The Slippery Slope of Cooking Oil’s

The Slippery Slope of Cooking Oil’s

With all the heart healthy press out there today, cooking oils have been a major topic of discussion. You may not have noticed but, cooking oils play a major role in our overall health. If you think cooking oils are not a big thing, understand that Americans digest five hundred and seventy six ounces of cooking oil a year! If you’re counting those calories, that amounts to more than four hundred calories each day!

With that in mind and knowing that we would be using a lot of oils in our dishes, I set about to find the right oils for our use.  Fortunately, although there are many oils available on the market today, there is also a multitude of articles on the properties of each. My first stop, as always, was a visit to my nutritionist. She has been invaluable in assisting me on keeping all our cakes sold around the world and dishes offered at our international bistro  as healthy as possible. And she jumped right in to our healthy versus unhealthy oil discussion.  

Before we got into the discussion of the types of oil, she explained that I  needed to know about fatty profiles. Every oil has one and that is the basis of how you determine how healthy each oil is. An oil’s fatty profile includes; unsaturated fats, mono-unsaturated fats and poly-unsaturated fats as well as medium chain triglycerides. All should play a part in the oil you choose.

We discussed every oil that is commonly used and the benefits and negatives to each. Armed with this knowledge, I set about to make sure all our offerings were matched to the proper oil and only healthy, environmentally friendly oils were used.

To use my own variation on a Thornton Wilder quote “Knowledge is like manure; it’s not worth a thing unless it’s spread around shared, encouraging all minds to grow.” And so, let’s take a trip down the slippery slope of oil to look at each of the most popular oils consumed by Americans today and find out what’s in their health profile. 

I’ll start with the most popular oils and work my way down the list.

Vegetable Oil – Don’t be fooled by this term.The term “vegetable oil” can be used as a generic term for all plant-based oils and that includes oils with trans fats, which unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last twenty years, you are well aware is absolutely unhealthy for you. The moral here, just because it says “vegetable oil”, doesn’t mean it’s healthy. Stay away from vegetable oils and focus in on specific oil names.

Canola Oil – Because Canola oil is high in monounsaturated fats and antioxidants it’s a good anti-inflammatory oil. Canola oil is also a great oil to use when you’re cooking especially when using high-temperatures (for the purposes of oils, high temperatures starts at 410° and is referred to as the “smoke point”. Above that temperature, many oils begin to smoke and burn). So now you feel great because you always use canola oil, right. Well, read on because there are some REALLY good alternatives that may change your mind.

Olive Oil – Like Canola oil, “un-refined extra virgin” olive oil is high in monounsaturated fats and antioxidants which makes it a good anti-inflammatory oil. In addition, olive oil is also high in oleic acid which has been shown to reduce heart disease,  diabetes, obesity and high blood pressure. This makes “un-refined extra virgin” olive oil one of the best oils you can consume. When I’m talking olive oil, please note that I’m referring to “un-refined extra virgin” olive oil?  Refined olive oils lack the important antioxidants and anti-inflammatories that make extra-virgin un-refined olive oil so special. Olive oil is not a good oil for high temperature cooking, as it has a low smoke point but, olive oil has one of the best taste profiles. of all the oils. Because of this, use your “un-refined extra virgin” olive oil on salads, dressings and for dipping that great Italian bread.

Peanut Oil – Peanut oil is also high in monounsaturated fats and antioxidants, and as such, is a good anti-inflammatory. As with canola oil, peanut oil is excellent for high-temperature cooking. Peanut oil can be purchased with a mild, almost neutral taste, as well as with a strong peanut flavor. Neutral tasting peanut oil is a favorite cooking oil for many chef’s.

Corn Oil, Grape Seed Oil & Sunflower Oil: Corn, sunflower and grape seed oil’s contain high levels of omega-6 polyunsaturated fats and decent amounts of monounsaturated fats. Omega 6 has been shown to lower blood cholesterol and support the skin.  Corn oil and grape seed oil are both good for cooking because of their high smoke point, however, sunflower oil has a relatively low smoke point and should be used instead for low heat cooking or dressings..

