Small changes make big differences.

Tuesdays with MOJO / The miracle of oil

Marjorie Spitz Rento1 Comment

Tonight is the first night of Chanukah.  As you likely know, Chanukah is a celebration of the festival of lights when the Maccabees saw their one-day supply of oil miraculously lasting eight days, hence the eight days of Chanukah.   It allowed them the time needed to prepare a fresh supply of oil to keep their menorah lit nightly (which was their custom).

There are a lot of articles about oil today, given the price of oil is so much cheaper than it’s been in recent years.  A seemingly miracle in and of itself! 

Since oil is such a hot topic, I thought I’d take this opportunity to talk about the oils that we eat!

Olive oil.  Grapeseed oil.  Coconut oil.  Vegetable Oil.  Oy!  There are so many oils to choose from these days -- the grocery shelves are totally overwhelming.   I admit, as someone who is pretty educated about food, the conflicting information by manufacturers, doctors, marketers and “experts” is confusing and infuriating (sigh)!

The bottom line is, oil is a fat and it’s important to choose the healthiest fats to consume.  If you’re cooking with oil, you also need to be aware of which to use at what temperature to avoid toxicity.

Fats perform differently both during cooking, and in how they impact your health.  Some are made for high heat cooking, and others for drizzling onto your food.

Here are some basic rules that I follow:

Don’t let oils sit around for too long. Heat, oxygen and light can alter them, and ultimately they can go rancid.   It’s best to store them in cool, dry, dark places and keep the lids on when not in use.

As I mentioned, different oils have different smoke points.  Once oil begins to smoke, it produces toxic fumes and harmful free radicals (which is bad – please avoid!).   The more refined the oil, the higher the smoke point. 

I haven’t listed all of his choices, but according to the Executive Chef for Cleveland Clinic’s Wellness Institute and Center for Lifestyle Medicine: 

  • Oils with high smoke points for searing, browning and (gulp) deep frying include refined olive oil, almond and avocado oil.
  • Extra virgin olive oil has a medium to high smoke point and is the “best pick oil” for oven cooking, baking and stir frying.
  • Walnut and coconut oil have a medium smoke point and are good for light sautéing, sauces and low-heat baking.

By all means, please stay away from partially hydrogenated oils (or trans fats), which is in so many of our foods.  Hydrogenation is an industrial process that adds hydrogen to vegetable oil, which causes the oil to become solid at room temperature.  It allows for a much longer shelf life, which is why many restaurants use it, especially in their fryers, as it doesn’t have to be changed as much.

Side note: In the U.S. if a food has less than .5 grams of trans fat per serving, the food label can read 0 grams of trans fat. So when you check labels for fat, also check for partially hydrogenated vegetable oil, which is an indicator that a food contains trans fat even if it says it doesn’t.  Thank you marketers! 

The FDA has recognized that partially hydrogenated veggie oil is no longer safe and should be phased out of food production, however that will be a long process.

Lastly, please avoid highly processed oils.  Sorry folks who love seed and veggie oil! They are greatly processed.  Plus soybean and corn are genetically modified (GMO), which is a topic we can address another time. 

If you want to further educate yourself, you can read a “guide to oils” by Authority Nutrition.  You can also see an icky video showing how canola oil is made (it’s the process that makes it bad), and why vegetable oils are toxic here.  

Alternatively, extra virgin olive oil is literally made from the simple process of pressing olives.  Doesn’t that even sound a whole lot healthier!

So, take a moment to review what’s on your shelf, and how its stored.  Switch out those oils that aren’t doing you any favors, and replace them with ones that feed your heart health.  Please share how it felt – did you get the shakes letting go of one or the other?  Taste a new oil that you liked or hated? Experience any miracles?

I happen to think drizzling my lemon infused extra virgin olive oil on my foods is a little miracle in my mouth.

Cheers to the miracles you experience over the next 8 days!

 Marjorie, Chief MOJO Maker™