Oil and the Art of Cooking

Using the right cooking oil is vital for optimum health and weight management -- and delicious food!

Choosing cooking oils should not be simply a matter of taste but also health. The right oil used correctly can offer many health benefits. Stated another way: Using even a healthy cooking oil incorrectly can transform it into something unhealthful.

Cold-pressed and unrefined oils are the best quality oils for consumption, as they’re the richest in nutrients and haven’t been transformed by processing into bad oils. However, using them appropriately is crucial—these oils can become unsafe if cooked at or above their smoking points.

All oils have what are called “smoking points”—once they reach certain temperature during cooking due to high and extensive heat they’ll burn and become altered at the molecular level, releasing free radicals and acting as harmful trans fats in the body.

The smoking point determines the level of heat tolerance a particular oil can withstand. Being knowledgeable about oils will enable you to use the best-suited oil Amira Elgan(most nutritious and most stable) for the specific temperature and cooking method you use.

For example, for high heat cooking or deep-frying, refined oils such as Spectrum Naturals’ Super Canola oil, high-oleic Super Safflower and avocado oils are better suited for temperatures of up to about 500ºF. Rapunzel’s  sunflower oil can also be used for temperatures up to about 440ºF. Note that deep frying food robs it of nutrients and loads it with high fat and extra calories.

Saturated oils, such as coconut and palm oils, can also withstand high temperatures. But consumption of saturated fat should be limited as many of the foods we regularly eat such as eggs, dairy and meat are high in unhealthful saturates.

Butter and margarine are not ideal for cooking and should be avoided or consumed moderately. Butter should not be used for high-heat cooking, as it burns easily. While butter is high in saturated fat and cholesterol, some margarines contain harmful hydrogenated oil and additives. It's a very good idea to eliminate or reduce the amount of butter and margarine in your diet. If you do use them limit consumption and use mainly as spreads—certain oils are better and more nutritious alternatives for cooking. If you must, choose natural margarine with low saturated fat, no trans fatty acids, no GMOs and no preservatives.

Although a cold pressed, unrefined oil such as Rapunzel’s organic extra virgin olive oil is better for you because of its many health benefits (rich in monounsaturated fatty acids and vitamin E) is only appropriate for light sautéing at temperatures under its smoking point of 280ºF. Letting any oil reach its smoking point is hazardous.

Spectrum Naturals also produces cold pressed organic flax oil, the most potent source of omega-3 essential fatty acids of all oils. Flax oil is best suited for salads, dressings, dips, spreads or already cooked meals. Heating flax oil with temperatures above 210ºF will cause molecular changes in the oil making it harmful for the body. Flax oil is very unstable and should be kept refrigerated.

Typically, unrefined oils may be used for low to medium heat cooking as they can only withstand temperatures of 250 to 350ºF, depending on the specific type of oil and manufacturer.

Rapuzel makes organic oils using true cold pressed methods. Here are the smoke points and suggested uses for some of their oils as suggested on their web site.


Rapunzel Organic Cold Pressed Oils (Unrefined)

Smoke Points

Pressing Temperature

Suggested Cooking Methods & Temperatures







 Olive Oil





Cold salads, dressings, garnishes & light sauté

 Sunflower Oil





Cold, sauté, low-medium heat

 Canola Oil





Cold, ideal for sauté, low-medium heat

 Sesame Oil





Cold, sauté, low-medium heat

 Soy Oil





Low, medium and light frying

 Safflower Oil





Best cold, or light sauté

Spectrum Naturals makes many types of oil including organic, cold pressed, unrefined and refined. They do not provide specific smoking points. However, their oil bottles have temperature labels, which indicate the oils’ correct cooking temperatures.

Eating the right kind of fat in the right quantity is only one of factors in optimizing your health. To achieve total wellness, eating a healthful and varied diet as well as living an active life style is also necessary.

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The 15 Rules of Oil

Being oil savvy and adopting certain habits in the way you use and eat oil will not only help you keep a healthy heart and prevent other chronic ailments but will also help you lose excess pounds and maintain a healthy weight.

1. When shopping for oil, read the label carefully. The most nutritious oils are organic, expeller-pressed or cold-pressed, unrefined and unfiltered oils such as extra virgin olive, flax, safflower and canola oils

2. Always heat oil over very low heat before adding food when cooking to reduce the absorption of oil by the food

3. Reduce the amount of oil in cooking, but increase the variety (not quantity) to include moderate consumptions of oils such as olive for light sautéing and salads, flaxseed oil for salads and dressings, safflower for medium temperatures, and canola and sunflower oils for higher temperatures

4. Eliminate oils high in saturated fat -- from both your diet and your kitchen

5. Keep oils stored in dark, dry and cool places, as exposure to heat, air and light will shorten the life of oil and may precipitate rancidness

6. Refrigerate oil if possible as cold temperatures slow down the oxidation process and will lengthen its shelf life or durability

7. Never expose polyunsaturated oils to high or prolonged heat

8. Avoid using high heat when cooking. If you must cook in high heat, choose a refined oil that can take the heat

9. Never allow an oil to reach its smoking point. Know the smoking points of the specific oils you use in cooking and use a cooking thermometer to check and control the correct temperature

10. Avoid buying prepared salad dressings and prepared convenience food; make your own salad dressings and cook your food from scratch using the least amount of oil

11. Reduce the amount of spreads and dressings you add to your sandwiches and salads

12. Never eat food processed with hydrogenated oils (trans fatty acids)

13. Avoid food containing palm kernel or coconut oil higher in saturated fat than animal products

14. Avoid eating butter, as it’s too high in saturated fat and cholesterol

15. Avoid margarine, but if you must eat some then choose one with no hydrogenated oil (no trans fatty acids), with more polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fat than saturated fat—read the label.

