You can, of course, substitute any oil you like in any recipe, but here’s a brief summary, if interested, of the reasons I choose the oils I do.
UPDATED – JUNE 10, 2012
Coconut oil, ghee, and butter are my favorite oils for cooking and baking, as they’re delicious & have a very high smoke point. This means they’re heat stable and won’t oxidize (turn rancid during the cooking process – releasing harmful free radicals within the body).
Olive oil and macadamia nut oil are great drizzled over cooked foods for flavor, or used to make homemade salad dressings.
Scroll down for more details….
Besides its delicious flavor, coconut oil has many health attributes. It’s proven to be antiviral, antibacterial and antifungal. This means it helps to combat undesirable bacteria, viral organisms, and yeast/fungus within the body. Nice! It’s also one of the few sources of lauric acid, which enhances brain function and the immune system. Lauric acid is actually the component in breast milk that gives breast-fed babies that amazing immunity boost. Not only is it lower in calories than most other fats & oils, it actually stimulates metabolism and encourages weight loss.
Due to the fact that coconut oil contains medium-chain fatty acids, it goes straight from the intestines to the liver and is immediately used for energy (as opposed to long chain fatty acids found in most vegetable & seed oils, that are almost always stored as fat).
Coconut oil is also amazing applied topically to the skin – very moisturizing and healing (& often a key ingredient in natural skin care products).
In any case, it happens to be the oil I use most. Fantastic for baking, sauteing and frying. It works for us in most any recipe. Store coconut oil tightly covered in a dark cabinet. It’s shelf life at room temperature is very long – a year or more.
Butter is made of mostly fat, but also contains water (18%), and protein (milk solids) (2%). Ghee is produced by cooking butter until the water evaporates and the milk solids float to the top. You then skim off and discard the milk solids, and are left with pure butter fat – ghee.
There are a few high quality ghee manufacturers out there, but it’s easy to make at home if you’d prefer (using the method described above). Ghee has a longer shelf life than butter, and does not need to be refrigerated if used up within 2 to 3 months (will last up to a year in the fridge). It’s also lactose and casein free, so can usually be tolerated by those with milk sensitivities.
When I want a buttery flavor, I cook with ghee as it’s very heat stable, even over high heat, and very delicious. Organic ghee, made from grass-fed cows is best.
If you’re not sure you’d like the flavor of coconut oil, but are interested in the health benefits, there’s a product called “Coconut Ghee” made by Green Pastures which is a 75/25 blend of coconut oil and ghee. This product gives the buttery taste you’re probably used to, while also offering all the health benefits of coconut oil. Might be a good transition oil if you intend to go full-fledged coconut-y =) Flavor wise, we had no problem using the straight coconut oil, right from the get-go. It’s delicious, but this is a good alternative if you have reservations.
There’s a lot of good information on my “real butter” page, so I’ll try not to be repetitive here. A few things to note however…. Animals, like humans, store toxins in their fat. Butter is almost pure fat, so if you’re eating non-organic butter, whatever toxins that animal was exposed to (pesticides/antibiotics/hormones) will be very concentrated in the butter. For this reason, butter (and ghee) from organically raised cows is best. In fact, if you only purchase one organic food item, butter should be it.
Also, grass-fed cows will produce butter that contains Conjugated Linoleic Acid (CLA), which has strong anticancer properties, encourages the buildup of muscle, and prevents weight gain (CLA is not present in butter made from grain-fed cows).
Lastly, butter not only provides essential nutrients itself, but when combining butter with other foods (as is always the case), it helps your body to absorb and assimilate the vitamins and minerals within those foods. It also slows down the absorption of sugar (from the carbohydrates you’re eating it with). So, forget the old myths & enjoy the rich, satisfying, creamy taste of fresh butter – knowing you’re doing your body good.
If you can get raw, organic butter from a local dairy farm, all the better, but here are a few good options you can sometimes find at the local grocer (or have them order for you):
Olive oil is a delicious, healthy oil, best reserved for flavoring after cooking, as it easily becomes damaged from heat. If you must cook with it for a particular dish, use very low heat to try to prevent the oil from oxidizing and becoming rancid. Its best uses are for salad dressing, and drizzling over cooked foods. For your Italian dishes, consider cooking with butter or ghee, and then simply passing fresh olive oil at the table to add that delicious, mediterranean flavor.
