Vegetable oils are ubiquitous in our regular cooking, whether it’s that batch of homemade mayonnaise that needs a drizzle of oil to get it to the right consistency, or a delicious cake, or a midweek dinner. Unfortunately, in spite of their low saturated fat content, oils from sources like soybean, sunflower, and sesame are now being questioned for their possible negative health impact. That’s why exploring new options and being clever about your cooking is more important than ever. Here’s a head start on that search for smart alternatives to regular cooking oils.
Why Avoid Existing Vegetable Oils?
Sunflower oil, canola oil, sesame oil, safflower oil, and even soybean or corn oil were fairly popular not too long ago. Because they did not contain saturated fats unlike animal fats, we switched to using them. And since they seemed to be a guilt-free option, a decade or two ago, you wouldn’t have thought twice about using copious quantities too! Now, however, researchers have found that these vegetable oils contain Omega 6 polyunsaturated fatty acids, which are fine in moderation, but when consumed regularly or in large amounts can be harmful to your body. Omega 6 fatty acids have been implicated in causing inflammation, and early research points to its link to complex regional pain syndrome, and according to some researchers may increase the growth of cancerous cells in the prostate.1 Some like canola and soybean even contain unhealthy trans fats2 that can increase your risk of developing obesity, heart disease, diabetes, and even cancer. Which is why it may be time to look at alternatives.
What About Vegetable Shortening?
Margarine or vegetable shortening aren’t technically vegetable oils and could cross your mind as an option. If like many others you’re wondering what the word is on these fats, here’s the long and short of it. Don’t use these as substitutes. They aren’t too different from using lard, except that these have a plant source. They are highly hydrogenated, processed fats and may contain 15 to 20 percent or more of saturated fats.3
Should You Switch To Animal Fat, Butter, Or Lard?
If your goal is to cut down on saturated fats, having any of these animal sourced fats is probably not a good idea. There are differing views on lard which was considered taboo for the longest time before undergoing a revival in the last few years. If you’d like to play it safe, you may want to avoid these fats until we know for sure which way things go.
Alternatives To Traditional Vegetable Oils
So if you have decided to give up on your favorite brand of sunflower or corn oil, what are our options?
Extra virgin coconut oil is believed to be very good for health and has a host of benefits including helping boost male fertility by increasing serum testosterone levels and fighting the oxidative stress your body undergoes due to heavy drinking.4 It can also boost sluggish metabolism making it invaluable for those with hypothyroidism or at risk of developing metabolic syndrome.5 This oil has been used for years in several tropical nations and is now making its way to neighborhood grocers across the country.
Extra virgin olive oil is a monounsaturated fat that can help anyone with inflammation or a leaky gut problem. This healthy oil contains Omega 3 fatty acids which inhibit inflammation, making it a powerful dietary armor against rheumatoid arthritis, coronary artery disease, hypertension, and cancer.6 Regular intake of the oil can also help increase levels of testosterone in the body.7 Olive oil also comes recommended by the American Heart Association as one of the healthier options when it comes to saturated fat content.8
Unsweetened, All-Natural Applesauce
Bakers have opened up to the idea that they can swap vegetable oils or butter and shortening agents traditionally used in baking, for ingredients like unsweetened natural applesauce that are healthier choices. Applesauce in general can be swapped for oil in a 1:1 ratio. So if your recipe calls for a cup of oil, trade that oil in for a cup full of wholesome all-natural unsweetened applesauce. One cup of applesauce gives you 102 kcal of energy and contains 181 mg of potassium, 12 mg of phosphorus, 10 mg of calcium. It also packs an antioxidant-rich punch courtesy the 2.4 mg of vitamin C, and gives you 71 IU of vitamin A, and 7 µg of folate, in addition to other nutrients.9
Plain Or Vanilla Low-Fat Or Greek Yogurt
You can tap into the fats present naturally in yogurt to add the creaminess that an oil does. Especially when it comes to things like salad dressings. Swap out that oily mayonnaise for a just-as-creamy yogurt dressing. To make a seemingly indulgent spread for your bread in lieu of margarine or mayo, press all the liquid out of the yogurt by hanging it in a cheesecloth overnight in the refrigerator suspended over a bowl, to let all the liquid drain out. The yogurt also gives you a probiotic boost that helps keep your gut healthy, boosting levels of good bacteria and improving immune function.10 The lactobacillus bacteria in yogurt is especially useful for supporting proper mucosal immune function which fortifies your respiratory system, the urogenital tract, and intestinal mucosal membranes.11
Healthy savvy bakers the world over are tapping black beans to use in their brownies and cakes instead of oil or saturated fat-laden butter. The beans simply need to be pureed to be used. The only limitation is their distinctive color means you can’t use them for a batch of blondies or an angel cake, but there are enough other options! Food bloggers and semi-professional bakers suggest a ratio of 1:1 to replace butter or a vegetable oil with black bean puree. A little adjustment for flour may also need to be made to get the right consistency – there’s no dearth of recipes for you to explore online. And let’s not forget, the beans are fiber-rich and contain folate, vitamin B6, potassium, and other nutrients like copper and manganese that make them a smart choice for your health.12
Mashed Ripe Bananas
Another vegetable oil or butter substitute is the ripe banana. Delicious banana breads and cakes find this easily available ingredient in their recipes. You might need to experiment a little if you decide to wing it with one of your own recipes, rather than using a ready substituted recipe someone else has already tried. Begin with using half as much ripe mashed banana as the butter or vegetable oil called for in the recipe. Bananas are a great food to have anyway, with 3 to 4 gm of fiber, plenty of calcium and potassium to build bone health, and immunity building Vitamin C.13
Why You Should Always Read The Labels!
As the American Heart Association recommends, even if you are planning to buy a seemingly heart-healthy oil, you should always read the labels on the packaging first. That’s because hydrogenation, a process that vegetable oils are put through to convert them to semi-solid or solid fats, can change properties increasing saturation. Be sure to ensure you are buying an oil that has none of these on the label14:
- Partially/hydrogenated oils
- Trans fats
- Saturated fat content of over 4 gm
While this is a guideline for oils good for your heart, the other alternatives mentioned earlier have other benefits for overall health, so do make your choices wisely.