So on my quest to feed my family well, I thought that I had found a good mild tasting oil which was safe at high temps. It looks like I WAS WRONG about Grapeseed oil. I had read about it having good health benefits with a high burn point . After more reading and research - it seems I only had HALF of the story correct. It looks like Grapeseed oil does have a few good health benefits:
- High in vitamin E
- Has a slightly higher smoke point than olive oil
BUT... the bad facts outweigh the good.
"Grape seed oil has a high smoke point.For this reason, it is advertised as a good choice for high heat cooking like frying. This is based on a huge misunderstanding… the smoke point of an oil is NOT the determinant of whether it should be used for cooking or not. The number of double bonds in the fatty acid molecules is much more important. Polyunsaturated fats are called poly (poly=many) because they contain many double bonds. These double bonds are reactive and tend to react with oxygen when heated, forming harmful compounds and free radicals. Because grape seed oil is so incredibly high in polyunsaturated fats, it really is one of the worst oils you could possibly use for cooking. The healthiest cooking oils are those that contain mostly saturated fats (like butter and coconut oil), because they don’t have double bonds and are therefore less likely to react with oxygen when heated." (read the rest HERE)
oh dear... and look here:
"THE TRUTH ABOUT POLYUNSATURATED FATS: What’s so bad about those PUFAs? Well, basically, human bodies can’t handle very much of them at all, without running into some serious health problems. And for almost all of human history, we consumed only a very small amount of polyunsaturated fat—whatever was naturally present in the food we ate. But as the industrialization of our food supply brought new technology for creating all sorts of changes to the food we eat, that changed. We started extracting oils out of seeds that we never could have before. Making olive oil is easy—you squeeze it. But squeeze a kernel of corn, a soybean, or a sunflower seed? Not much happens, without lots of big machinery and a high-tech, chemical-based process. So as a result, we began consuming more polyunsaturated fats (concentrated in modern cooking oils) than ever before. Today, we consume 1,585% more PUFA than we did 100 years ago. That’s a lot. It’s been by far the biggest change to our diet in recent history. Healthy human cell walls are comprised of fats and cholesterol. And very, very little polyunsaturated fat. When we have too much polyunsaturated fat compared to the saturated fat that’s supposed to make up the fat in our bodies, bad things happen from that imbalance. " (read the rest HERE)
At this point, you may be confused. There are so many opinions out there about good fats and bad fats, who to believe?? Many mainstream doctors and health websites tell you the reverse about saturated fat! I will explain why I don't look to the mainstream 'experts' any longer for my health advice.
Here's a quick version of our story.
My husband and I spent our first 10 years together listening to our doctors, eating the way most Americans eat, and feeding our kids that way. Granted, we were on the healthy side of the American diet. Lots of fruits and veggies (though I never considered buying organic) and home made meals, but we got our meat, milk and butter from the grocery store (from animals raised in confinement), and our diet included unhealthy oil and sugar-laden processed food items like breakfast cereals, crackers, chips and breads.
Things seemed normal ... until some health problems seemed to stack up and become chronic for my husband. The doctors happily prescribed more antibiotics and never mentioned our diet. Also, our girls were in the doc's office each winter with several ear infections and we started down the road that many American families go down... a benign infection leads to antibiotics, which returns again and again, which leads to a conversation about tubes in the ears and other medical interventions. (Read the full story here).
Over the past 5 years we have eliminated processed food, transitioned to more of a 'traditional' diet. Eating whole, nutrient-dense food (growing as much as we can to keep it affordable) and sourcing things locally. This means we are returning to eating the way our grandparents ate. Having a connection to the land and the animals which your food derives from - is where it begins.
It has been evident for years that traditional diets, from cultures with the closest connection to local food are most healthy (think Mediterranean diet). And it's worked for our family, too. We have found that these lifestyle changes have improved our health and immune systems by leaps and bounds:
- Removing processed foods from our diet (making sourdough instead of buying bread) as well as being very selective on snack food
- Growing most of our own vegetables, or buying local/organic
- Eating lots of fermented foods
- Using natural sweeteners in moderation and eliminating sugars (we use honey, maple syrup and stevia) This is valuable info. about coconut sugar, which we once were using, but now understand isn't sustainable.
