Vegetable oils, derived from different plants, contain many nutrients and are considered key to a healthy and balanced diet . The Mediterranean diet contains healthy amounts of virgin olive oil and most recently, coconut oil has increased in popularity for its many good qualities. But it is not always all good news.
Studies are now sounding the alarm when it comes to using some vegetable oils, specifically sunflower oil and corn oil. During cooking, these vegetable oils release high concentrations of a group of chemicals called aldehydes, which has been linked to cancer, heart disease, dementia and other illnesses .
Others have highlighted how some vegetable oils contain very large amounts of Omega-6 fatty acids, which are harmful in excess and that while the term “vegetable oils” might make us think that these are “natural” products, they are in fact highly processed and producing them requires the use of chemicals .
So what are the vegetable oils that are beneficial for our health but also eco-friendly in terms of their sourcing and production?
Probably a staple in most kitchens, olive oil is rightly considered the king of vegetable oils. Virgin olive oil is predominantly produced in European countries such as Greece, Italy and Spain. Olive oil is probably one of the most thoroughly studied foodstuffs with several studies having been conducted on its properties.
People who regularly consume olive oil have are less likely to develop cardiovascular diseases such as hypertension, stroke and high cholesterol while in general their arteries and blood vessels are healthier. In addition, some studies have indicated that olive oil may have a slightly protective effect against depression.
What is more, a lot of the olive oil sold on the market today is “labelled” virgin which ensures a higher quality product. In addition, while some brands produce olive oil in large quantities there are many independent producers who export their more limited yield. Very often these boutique brands are organic, which means that they also cater to the natural environment.
It is important to note that the traditional olive oil production process is based on pressing mechanically olives in order to squeeze out the oil. The residue is used to make other products, including the popular olive oil (or green) soap which can sooth a number of skin conditions, such as eczema.
Coconut oil is probably considered one of the most versatile super foods – it can be used in cooking, personal care and in so many other ways. Coconut oil contains good cholesterol and lowers bad cholesterol – which helps reduce the risk of heart disease – but it also reduces the presence of different bacteria and viruses in our body, including Staphylococcus Aureus which is the cause of Staph infections . Other studies have linked coconut oil with improved health benefits for people with Alzheimer’s and epilepsy as well as helping with weight loss.
The increased demand for coconut oil has certainly put pressure on producers particularly as it is understood that coconut trees become less productive as they age. To ensure that our purchasing choices do not negatively impact the environment, but in fact help local communities in developing countries where coconut oil is sourced from, it is important to opt for brands which have invested in sustainable sourcing and fair trade practices.
Perhaps the lesser known of the three vegetable oils listed here, peanut oil which is also known as groundnut or arachis oil has a strong peanut flavour and distinct aroma, similar to sesame oil. Peanut oil, just as coconut and olive oil, can help reduce the risk of heart disease and its precursor, which is high cholesterol.
While it has a high calorie content, it is also rich in a substance called “resveratrol” which has been found to protect against different types of cancer, degenerative nerve disease and viral and fungal infections. It is also high in vitamin E, which is a valuable anti-oxidant and when cooked or fried some of it is retained in the fried food .
These three oils are not only good for your health but they can be grown sustainably while being widely available to consumers. There are further vegetable oils that are healthy, such as avocado or walnut oil, but their availability both in terms of price and quantity is more limited.