Fats in the form of oil are essential to a balanced diet, except when consumed excessively. The key to understanding which type of cooking oil is best for your health is to know the difference between saturated fats and unsaturated fats. Saturated fats are mainly animal fats, which are high in cholesterol. Vegetable oils, however, that come from plant sources are unsaturated fats and usually referred to as good fats. Good fats are categorized as polyunsaturated - fats which are found in corn, soybean and sunflower oils and monounsaturated – fats found in peanut, canola, and olive oils.
Vegetable oil is usually any oil product derived from various plants such as olive, canola, palm, coconut, sunflower, soybean, pumpkin seed, corn, peanut, grape seed, sesame, argan, and rice bran. However, when identifying cooking oil products, it commonly refers to oils derived from palm, corn, soybean or sunflower oils. It does not include olive oil and coconut oil.
Olive oil is a prime element of the Mediterranean diet known for its remarkable health benefits. Studies show that olive oil, which is high in monounsaturated fats, can reduce the risk of coronary heart disease, peptic ulcers, colon cancer and other types of cancers. Because of its healing attributes, it is called the healing oil, and it also contains antioxidants such as carotenoids, oleuropein and vitamin E. Olive oil is also widely used for beauty regimens, because of its antioxidative properties, particularly vitamin E, which is an essential vitamin for the skin.
In culinary arts, olive oil is mostly used for salad dressings, grilling vegetables, light sautéing, and Mediterranean dishes. It is not ideal for high temperatures or deep frying. Olive oil, like grape seed oil, almond oil, and walnut oil is only suitable for medium temperature frying, unlike other vegetable oils which have a higher smoke point. Heating above 350 °C will deteriorate the characteristics of the olive oil and will make it toxic, thus your food is unsuitable for consumption.
What makes vegetable oils, including olive oil, harmful for the health is when the chemical characteristics of the oils are altered before they are used. Food suppliers or manufacturers for example opt for hydrogenated oil in order for their food to have a longer shelf-life. Hydrogenation is a process in which hydrogen is added to an existing organic molecule. In manufacturing hydrogenated oil, vegetable seeds are bleached clean to eliminate smell, color and taste. The oil is heated to high temperatures and hydrogen is generated. Flavorings and preservatives are then added in order to produce hydrogenated margarine or butter oil.
This process, however, eliminates the nutritional value of the oil, and its solid state closely resembles animal fats. What was once natural becomes indigestible and dangerous for consumption. While it has advantages for manufacturers and consumers alike, particularly its versatility because of its longer shelf life, the downside of hydrogenated cooking oil is important to consider, because once the natural state of oil is altered, it can become harmful and can cause a lot of damaging effects on health.