Have you been cooking with sunflower oil instead of good old-fashioned lard? You might have thought you were eating healthy, but new research suggests that you’re wrong.
The very word “lard” conjures up images of gross, artery-clogging fat, while oils derived from plants like sunflower and olive seem to be perfect for the healthy stir-fry — but perception isn’t necessarily reality, according to a Daily Mail report.
A team from BBC’s “Trust Me, I’m A Doctor” was responsible for the research, which throws into doubt just about everything most people know about cooking oils, and especially vegetable oils.
In fact, scientists have debated for years which oil is best to cook with, and a trip to your local supermarket will leave you with a dizzying array of options. Olive oil in particular is presented as a good, healthy option with tremendous benefits — but that’s only when used unheated.
Writing for the Daily Mail, Dr. Michael Mosley said he was contacted by a team from “Trust Me, I’m A Doctor” to take a look at this thorny issue. Modern oils like sunflower and olive were much more popular than traditional fats, like butter and lard. And most people apparently assume that the vegetable oils are healthier — surely animal fat couldn’t be preferable, after all.
But what people don’t realize is what happens when oils are heated up: they tend to produce certain chemicals that do some rather nasty things to our bodies, and can over time result in dreaded diseases like cancer and heart issues.
Olive oil, for example, is touted as one of the reasons Mediterraneans live so long, Mosley writes, but it has a low “smoke point” at which the oil’s properties start to change, degrading its good aspects and increasing its unhealthy aspects.
That means vegetable and sunflower oil are safer because they have higher smoke points — about 230 degrees Celsius for both, compared to between 160 and 190 for olive oil.
But in many ways, sunflower oil is actually worse than olive oil — and lard, which people tend to avoid altogether as a fattening agent.
But why is sunflower oil worse than olive oil and lard? It’s because of oxidation. Sunflower oil reacts with oxygen in the air, forming what are known as aldehydes and lipid peroxides. These are not good for your body, and are linked to cancer and heart disease.
Polyunsaturated fats — which are found in nuts, seeds, fish — are found in these vegetable oils and are quite unhealthy for you when heated. And experts say that the choice between lard and polyunsaturates is easy — if you’re talking cooking, lard is better, but when no heating is involved, it’s better to use vegetable and sunflower oils, since they actually reduce bad cholesterol.
So what’s the lesson? These oils are not necessarily bad, but once heated up beyond a certain point, you’re better off cooking with traditional animal fats like lard. Still, if you use them wisely, you’ll get all of the health benefits without much of the downsides.