Is Cooking With Lard Healthier Than Using Oil?
Do you know which oils are the best to cook with? You may think you’re clued up on the healthiest way to fry your food, but the BBC’s Trust Me, I’m a Doctor has investigated the issue and revealed some surprising results.
Oils vs Fats
Most people would say with confidence that cooking with oil is healthier than cooking with animal fat. Modern oils, such as sunflower and olive, are certainly more popular options than lard and butter, but is using them really better for your health?
Lard and butter are considered less healthy to cook with because they are high in saturated fat. We are continually warned away from consuming too much saturated fat, which can raise your cholesterol levels and increase your risk of heart disease. It’s understandable, therefore, that many would prefer not to cook with animal fat.
Certain oils, on the other hand, are praised for their health benefits. Olive oil is particularly popular, as it is praised for its heart-healthy effects, including an ability to raise levels of good cholesterol in the body. The BBC programme showed that some people believe seed and vegetable oils are healthy simply because their names sound healthy.
The Role of Heat
In Trust Me, I’m a Doctor’s experiment, Leicester residents were given a variety of fats and oils to use in their everyday cooking. They were also asked to collect any leftover oil to give over for analysis. Sunflower oil, vegetable oil, olive oil (refined and extra virgin), cold pressed rapeseed oil, butter and certain animal fats were all included.
The results showed that frying your food in saturate-rich animal fats or butter may actually be better for you than using most cooking oils, despite the unhealthy reputation of lard and similar products.
The reason for this is changes that occur to these products during the cooking process. When you are cooking at a high temperature, the molecular structures of the fats and oils you’re using change. They undergo oxidation – reacting with oxygen to form aldehydes and lipid peroxides. Consuming or inhaling small amounts of aldehydes has been linked to increased risk of heart disease and cancer, so it’s preferable to use products which will produce less.
Oils which are rich in polyunsaturates, such as corn oil and sunflower oil, were found to generate high levels of aldehydes. Butter and fats, however, produced far less aldehydes. Because they are richer in monosaturated and saturated fatty acids, they are much more stable when heated, and produce less toxic compounds.
Research leader Professor Martin Grootveld, of De Montfort University, says: “If I had a choice between lard and polyunsaturates, I’d use lard every time.”
The conclusion of the study was that olive oil is your best option when it comes to cooking. It contains enough monosaturates to make it somewhat resistant to the oxidation process, without being high in saturated fats. Professor Grootveld labelled olive oil the ideal “compromise”.
Next time you’re shopping for an oil to cook with, you may want to ditch the sunflower oil in favour of olive oil. Cooking with olive oil may not give you the health benefits you get from it cold, but you’ll at least avoid the detrimental effects of other oils.
You can watch this investigation on BBC 2 tomorrow at 8pm.