As opposed to what the name suggests, vegetable oils do not come from vegetables only. In the technical sense, all oils that are extracted from plant sources are considered vegetable oils.
Widely celebrated as healthy fats, vegetable oils are the foremost choice of most people when it comes to cooking.
In addition to being used as a cooking medium, vegetable oils are also widely used in the manufacturing of a large number of cosmetic and personal care products. However, this blog is dedicated to highlighting the best edible vegetable oils and the benefits they offer.
Before we discuss the best vegetable oils, their properties, and nutritional values, let’s take a look at
how they are made.
Vegetable Oil Extraction Methods
There are a variety of methods used to extract vegetable oils and each of them can affect the appearance and quality of oils. This is why it is important to know how the oil was extracted to determine its nutritional value.
Some of the most commonly used vegetable oils extraction methods are:
Expeller pressing is a method in which the raw plant materials are mechanically pressed at a high pressure to extract oil. This often involves pressing the botanical material under high temperatures, which can affect the nutritional value of the oil. Oils extracted through this method are more stable and clearer than the ones extracted through other methods and also have a less natural aroma.
Cold pressing is a type of expeller pressing method in which the temperature during extraction is carefully controlled in order to preserve the natural nutrients of the plant material. This is why cold pressed oils are considered healthier than the ones extracted under high temperatures. The maximum temperature never exceeds 20 degrees Fahrenheit (49 degrees Centigrade) during cold extraction.
The extraction of oil with the help of a chemical solvent is a widely used method mainly because it is cost-effective. While the solvents are removed after the process is completed, the oils generally contain their trace amounts. This is why the oils that are extracted through this method are not preferred by aroma-therapists or purists.
A comparatively newer method of extraction, it involves using liquid (pressurized) carbon dioxide to take out the desired phytochemicals from a plant source.The oils extracted through this method are considered to be the purest because liquid carbon dioxide is a safe (and effective) solvent that does not damage the beneficial nutrients present in the plant.
When the extraction process is complete, the pressure is released from the chamber wherein the process is carried out. This allows the carbon dioxide to return to a gaseous state and is then vented from the chamber, leaving behind the purest forms of oils.
While these are the common vegetable oil extraction methods, most of the oils are refined, bleached, or deodorized, after extraction. Here’s why:
In addition to removing impurities, refinement is used to improve the color or texture of oils as well as to make them shelf-stable.
A technique used to improve the color of the oil and reduce its cloudiness, bleaching involves mixing the oil with filter aids, like fuller’s earth or clay. The oils are then filtered to remove filter aids and impurities.
Many oils naturally have potent aromas, which can be overpowering or unappealing. Deodorization is a process that helps to get rid of the strong smell by removing the odorous compounds. This is done by heating the oils at very high temperatures under vacuum that causes the aromatic substances to vaporize. Deodorizing may also help to remove the remaining impurities and fatty acids from the oils.
While deodorization is also a widely used refinement technique, it is considered the worst and least desirable process. Since the process involves heating oils at high temperatures, it can significantly decrease their beneficial qualities.
The 5 Best Vegetable Oils for Your Health
Just like other food varieties, not all vegetable oils are equal in terms of nutritional value. Also, not all of them are suitable for everything – some are safe to be heated on high temperatures whereas others can become damaging for your health when heated and hence, should be used in salad dressings.
In addition to considering how the oil was extracted, it is important that you consider the purpose you intend to use the oil for. Read on to make sure you use the best and healthiest of oils in your diet…
1.Extra-Virgin Olive Oil
Having a rich and distinctive flavor, extra-virgin olive oil is probably the only oil that enjoys the support of all health and cooking experts and is unanimously considered the healthiest of all oils. However, there is disagreement with regards to the right way(s) of using it. While some consider it safe for low-heat cooking, as it has a smoke point of 375 degrees Fahrenheit, others believe it should only be used in cold dishes, dressings, and dips.
