Q: Dear Dr. Mao
With all the different oils, their manufacturing processes, and controversial research, I am confused about how to I figure out what is the best oil to use and how to avoid causing problems. How much do we really need them anyway?
A: I see I’ve struck a chord with my oils and fats article and appreciate all the postings and input. I acknowledge that people take their oils and fats very personally. The truth is all fats, whether good or bad are useful in hormonal production, neurological health and satiation. Instead of getting fixated on which is the winner of the healthiest oil contest, we should instead focus on getting a variety of oils and fats into our bodies. Is it a problem to have butter once in a while? The answer is moderation in everything you do and eat. But if you ate butter, cheese and red meat everyday, you will surely raise your risk of heart disease, stroke and cancer. What about when it comes down to choosing between butter and margarine? I would recommend having some butter occasionally but best avoid margarine entirely because it is hydrogenated which makes it worse than butter.
There is some confusion about which oils and fats fall under mono-unsaturated, poly-unsaturated and saturated fats categories. The fact is almost all oils contain some or all of the above. It is a matter of what type of fat is the predominant content of the oil. For example, olive oil contains 73% mono-unsaturated fats whereas avocado oil contains 12%. I get many questions as to how to easily tell which oil to favor and which to minimize. I recommend a simple imagery–if it flows at room temperature, then it will do the same within your body. If it is a solid mass at room temperature, best to avoid or eat little of it as it will clog and block arteries within you. On the subject of cooking with oil, a number of people correctly pointed out that many oils become carcinogenic and produce transfats once heated to high temperature. If possible, don’t cook with oil and instead use water to stir-fry first and then add oils at the end of cooking.
What about baking?
Try using nut oils sparingly instead of solid fats like butter or lard. Of course, the final choice is yours but if you can try making some simple and small changes regarding your oils and fats preference, you will find better health and live longer.