Reader Q&A 

Q: Dear Amira,

Thank you for putting up www.vegetarianorganiclife.com. I think of it as a resource to healthy living. Great job.

I have had this question for a few days now, ever since I heard from a friend of mine that microwaving is bad. Is that your opinion too? This whole microwaving issue is really contentious. What is your stand on it?

R. P., Boston, MA

A: I’ve gotten this question from several readers and it's an important one. Microwaving food per se is not supposed to be bad for you. It is also believed that microwaved food retains most of its nutrients and even that fewer vitamins are destroyed than with conventional methods.

A microwave oven cooks or heats up food with high-frequency radio waves at high speed causing food particles to vibrate, which creates friction at the molecular level that generates heat.

In bulky food, the center of food gets heated through heat conduction because microwaves only penetrate about one inch of the surface of food. This can be a problem when cooking, for instance, a turkey or a large piece of meat because some parts of the food can remain undercooked allowing bacteria to survive and causing food poisoning when ingested.

Microwaves travel fast from all directions simultaneously, which is why food heats up quickly. Turntables distribute the radio waves, and the heat, more evenly. These microwaves can only pass through non-metal containers such as glass and ceramic.

Some of the obvious advantages of using a microwave oven is that it's fast, doesn’t use much energy and doesn’t make the air hot like a conventional oven.

There aren’t a whole lot of studies on the effects of microwaving food. There is a school of thought based on old European studies that microwaves are extremely damaging and alter food in ways not fully understood, and some believe the consequences can include memory loss and even cancer.

I don’t like to use microwave ovens a whole lot because it's not entirely safe to be near them when they're cooking -- especially when you look through the window. But I have used them occasionally to steam frozen veggies.

While there are no recent studies that show the effects of microwaved food and human consumption, I know that cancer is the number two killer and that there are plenty of carcinogens we ingest and get exposed to on daily basis. For now, I’m choosing to play it safe and try to avoid using microwaves altogether, just as I try to cook my meals in the lowest possible heat temperatures. The bottom line is that moderation is always a safe bet.

Words of Wisdom

“Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson

Vegetarian Organic Recipe of the Week

Click on the picture for a closer look!

Lentil and Tofu Stew (vegan)
Serves 4 to 6

This nutritious combination of lentils and tofu make an exquisite meal with a marvelous Indian flare. Lentils, a staple food of India and much of the Middle East, offer great health benefits such as cholesterol-lowering fiber, which also aids in controlling blood sugar and digestive disorders. Lentils are available all year-round and provide high nutritional value containing folate, calcium, vitamins B1, B6 and B5, iron, phosphorus, magnesium, zinc and potassium. Serve with sliced lemon for added tangy flavor as an option.

Ahead of time: Brown lentils (see cook’s tip below for preparation in advance)

Preparation time: 5 minutes Cooking time: 20 minutes Equipment: Food processor or blender

Get ingredients ready: (use organic ingredients if possible)
2 tablespoons unrefined safflower or canola oil
½ medium onion peeled and cut in 4 pieces
4 fresh garlic cloves
1 Red medium bell pepper, seeded and cut into strips (substitute with any color bell pepper)
1 (20-oz) fresh firm tofu cut in ½ inch cubes
2 cups cooked brown lentils (rinsed and drained)
1 (14-oz) can light coconut milk (about 2 cups)
1½ teaspoons ground turmeric seed
1 teaspoon paprika
¼ teaspoon garam masala
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

1. Heat oil on a large pot or pan over low heat. Meanwhile, process garlic and onion in the food processor or blender until finely chopped. Put the garlic and onion mixture in the pot stirring and sautéing for 3 minutes. Add bell pepper and sauté for 3 more minutes. Add tofu, toss well cooking for 4 minutes.

2. Add lentils, coconut milk, turmeric, paprika and garam masala stirring well. Cover with lid and cook over low heat for 10 minutes stirring occasionally. Add salt and pepper to taste. No need to serve immediately as it will taste better after it sits for a while. Leftovers kept in the fridge last 3 days.

Dairy lovers: if you must, eat it with a small amount of plain low-fat yogurt.

Cook’s tip: Lentils are sold dried, don’t need to be presoaked and take less time to cook than larger beans. Here’s how you can prepare them ahead of time.
- In a large pot, bring water or vegetable stock to boil, use 1½ cups of liquid for every cup of lentils.
- Meanwhile spread lentils out on flat surface and remove debris.
- Put lentils in a strainer and rinse them under cool running water.
- Add lentils to boiling water (for easier digestion), cover and simmer over low to medium heat until desired tenderness (about 30 to 45 minutes depending on required consistency or use, i.e. soft for soups and firmer for salads). Cool and store in their liquid in the refrigerator for up to a week.



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This newsletter is not intended to provide and replace medical advice. The author and editor expressly disclaim all responsibility for any adverse effects resulting from any information, diet or exercise suggestions. It is imperative that the advice of a physician is sought before any diet or exercise programs are adopted.

Copyright© 2003 - 2009 Amira Elgan. All Rights Reserved.