A common question I often get is, What is the best oil to cook with?
In an attempt to answer this question many factors need to be taken into consideration. Often times when choosing an oil, individuals will only consider the smoke point but this is only a marginal factor. In addition to smoke point, the polyphenol content, thermogenic effect, and oxidation rate of an oil are key considerations.
For instance, avocado oil has a high smoke point but has virtually no polyphenols. Knowing this, extra virgin olive oil is actually better to cook with because it has significantly more polyphenols. Polyphenols are important due to their ability to neutralize harmful oxidative products that are created during the heating process.
Cooking meat, in particular, can be problematic due to the creation of advanced glycation end products of AGEs. Dietary advanced glycation end products (dAGEs) are known to contribute to increased oxidant stress, inflammation, insulin resistance which are linked to the recent epidemics of diabetes, cardiovascular disease and premature aging (1,2). One tip to reduce dAGEs is to coat meats in olive oil since the polyphenol content has the ability to prevent advanced glycation end products. In addition to olive oil, you can also coat meats in acids such as lemon or vinegar to reduce dAGEs.
Meat Marinade Recipe: EVOO, Apple Cider Vinegar, Salt & Pepper, Oregano. Mix together and refrigerate in bag for 2 hours.
Polyphenols are important to mitigate oxidation which is why EVOO is still my choice. A good indicator of polyphenol content in EVOO is when you swallow olive oil and there is some heat to it. When choosing a healthy olive oil, ensure “olive oil” is the only ingredient (often it is mixed with canola oil) and choose one that is bottled in a dark glass. To further increase the polyphenol content of your meals consider consuming cilantro with your meal and chocolate plus berries for dessert.
The second factor to consider when choosing an oil is the chain length because this will impact the thermogenic effect of the oil. This means the amount of energy or calories it takes for the body to digest it. When we are looking at body composition and fat loss this thermogenic effect of foods becomes critical.
While I am a big fan of the “if it fits your macros” approach, we can take this concept one step further. By choosing oils with a higher thermogenic effect we can take a low carb diet and make the results even more profound. Essentially you can burn more fat for fuel at a faster rate by choosing the correct fat sources. So while it is most important to hit your macros, we must also keep in mind calories are not the be all and end all.
For instance, almonds and nuts have a tremendous thermogenic effect. With almonds, you really only absorb 70% of the caloric density whereas the rest is burned in the process of digesting the food. Olive oil has twice the term of effect of diary products like creams and cheese. So you use twice the amount of calories just to digest olive oil than you do versus butter. The point is, while cheese may fit your macros, due to the low thermogenic effect in addition to the inflammatory nature of the product I recommend a primarily dairy free lifestyle.
The last thing to consider is the fat oxidation rate of a fat. Olive oil as well as medium chain triglycerides, omega 3s, and the long chain omega 6s have a higher fat oxidation rate meaning they liberate more calories vs being stored in comparison to long-chain saturated fats. I’m not saying long chain fatty acids are bad but if you were to start incorporating more things like avocado, nuts and seeds and wild salmon that is going to be better than guzzling down whole milk and full-fat cheeses and fatty meats because it is going to be burned better, stored less and have a higher thermos effect.
In conclusion, my oil of choice would be extra virgin olive oil and I would stay clear of canola or vegetable oils due to their high oxidation rate and low polyphenol content. If body composition is a goal of yours focusing on quality oils is going to be something you need to consider if you want to maximize your ability to burn fat for fuel.
Uribarri, Jaime, et al. “Advanced glycation end products in foods and a practical guide to their reduction in the diet.” Journal of the American Dietetic Association 110.6 (2010): 911-916.
Van Puyvelde, Katrien, et al. “Effect of advanced glycation end product intake on inflammation and aging: a systematic review.” Nutrition reviews 72.10 (2014): 638-650.