Olive oil has surely stood the test of time, and is one of the rare few, healthy oils from a plant source. Keep in mind though, unlike coconut oil and butter which are comprised of medium-chain fatty acids, it can contribute to weight gain due to its long-chain fatty acid composition. It is a great oil to include in your diet, but be careful not to over-do it.
Be sure to use high quality, cold pressed, extra virgin olive oil. A top-of-the-line olive oil may actually look cloudy (which means it was unfiltered) and golden-yellow (meaning it was made with fully ripened olives). Here are a few brands to consider seeking out:
MACADAMIA NUT OIL
In general, macadamia nut oil is a good choice. It’s very rich in monounsaturated fat – which has been shown in virtually every research study to be associated with lower rates of heart disease. This is the same component (monounsaturated fat) that gives olive oil its well-touted health benefits. Many oils have it actually, but way back when, the olive oil industry was the one who did the lobbying, so the FDA gave them, solely, the claim to fame. It’s all political! Monounsaturated fat is monounsaturated fat – no matter where it comes from, and macadamia nut oil actually has even more of it than olive oil, it just hasn’t been studied or marketed nearly as much.
Like olive oil, macadamia nut oil is best unheated, used for flavoring (as heat will turn the oil rancid rather quickly). Whenever possible, choose oils that are heat stable for cooking (coconut oil, butter, ghee).
One thing I can say for sure… As good as olive oil is, there are so many overly (and improperly) processed varieties these days that it makes it difficult to pick the right bottle. People don’t generally want to order these things on line, but it’s rare to find the good stuff locally. Be choosy – it’s important with everything, but even more so with oils. Since macadamia nut oils are few & far between, you’re much more likely to get a quality product. Personally, I don’t use macadamia nut oil, but two good suppliers I know of are vitalchoice.com or mac-nut-oil.com.
In summary, choosing the right oils is of utmost importance to your health.
Avoid refined oils (with the exception of coconut oil), glass containers are preferable when possible, and store your oils away from light and heat. Additionally, after you’ve used an oil, replace the cap immediately (don’t let it sit on the counter opened for 30 minutes while you prepare the rest of the meal), as air can damage the oil as well.
Important to note… The majority of fats in the diet should come from coconut oil, butter, ghee, and naturally raised animals.
When you think about it, it doesn’t make sense…. In the name of health, we’ve been pushed away from butter, coconut oil, and eggs (all natural super-foods), only to have them replaced with margarines, hydrogenated oils, and trans-fats. Although most of us have no problem at this point in time, accepting the fact that margarines, hydrogenated oils, and trans-fats are bad, it’s somehow harder to un-do the old propaganda, and accept the fact that many saturated fats are indeed good, and necessary for optimal health.
Excerpt from Sally Fallon’s “Nourishing Traditions” explaining why saturated fat is not (& never was) the problem.
“Before 1920 coronary heart disease was rare in America; so rare that when a young internist named Paul Dudley White introduced the German electrocardiograph to his colleagues at Harvard University, they advised him to concentrate on a more profitable branch of medicine. The new machine revealed the presence of arterial blockages, thus permitting early diagnosis of coronary heart disease. But in those days, clogged arteries were a medical rarity, and White had to search for patients who could benefit from his new technology. During the next forty years, however, the incidence of coronary heart disease rose dramatically, so much so that by the mid 1950s, heart disease was the leading cause of death among Americans. Today, heart disease causes at least 40 percent of all US deaths. If, as we have been told, heart disease is caused by consumption of saturated fats, one would expect to find a corresponding increase in saturated fats, in the American diet. Actually, the reverse is true. During the sixty-year period from 1910 to 1970, the proportion of traditional animal fat in the American diet declined from 83% to 62 percent, and butter consumption plummeted from 18 pounds per person per year to 4. During the same period the percentage of dietary vegetable oils in the form of margarine, shortening and refined oils increased about 400 percent while the consumption of sugar and processed foods increased about 60 percent.”