”
Gagliardo said a key to the quality of olive oil is the caliber of the olives when they were pressed (crushed and processed) and when that occurred. The best olive oils, he added, are from the “first press.”
The date of the press is important to know, he added, because olive oil should be discarded once it is a year old (even though the labels on some bottles of olive oil say the oil has a shelf life of three years). Unfortunately, he added, some olive oils already are several months old when bottles are first placed on store shelves. And some, he warned, are a blend, or co-mingling, of olives from first and subsequent presses, as well as different sources.
Because olive oil is sensitive to light, do not purchase brands in clear bottles. Buy oils that are sold in dark bottles or cans. Olive oil should be stored away from sunlight and heat, and not near your stove. It is not necessary, however, to store it in a refrigerator.
Gagliardo said D’Avolio sells “single varietal” olive oils, as well as those that are infused to give them a flavor. With the former, the taste of the oil is solely from the olives. The “single varietal” olive oils sold by D’Avolio at its five locations rotate every six months between northern- and southern-hemisphere crops to ensure quality and freshness. At any one time, D’Avolio sells only oils from northern countries or only southern countries.
Gagliardo said many people look for “product of Italy” on the label of bottles of olive oil when they shop. That phrase, however, does not assure the quality of the oil or even its origin. He noted that Spain is the world’s largest producer of olive oil and that some of the best olive oils come from Australia. To win the “product of Italy” endorsement, he added, olive oils and other products need only to have “passed through Italy” at some point.
More information about D’Avolio’s olive oils and other products is available on its website at http://www.davolios.com/
To learn more about olive oil, Gagliardo suggests that you read “Extra Virginity: The Sublime and Scandalous World of Olive Oil” by Tom Mueller.