Olive oil, butter, palm oil or seed oil, when it comes to oils and fats for seasoning or cooking, you are really spoiled for choice. But what are the best products to use every day for our dishes? Is coconut oil, which we hear a lot about in recent times especially in wellness magazines, to be avoided or can it be beneficial? And the butter? Let's try to understand better by referring, as always, to scientific journals.
The Finland case and the butter problem
Have you ever heard of the Finland case? Well, in the 1960s Karelia, a region in the north of Finland, had the sad reputation of the land of blond widows. This is because, due to an unbalanced diet, based almost exclusively on butter, bread and herring and with a very low intake of fruits and vegetables, there was a very high mortality rate from cardiovascular diseases among young people under 40. Thanks to a vast awareness campaign, people changed their diet, drastically reducing their consumption of butter and increasing that of fruit and vegetables. Not only that, cigarette smoking was also reduced, which unfortunately was previously a very widespread habit. And the results? Incredible. In less than 30 years, deaths from heart attacks have decreased by 70% and cholesterol has decreased by 100 points, from an average of 340 to an average of 240. Clearly, butter should not be demonized and completely excluded from one's diet, in fact, a quality butter contains vitamins, such as A, E, K and D, and mineral salts such as calcium and phosphorus (Paduret et al, Molecules, 2021), but one must not overdo it. In fact, the problem with butter is that it contains long-chain saturated fatty acids, such as stearic acid, which can increase the risk of inflammation, obesity and insulin resistance (Di Nicolantonio et al, Mo Med, 2017).
We often hear that it is better to replace butter with vegetable oils, such as sunflower oil, as they are rich in unsaturated fatty acids. However, care must be taken. In fact, often these oils are rich in unsaturated fatty acids of the omega 6 type. Therefore, what emerges is that these oils can be useful to keep cholesterol under control but, in the long term and if used in large quantities, they can increase the inflammation levels (Masi et al, J Biomed Biotechnol, 2012).
More and more often, in various recipes for health, we see virgin coconut oil appearing among the ingredients. But is coconut oil a healthy choice? As we will see, this is precisely the case where the difference is made by quantity. Coconut oil contains saturated fatty acids, which are harmful to the heart. For this reason, its use should never exceed 10% of the total energy (Chinwong et al, Evid Based Complement Alternat Med., 2017). However, coconut oil contains lauric and myristic fatty acids and its moderate consumption, no more than 30 ml per day, and within a balanced diet has been shown to increase, thanks to this characteristic, the values of good HDL cholesterol (Chinwong et al, Evid Based Complement Alternat Med., 2017). In addition, lauric acid, just like the oleic acid of extra virgin olive oil, has a higher probability of being used for the production of energy, therefore, it does not tend to accumulate as unwanted fat and, on the contrary, it stimulates the metabolism (Di Nicolantonio et al, Mo Med, 2017).
Extra virgin olive oil, the king of seasonings
Extra virgin olive oil as we have already seen in previous articles, is more than a condiment, it is a real superfood. The cornerstone of the Mediterranean diet, extra virgin olive oil is rich in polyphenols, which are antioxidant substances, also capable of protecting the brain. In fact, a study was able to observe that the intake of extra virgin olive oil improved memory and learning and countered oxidative stress in the brain, helping to prevent the damage of the accumulations of beta amyloid and tau proteins, characteristic of Alzheimer's disease. This neuroprotective action, on the other hand, has not been observed with coconut oil and butter (Farr et al, J Alzheimers Dis, 2012). In addition, the oleic acid of extra virgin olive oil can even accelerate metabolism (Di Nicolantonio et al, Mo Med, 2017).
Palm oil contains long-chain fatty acids, such as palmitic acid, which increases the risk of inflammation, fat accumulation and insulin resistance (Di Nicolantonio et al, Mo Med, 2017).