Sesame Oil, Walnut Oil & Pistachio Oil – These oils are some of the best sources of monounsaturated fat, anti-inflammatories and antioxidants. Recent tests have also  shown that monounsaturated fats help reduce cholesterol.” Great oils to consume but, all of these oils have a low smoke point, so keep them away from higher temperatures.

Palm Oil:  Being a fan of sustainable farming and environmentally sound issues, I can’t in good conscience recommend palm oil. Palm oil is one of the worst offenders of the environment. Palm tree farms, created for the sole purpose of producing palm oil, are springing up throughout Indonesia and the Amazon, These neat rows of thousands of palm trees displace the natural habitats and kill off the animals living in those habitats. In addition, the forest areas they replace are one of the key protectors of climate change. Unfortunately,  because it is so cheap to produce, palm oil is found in many products. If, heaven forbid, you don’t care about the environment, you need to know, for a healthy body, palm oils health status is atrocious. Palm oil is extremely high in saturated fat which, should be reason enough to cross it off your list of potential oils.

Coconut Oil – Coconut Oil has a high amount of medium chain triglycerides which, are good for you, if you have an issue with absorbing fats. It has been the favorite child of health advocates for the last several years BUT, its high saturated fat content is subject to scrutiny because high levels of saturated fat have been linked to an increase in total cholesterol. Because of this, and the fact that there are so many alternative oils that don’t pose this risk, I personally stay away from the use of coconut oil.

Flaxseed Oil, Hemp Seed Oil & Pumpkin Seed Oil  – I’ve lumped these three oils together because they are so similar in composition. Each of these oils contain healthy amounts of monounsaturated fats but also, relatively high amounts of omega-3 fatty acids derived from plant-sources. For those of you who are not aware of the benefits of  omega-3 fatty acids, they have been shown to decrease inflammation (a major source of a multitude of human ailments) and control blood pressure levels. Because of this, these three oils are some of the healthiest oils you can consume. Since all three of these oils have low smoke points, they all make a poor choice for cooking on your range or oven.

Avocado Oil –  I’ve saved the best for last. Like “un-refined extra virgin” Olive oil, avocado oil is extremely high in oleic acid which protects you against heart disease, diabetes, obesity, and high blood pressure.  Although olive oil has the best flavor profile of all the oils, because avocado oil offers the same oleic acid benefits, robust anti-inflammatory qualities AND has a relatively high smoke point, it should be your every day oil of choice.

So now you have it. Sixteen of the most popular oils, laid out for you, showing what each has to offer. Pick the ones that work best for you and dump the ones that are unhealthy. 

My pick…. “save your “un-refined extra virgin” olive oil for your dressings, dips, spreads and marinades and choose your avocado oil for all your cooking”.

Is It Sparkling Water…. Maybe

Is It Sparkling Water…. Maybe

As you should know by now from my previous posts, my dad was Austrian (that’s where our family crumb cake comes from), my mom was Italian. As we all know, you are ALWAYS raised like your mom’s family. Accordingly, we were all raised as Italians. Growing up in an Italian household, we always had two drinks on our table, homemade wine and sparkling water.

Unlike most families, in Italian households, wine was like soda, everyone (including kids) drank it. We didn’t drink it to get a buzz, it was truly like soda. You drank it when thirsty and stopped when your thirst was quenched. Along with our wine was always sparkling water. Sparkling water was for those few of us who didn’t like wine (God forbid), and in most cases it was usually Pellegrino.

I was was one of the few outcasts that did not like wine. No matter how often my Uncle Pete (who was our star homemade wine-maker) tried to get me to enjoy his always changing monthly flavors of wine, it wasn’t until years after I had grown into adulthood that I began to appreciate wine (I’m sure Uncle Pete smiles upon me from his heavenly home every time I enjoy a Montepulciano d’Abruzzo red, my favorite wine, with my meal). 

