Oils, Free Radicals, & Smoke Points (oh my!)

A brief lesson on Free Radicals:

There’s quite a bit of talk surrounding free radicals and their damaging effect on our bodies and, while they are associated with aging and disease, it’s important to understand that they’re also a naturally occurring compound within us. Meaning, not all free radicals are bad for our body! It’s when they exceed the amount of antioxidants we have that they become harmful.

The majority of free radicals that live in our bodies are called reactive oxygen species, or ROS. These free radicals are the byproduct of cell metabolism and are necessary for our bodies’ biological processes. In other words, they’re part of life.

When we have an excess of ROS is when they begin to become damaging. Excess ROS cause a chain reaction of damage by creating additional free radicals by literally feeding off one another. One snatches an electron from another molecule, which becomes unstable and snatches an electron from another molecule… And the cycle ensues. When antioxidant levels in the body are lower than those of free radicals, due to factors like poor nutrition or overexposure to environmental toxins, the immune system becomes overloaded which can lead to oxidative stress. Various studies and theories have connected oxidative stress due to free radicals to rapid aging, cardiovascular disease, central nervous system diseases, autoimmune disorders, diabetes, among others.

So, what do oil and heat points have to do with free radicals?

The smoke point of an oil is the temperature at which it can be heated to before it will begin to oxidize (break down) and release free radicals into your food. We’re exposed to SO many free radicals on a daily basis that the last thing we need is to be getting them from one of our loved fat sources.

So, to simplify, the higher the heat point of an oil, the safer it is to cook with. Oils with a lower heat point should be used in salads, smoothies, spoonfuls… however you please, as long as it’s as close as possible to its raw form.

Below you’ll find a list of some more commonly used oils and their heat points, listed from low (use in raw form) to high (heat away!).

Oil Heat points

**When shopping for oils it’s advised that you look for cold pressed oils in smaller quantities, and always keep them in the refrigerator. Consuming an oil that has turned is worst than not consuming any oil at all! It’s always recommended to rotate oils and make sure you’re getting large quantities in on a daily basis.

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