Out of all vegetable oils, extra-virgin olive oil contains the highest amount of health beneficial monounsaturated fatty acids. It is also rich in beta-carotene (the precursor of vitamin A), polyphenols, and vitamins A, D, E, and K. Research has also shown that certain natural substances present in extra-virgin olive oil have anti-cancerous properties.
Most of us have been made to believe that canola oil is very unhealthy and hence, should be avoided. But, Elizabeth Ann Shaw, a registered dietitian nutritionist and health and wellness consultant, disagrees with this widely prevailing notion.
According to her, people assume that canola oil is unhealthy because they usually associate it with fried food, which itself isn’t good for health. But, in fact, it is low in saturated fats and contains a significant amount of omega-3 fatty acids, which offer numerous wonderful health benefits. Canola oil also has the lowest concentration of saturated fats, out of all vegetable oils.
Important: The reason why canola oil is generally considered unhealthy is that it is often extracted from the seeds that are genetically modified and have lost many of their beneficial properties as a result. Also, the omega-3 fatty acids present in freshly produced canola oil have the potential to go rancid – this is another reason why many people advise against using canola oil.
To sum it up, if you live in an area where you can get fresh (and preferably locally produced) organic canola oil, do not be afraid to use it. In fact, organic canola oil is one of the best oils for cooking due to its high smoke point i.e. 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
Rich in heart-healthy monounsaturated fatty acids and anti-oxidants, the buttery avocado oil extracted from the flesh of avocado fruit has gained immense popularity among health enthusiasts and the clean eating community. Research shows that avocado oil can promote the absorption of certain nutrients in the body and also help to maintain healthy cholesterol levels.
In addition to the health beneficial components, its naturally neutral flavor and high smoke point i.e. 400 degrees Fahrenheit, also make it a good option for consumption. However, it is quite expensive and hence, is not affordable for many people.
For people who can afford and don’t mind splurging on food, avocado oil is a healthier alternative to other types of fats.
Important: Avocado oil is highly sensitive to light and can easily get oxidized due to light exposure. Always store it in a dark place, at room temperature, to prevent it from going bad.
High concentrations of omega-9 fatty acids and unsaturated fat, low saturated fat content, high smoke point (510 degrees Fahrenheit), and neutral flavor make safflower oil a good option for cooking purposes.
Unsaturated fatty acids are known to be anti-inflammatory and heart-healthy, but what many people don’t know is that they also help in regulating the hormones and improving memory. They are also essential for the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins; A,D, E, and K.
It also works as a natural anticoagulant and helps in preventing blood clotting and narrowing of the arteries.
While it is not as widely used as other vegetable oils, safflower oil has long been known to provide many health benefits. An important thing to note here is that safflower oil is available in two varieties; high oleic and high-linoleic, but only the high-oleic variety can be used for cooking.
In addition to the wonderful health benefits, safflower oil is also known to help improve your hair and skin health, which is why it is used in many personal care products.
Extracted from soybeans, this is one of the most commonly used vegetable oils, all over the world, both in households and the commercial food industry. Just like canola oil, soybean oil has got a bad reputation because of its widespread use in the manufacturing of processed foods. But, it also offers a host of benefits when used the right way i.e. as part of healthy cooking.
Having a good quantity of essential fatty acid and plant sterols, the oil can help strengthen the immune system as well as improve heart health. It has also been found to help lower cholesterol levels and reduce the risks of certain diseases, such as cognitive disorders and osteoporosis. It is also known to promote hair growth and nourish and protect the skin.
While some vegetable oils may have a few downsides, they cannot be labeled as completely ‘bad’ for health. All in all, they offer a variety of health benefits, such as the decreased risk for certain types of cancers, heart disease, and many other chronic diseases. Certain vegetable oils are also known to help improve your metabolism.
Many vegetable oils are a good source of omega-3 fatty acids, which have long been proven to offer a wide range of health benefits. A large number of research studies have found that these essential fatty acids play a vital role in maintaining brain function, a healthy heart, and for normal growth and development.
Important: Oils generally lose their beneficial constituents during processing. Therefore, it is recommended to use organic varieties to take advantage of their amazing natural properties.