It’s time to end the confusion about cooking oils! Nutrition myth buster Dr. Jonny Bowden invited Chef Gerard Viverito to join him for an informative discussion about which cooking oils are best for cooking and nutrition. Viverito, founder of PassionFish.org, specializes in sourcing and preparing high-quality, sustainable and healthy foods. He frequently uses Malaysian sustainable palm oil in his recipes.
Bowden, a nationally known expert on nutrition and health, and author of 14 books on health, healing, food and longevity jumped at the opportunity to interview Viverito. “I really love the chance to talk with a chef about this. Usually we (board-certified nutritionists) approach this topic in terms of which oils are nutritious and which are bad. It’s really interesting to talk to (Chef G.) to find out which ones are good for cooking, frying and sautéing, and which ones we should just use to drizzle.”
The cooking oil line up
Here is what these experts had to say about the cooking oils that are typically found in most American pantries and restaurants, and some that you may want to add to your kitchen:
Corn oils and other vegetable oils
Viverito: “I try not to use these. I’m not going to lie and say I’ve never seen them used in kitchens,” he says, explaining that most restaurants will use one of these oils when making salad dressings. “It’s cheap. It’s versatile. It has no flavor.”
Bowden: “The reason I hate this stuff is that not only is it highly processed, so that there’s nothing that possibly remains in there that could possibly be useful to the human body. But it is very high in omega-6 fatty acids. Omega-6 fats aren’t necessarily bad by themselves. The problem is when we eat too many omega-6s and not enough omega-3s, we set ourselves up for inflammation. … And this stuff is in just about every processed food in the world … it’s not good for us.”
Viverito: “Pay now or pay later. Do you want to pay now for a higher quality oil, or do you want to pay the doctor later on in life?”
Viverito: “It used to be more of a specialty oil in this country. Worldwide, it’s the largest-consumed oil on the planet. … People see the dark color and think: Uh oh. There’s got to be a specific use for it. I try to dispel that myth. The red comes from the carotenoids – the vitamin A and vitamin E – (which are good for) brain health and cardiovascular health. It’s a lovely oil with a rich buttery flavor. As a chef, I look at oils for their smoke point. I use really high heat to sear in the flavors and lock in the nutrients. I don’t want to dry out my food. This is an excellent choice for that.”
Bowden: “It drives me absolutely nuts that we made the switch from lard and some of the other saturated fats to canola oil, which actually does not stand up to high heat well. And when it is processed with high heat, the way it is with almost every single fast-food restaurant, it forms carcinogenic compounds and trans fats. It is the worst oil to use for frying. The best oils are the saturated fats: the lards, the coconut oils and the palm oils. They stand up beautifully to heat. And they don’t form any really negative compounds that are bad for our bodies.”
Viverito: “(These are) old-world oils used for centuries in areas such as Asia and Southeast Asia. Where do you see heart disease coming from? Not those areas.”
Bowden: “We should mention that all corn in the U.S. is not organic. It’s GMO. A lot of people are concerned, rightfully so, about the source of foods that are GMO like soy beans and corn. As far as I’m concerned, we don’t need (them). We could do a very good job of cooking and flavoring with some of these healthier oils.”
Viverito: “If you like the flavor, I think it’s fabulous. It has so many uses. … When I’m at home and I’m making myself some fresh popcorn, I put a little bit of this in the pan. You don’t need the salt. You have all that extra flavor.”
Bowden: “And, it is anti-microbial: It’s got fatty acids like lauric acid and caprylic acid that help fight microbes and viruses and bacteria.”
Viverito: “Put it on some crackers. Spread it on some toast. You can buy deodorized if you don’t like the strong aroma. Or, get the natural stuff at the farmer’s market. It’s probably from pasture-raised pigs, so it has a much better nutritional profile.”
Are healthier oils worth the extra cost?
“Yes these oils may be a little bit more money,” comments Viverito. “But you use less of them. … So technically it winds up being the same cost. It’s got a better flavor profile, a richer mouth feel. It’s got more nutrients. You have that omega-3/omega-6 balance.”
Bowden adds, “It’s kind of an uphill battle to re-educate the public about this stuff. We have demonized these fats for so long that people just naturally think this is what clogs our arteries. It’s just not true folks.”
Viverito cautions people not to be motivated by fear. “A little education goes a long way. And it will make your food taste better.”
Robin Miller is a health and nutrition editor with more than 30 years of industry experience. She researches and writes about the nutritional benefits of palm fruit oil, with the goal of giving readers factual, science-based information that will be useful in their daily lives.