No one can deny that frying or sauteing is typically the most mouth-watering way to prepare your food, yet it is equally certain that this method is also much less healthy. Most people believe that the main reason sauteing is considered unhealthy is from the added fats from the cooking oil, or the loss of nutrients that occurs when cooking with high heat, but there lies a third controversial factor that could be dangerous to one’s health in big ways.
This danger lies in the smoke points of oils. When you are frying or sauteing your food, fat molecules in the oil are beginning to break down, converting glycerol molecules into acrolein. This substance is known to bring about unwanted health risks when consumed. According to the EPA, there is not enough data to determine if acrolein is carcinogenic to humans, however, this chemical is also found in the breakdown of certain airborne pollutants from burning of tobacco, oil, and gas!
The key to avoiding consumption of acrolein is to refrain from reaching the smoke point of oils when sauteing. First of all, you should avoid vegetable, canola, sunflower, and palm oil at all costs. These oils are known to cause inflammation. Sunflower and flaxseed oil should never be used to fry with, as they have the lowest smoke points among oils, making them very susceptible to release acrolein when cooked with.
Healthy Cooking Oils
The three healthiest oils to consume are Coconut oil, Extra Virgin Olive oil, and Avocado Oil (the latter, which is pricier yet delicious). Coconut oil is heavy in saturated fat, but it is derived from MCT fats, which are actually processed differently in the body than standard saturated fats, and may even help the body burn fat! Now lets get to the smoke points of these oils.
Coconut oil is the most beneficial oil of the three in terms of healthy fats, however, it has a moderate smoke point (347 degrees F), so it should be used strictly for medium-temperature cooking. Olive oil is a bit more complicated. Extra virgin olive oil is full of great nutrients, and antioxidants that prevent the fats from breaking down at lower temperatures, so it is resilient up to 383 degrees fahrenheit. Remember, even at lower temperatures, these great antioxidants and nutrients can be lost, so I would recommend using EVOO in sauces or dressings at low temperatures, to retain the nutritional value of the oil. It is very important to be sure you are buying high quality olive oil. Many brands add soybean to their olive oils, which can be hazardous to health.
Here is a list of some approved, high-quality olive oil brands: http://www.truthinoliveoil.com/2012/09/toms-supermarket-picks-quality-oils-good-prices.
So what is the healthiest oil to saute or fry with? The winner is avocado oil, with a smoke point of 520 degrees!! This oil is great for searing, frying, anything high-temperature, and it is also full of great healthy fats. Avocado oil is also very high in monounsaturated fats, vitamins, and antioxidants, which help reduce LDL cholesterol levels, as well as promote healthy skin and brain function! So there is no doubting here that the clear winner is Avocado oil.
This is still a controversial subject, but to avoid any possible issues, remember to stick to these 3 oils mentioned above. Even if acrolein proves not to be carcinogenic, these oils are still the healthiest to use in terms of nutrients. And why take the chance anyways?
Take a look at my infographic on the top 3 healthiest oils below!