Deep-Fried Food: 5 Healthy Oils You Can Use

September 16, 2015

Why is that when it comes to food, what tastes good isn’t always actually good for us? The rule isn’t universally true, but it does seem more often than not the tastier foods we enjoy most have negative effects on our overall health and nutrition. When you start a diet, it can feel discouraging to realize all your favorite foods are suddenly off-limits. The good news we’ve discovered is that sometimes it’s how a food is prepared that makes a difference, not necessarily the food itself. One really good example of this is fried foods.

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Common throughout most cultures, fried foods are universally delicious… But not always healthy. However, there are ways to make deep-fried foods healthier. How? By choosing healthy fats and oils to fry in. We have 5 favorite healthy oils for frying, but before we jump into discussing them it’s important to understand the different components of fats.

Composition

There are four basic compositions for the fats we use in cooking: saturated, monounsaturated fats, polyunsaturated fats, and trans fats. Each has different characteristics and impacts our health differently. Here’s a brief overview of each:

  • Saturated Fats. You can recognize these fats because they become solid at room temperature. Butter, lard, and coconut oil are good examples. While not inherently bad for you, only consuming saturated fats isn’t healthy either and can raise your cholesterol level and increase your risk of heart disease. Some saturated fats (lauric acid) are actually good for you, though; coconut oil is a good source of this so long as it’s virgin and unrefined.
  • Monounsaturated Fats. Olive oil and peanut oil are two common fats in this category. They are liquid at room temperature, but become cloudy or semi-solid if refrigerated. They work well to use as an alternative to saturated fats.
  • Polyunsaturated Fats. These oils are always liquid. Walnut oil and canola oil fall into this category. Polyunsaturated fats are high in omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids, both of which are important to good health. However, we already tend to get too many omega-6’s and not enough omega-3’s, so opt for those with a good ratio of omega-6 to omega-3’s (this chart should help).
  • Trans Fats. These are toxic and should always be avoided. The majority of oils used in today’s Western diet are not at all good for us. Good examples of oils to stay far away from are soybean, corn, canola, and safflower oils; they contain up to 4% trans fats.

Smoke Points

When it comes to using oils for cooking – especially deep-frying – it’s important to understand that different oils have different smoke points. An oil’s smoke point is the temperature at which that oil begins to break down and release harmful compounds. Keeping an oil under that temperature keeps you healthier and allows you to reap the full nutrition benefits of the oil you’re using. After evaluating all the different factors of an oil, here are our top 5 favorite healthy oils for frying:

1. Coconut oil

Smoke point: 350ºF

Omega 6 to Omega 3 Ratio: Not a source of Omega-3 (but high in Omega-9, which is also good)

92% Saturated, 6% Monounsaturated, 2% Polyunsaturated

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This oil wins out because of its consistency when being used for frying. In fact, one test showed it retained its integrity after 8 hours of continuous frying at 365ºF. While it’s high in saturated fats, they’re the good kind you don’t need to avoid. It also helps kill bacteria, viruses, and fungi in the body. When using, note that some oils can still retain a strong coconut flavor. Always buy virgin coconut oil.

2. Olive oil

Smoke point: 320ºF

Omega 6 to Omega 3 Ratio: 13:1

14% Saturated, 78% Monounsaturated, 8% Polyunsaturated

Olive oil is a close runner-up to coconut oil. This heart-healthy oil is high in anti-oxidants and extremely versatile. If you’re using olive oil for frying, opt for “light” olive oil. This doesn’t have anything to do with calories, but rather the filtration process the oil goes through that gives it a much higher smoke point than regular extra-virgin olive oil.

3. Ghee

Smoke point: 350ºF

Omega 6 to Omega 3 Ratio: 9:1

68% Saturated, 28% Monounsaturated, 4% Polyunsaturated

Ghee is clarified butter, or butter with the milk proteins removed. Yes, it’s high in saturated fats, but butter (or ghee) from grass-fed and pasture-raised cows have much better ratios of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids. When using to fry foods, use ghee (clarified butter) as regular butter will burn. Other animal fats are also great to deep-fry in, but won’t offer the same health benefits and are overall less beneficial to your health.

4. Avocado oil

Smoke point: 520ºF

Omega 6 to Omega 3 Ratio: 12:1

7% Saturated, 65% Monounsaturated, 28% Polyunsaturated

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This oil is a good option because, similar to olive oil, it’s fairly tasteless, high in monounsaturated fats, and has an extremely high smoke point. Nutritionally, it’s also high in Vitamin E.

5. Sesame oil

Smoke point: 410ºF

Omega 6 to Omega 3 Ratio: 42:1

18% Saturated, 48% Monounsaturated, 34% Polyunsaturated

Worth mentioning, this oil is extremely popular in Asian dishes. It has a very strong flavor, meaning a little bit goes a long way in cooking. It’s unique taste adds tremendous depth to dishes. Use light for cooking, and dark for seasoning.

Among the many different fats and oils available for cooking, these five are healthier options you can use so you can still enjoy those fried foods you love without the guilt.

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