- Purchasing only pastured, local meat and raw dairy (we've joined a local co-op which makes this affordable)
OK, OK... I began this post talking about searching out which oil or fat to is healthiest to cook with... let me try and come back to the topic at hand. So... did our great- grandparents generation cook with healthy oil/fats? It turns out they probably did. Before the rise of industrialization and factory-made oils, people cooked with whatever they had local access to.
Although Extra Virgin Olive oil is incredibly healthy, I was interested to learn that the majority of Italian peasants in centuries past - although they grew and picked olives - would not primarily cook with it. It was a valuable cash crop which they sold. Most families would use their own rendered pork fat (from the family pig) to cook with. Really, you ask? Italians cooked with LARD? Yes, they did. And you may be surprised how incredibly good for you - lard (from pastured pigs) is!! (We aren't talking about shelf-stable processed lard you might see in a grocery store). Read these incredible health facts here and here.
I am a big fan of the Weston A. Price foundation, which shares nutritional information from the research of Weston A. Price, a dentist and researcher. He and his wife travelled the world and studied traditional cultures, food and health. They discovered that the rise of modern, processed foods was the culprit behind the deteriorating dental health as well as overal physical degeneration of societies. I get much of my nutritional information from this source, and other traditional diet perspectives. The WAP foundation is not funded by any large food company - it's a grassroots, non-profit organization and has helped me immensely as I've learned how to eat healthfully.
My favorite farmer, Joel Salatin (sustainable farmer, author and activist) recommends the Weston A. Price foundation - and Sally Fallon Morell's cookbook, Nourishing Traditions. The type of recipes you will find in here are old, slow and like the title suggests...nourishing. If you haven't read Joel Salatin's book 'Folks, this aint normal', by the way - READ IT!! It's an entertaining, easy read and will be a real eye-opener on these issues.
For those of you who like to delve deep into the science of fat (things like short and long chain fatty acids, saturated, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats) This article gives more details. Turns out, it's not as simple as I'd hoped to be able to explain! The last paragraph, however is worth quoting:
"In summary, our choice of fats and oils is one of extreme importance. Most people, especially infants and growing children, benefit from more fat in the diet rather than less. But the fats we eat must be chosen with care. Avoid all processed foods containing newfangled hydrogenated fats and polyunsaturated oils. Instead, use traditional vegetable oils like extra virgin olive oil and small amounts of unrefined flax seed oil. Acquaint yourself with the merits of coconut oil for baking and with animal fats for occasional frying. Eat egg yolks and other animal fats with the proteins to which they are attached. And, finally, use as much good quality butter as you like, with the happy assurance that it is a wholesome—indeed, an essential—food for you and your whole family."
So, here's my conclusion on the healthy fats I will continue to cook with:
- Extra virgin olive oil - for drizzling, dressings, dipping and lower heat sauteeing
- Extra virgin Coconut oil - for baking, some light frying (pancakes, etc.)
- Home-rendered fresh lard (from pastured pork fat) for sauteeing, or occasional frying (Lard from pigs raised in confinement will NOT have the same benefit)
- Pastured, Organic Butter (for whatever I can think of putting it in, or cooking with it!) (Organic Valley is an accessible brand)
- Any other animal fat I can skim off the top of what I've cooked. Often this will be from chicken, pork or beef. Since all of the meat I buy comes from local, sustainably raised and pastured sources - I can know that this fat is beneficial, and high in nutrients. After making pork carnitas (recipe here) I save the fat and add it to roasted potatoes, or cook a fried egg in it. YUM!
If you do the reading on the above linked sources - I believe you will feel confident, as well - that delicious fat from good sources will play a big part in keeping you healthy!
Thankfully, our half- opened bottle of Grapeseed oil will not be wasted. We are using it to oil our butcher blocks and wood cutting boards! ;)
Thanks for being along for this journey of discovery with me. I welcome your comments!