Although, as I mentioned, we usually drank Pellegrino, my dad would always have a ready supply of club soda or tonic water for his mixed drinks. If we ever ran out of Pellegrino, he would suggest I drink one of these, stating that “it’s the same stuff”.  Before I go any further, I need to explain my dad’s unusual drinking habits. My dad had an unusual set of taste buds. He would get half way through whatever he was drinking and ask for a refill of whatever we had on the table. It didn’t matter if it was the same drink, as long as it was wet. Unbelievably, we could fill his half full wine glass with orange soda and that would be fine with him. As kids, we would come up with really unusual mix ideas, say milk and cola, and that would always be just fine with him. Understanding this, you can now understand why he felt club soda and tonic water all tasted the same as Pellegrino, they were all WET!

Need I say that I clearly could taste the difference. To me club soda was too salty and the bubbles were too big, tonic water was just vile! At that time in my young life, to me they were just completely different drinks, kind of like what wine would be to milk. As I grew older and my tastes grew more refined, I found that I preferred Perrier to all other “sparkling waters” (My Italian family still remains in shock that I prefer French Perrier over Italian Pellegrino).

Years later, when I started to craft dishes, I found that each of these “sparkling waters” had different effects on the dishes that I made and it got me wondering just what the difference was. (Yes, I do use sparkling waters in some recipes. Try adding a natural lime flavored sparkling water to your pancakes like I do. It will add a light fresh flavor and assist in rising your pancakes to new heights).

Once I dug into “sparkling waters”, I realized there were some major and some subtle differences in just what we think “water with bubbles” is.  These affect not only taste but also mouth feel. So, lets start with the simplest of our “water with bubbles”, seltzer water

Seltzer Water – 

Seltzer water is made by carbonating plain old water with carbon dioxide (CO2). Nowadays, you’ll find many flavored seltzer waters such as La Croix. The Sodastream system is an excellent example of “infusing CO2 in plain water. Seltzer waters are usually flavored with natural fruit essences and oils.

Club Soda – 

Club soda is seltzer water, with minerals. Usually this includes; sodium bicarbonate, disodium phosphate and sodium citrate. On occasion sodium chloride will also be added to the mix. As I mentioned above, club soda is usually used for mixed drinks, although you could use seltzer water as a substitute for these drinks as well.

Tonic Water – 

Tonic water’s predecessor is quinine (you know the brutally bitter stuff taken to prevent malaria) It was so unpalatable to British officers based in India during the British occupation, that they began mixing it with soda and sugar to soften the taste. However, army personal are not known for drinking water when thirsty and before long they started mixing their “tonic” with their favorite drink which,  at that time was gin. And that is where your famous gin & tonic comes from. 

Sparkling Mineral Water – 

Although sparkling mineral water has many of the same dissolved solids including, potassium, sodium, and magnesium, that club soda has, unlike club soda, these minerals occur naturally and are picked up as the water filters through the many layers of underground rock and sediment. Although the water’s bubbles are usually naturally occurring, some sparkling water bubbles are artificially added.

Each brand of sparkling mineral water contains the distinct flavor-giving minerals from their place of origin. Accordingly, that is why Perrier tastes different than Pellegrino. Although the different tastes make them inconsistent in mixed drinks, they do work quite well in wine.

Health – 

So, is sparkling water better for you than plain water? A 2002 study published in the “European Journal of Gastroenterology and Hepatology,” states that “sparkling water has been found to aid in digestion”. Have indigestion after that big meal? Try drinking a glass of sparkling water to ease your discomfort.

Sparkling water not only works on input but also on output.  The same study also attributed the sparkling water to an improvement in constipation since it helps with the uptake of the fiber needed in the formation of stools. In addition, since they help food stay in the first part of the stomach for longer, which triggers the feeling of fullness, any of the carbonated waters mentioned above will also help you feel full longer. 

Hydration –

If we’re talking hydration, all carbonated waters have been found to hydrate you just as well as plain water, and because they are often more flavorful than plain water, you’ll be more likely to drink them, thus assuring you get the intake you need.

Since each has distinct bubble size and activity as well as natural and added natural flavors, choose the one that you like best and drink away.