Sunday, July 15, 2012

Q & A (Health--Oil)

This week’s question is from P. in Providence, RI:

Hi Sunday,
I was wondering if maybe you could repeat what you said in your lecture about cooking with olive oil. I remember you said olive oil was bad for you if cooked at a high temperature, but I can't remember why, and what one should substitute. (I cook a lot with olive oil so I've been wondering about this ever since your lecture).

Hi P.,

Cooking (specifically heating) with any oil makes it unhealthy; oil is 100% fat.  It may be a healthier fat (in the case of olive oil—especially extra virgin) but it is delicate and subject to rancidity because it has such a high fat content; meaning,  oil can “go bad” without you knowing it. There are times when it will smell unappealing, but many times it may smell and taste fine and have gone rancid.
NOTE: If any oil smells stale or “not right” toss it out!

When you cook with oil, the heat turns the product rancid immediately. In most cases, you won't get sick but the free-radicals that are let loose because of the rancid oil are like Pac-Men in your bloodstream...attacking healthy cells—which can lead to degenerative diseases such as arthritis. Re-heated oils (as used in deep frying) are that much more unhealthy!

Some oils (coconut) withstand heat better than others but are still best in their liquid but not cooked (or heated) states. Oils (most) that are left at room temperature or placed in a vessel of warm water to get to a liquid state are fine if used quickly. Once opened, oils should be consumed within months.

One of the most healthful oils is flax.  It can never be heated; even a gentle warming can destroy the health benefits and it should be stored in the refrigerator. Also, it is best to eat the original food product rather than just the oil when possible.  As with any refined product, you would only be getting part of the nutrients available in the whole food form. As an occasional food enhancer it is fine to use oils, remembering they are to be used with respect.

Cold-pressed extra-virgin olive oil is flavorful in salads. It is best bought and stored in a tin or opaque container or amber glass and kept in a dark place—well sealed, as protection from the damage of light which would cause rancidity. But, even cold-pressed oil has a certain amount of heat produced from friction; manufacturers state the oil stays within certain acceptable temperatures during refining.  I doubt the end product is tested for purity, rancidity, or vitamin content.  Moderation is key.

To substitute oils try these tips:

Sauté foods in water or broth rather than oil.  The secret is to put only a couple tablespoons of liquid in the pan to mimic a sauté situation.  You cannot leave the food unattended because, unlike oil, water will evaporate quickly. Add liquid (as necessary) in minuscule amounts and adjust the temperature accordingly.

As for spaghetti sauce, omit oil all together— it is barely noticeable.

The only other time oil is needed is in baking.  Use fruit instead (pureed) or vegan margarine (no trans fats and usually made with better, healthier ingredients). Creamed corn in corn bread…grated zucchini or carrots in cakes and brownies…you get the idea.

NOTE: Vegan margarine is not a health food; it is a better substitute than unhealthy counterparts for those moments of pastry weakness, but your body does not require its ingredients for health and well being.


  1. How do I remove eggs from a diet so that I am eating as few of them as possible? Also can you recommend a good tasting gluten free bread?

  2. Thanks for your question, B.!
    I will be posting my answer shortly. :)


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