Category Archives: cooking

Choosing the best oils for your health

Contrary to popular belief, not all fat is bad for your health. Many fats, in fact, actually promote healthy weight maintenance and a well-functioning cardiovascular and nervous system, among many other benefits. But with so much misinformation out there about the nature of fats and oils, it can be difficult for many people to make sense of the issue, to the detriment of their own health.

To help simplify the matter, here are some helpful tips for choosing the best edible oils for your health:

Coconut oil. Perhaps the most misunderstood — and also one of the healthiest — oils you can consume, coconut oil is an amazingly-versatile, nutrient-dense superfood that is the richest known source of medium-chain fatty acids (MCFAs), which aid in the proper digestion and assimilation of fats, as well as boost energy levels. Coconut oil is also rich in healthy saturated fats and antioxidants, and has been found to promote brain health, boost immunity, and strengthen thyroid function.

Since it has a high smoke point and is incredibly shelf stable, coconut oil is great for both cooking and eating raw. Many people regularly eat unrefined, extra virgin coconut oil by the spoonful, as it is a powerful antifungal, antibacterial, and antiviral food that is rich in disease-fighting lauric acid. Coconut is also a powerful energy booster, as it quickly penetrates cells and provides rapid nourishment.

Red palm oil. This one is a bit more controversial, as palm plantations are said to be slowly overtaking the natural habitats of orangutans and other animals. But when cultivated responsibly, red palm oil is an excellent, shelf-stable oil that is rich in tocotrienols (vitamin E) and carotenes (vitamin A). Similar to coconut oil, red palm oil has a high smoke point, does not require hydrogenation to remain stable, and is completely free of trans fatty acids, which makes it an excellent option for cooking and baking.

Red palm oil is pretty much the only oil that has a perfect balance of both tocopherols and tocotrienols, which together encompass the gamut of vitamin E’s many unique forms. Red palm oil also contains nearly 13 times more vitamin A-producing carotenes than carrots, which make it one of the richest plant sources of this important nutrient.

Avocado oil. A relatively underrated fat, avocado oil is gaining popularity as a powerful, free radical-fighting “super-oil” that protects cellular mitochondria from destruction. Rich in phytonutrients, avocado oil does not easily oxidize, which makes it preferable to sunflower, safflower, canola, soybean, corn, and peanut oils, which are often recommended in many mainstream health circles as being healthy.

The antioxidants found in avocado oil have a unique ability to effectively enter cell mitochondria and shield cells against disease-causing oxidation. Many fruits and vegetables that are rich in antioxidants lack this ability, at least to the same degree. Avocado oil is also a powerful weapon against heart disease and aging.

Macadamia nut oil. The average American consumes far more omega-6 fatty acids than omega-3 fatty acids, which is a major contributor to chronic inflammation and disease. But macadamia nut oil is uniquely low in omega-6s compared to other nut oils, while also being relatively high in omega-3s. Macadamia nut oil is said to contain an ideal 1:1 ratio of omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids, which makes it one of the healthiest nut oils you can consume.

Macadamia nut oil is also rich in oleic acid, an omega-9 fatty acid that contains its own unique cancer-fighting and heart-protecting properties. With a rich, sweet, buttery flavor, as well as a high smoke point, macadamia nut oil is both a delicious salad topper, and a tasty frying and sauteing oil.

Olive oil. Nearly everybody knows about the health benefits of olive oil, as it is one of the most highly acclaimed, heart-healthy oils being talked about today. And when it is truly fresh and authentic, extra virgin olive oil really is everything the health industry claims and more, especially when consumed alongside other healthy oils like coconut and avocado.

A staple of the so-called Mediterranean diet, olive oil is rich in monounsaturated fats and high-density lipoproteins (HDL), which help reduce levels of cholesterol in the blood. Its various vitamins, nutrients, and antioxidants effectively guard against heart disease; promote healthy digestion; ease the symptoms of ulcers and gastritis; and prevent gallstone formation, among other benefits.

Sesame oil. Popular in Asian cooking, sesame oil has a pungent flavor that makes it a favorite in many foods. And the great news is that it is also beneficial to health, having been shown to lower blood pressure and reduce the risk of heart disease. Sesame oil is also rich in iron, calcium, and magnesium, the latter of which is known for its incredible calming effect.

Also rich in polyunsaturated fats, sesame oil helps contribute to proper fat absorption; cognitive acuity; healthy skin; a lowered risk of heart disease; and strong teeth and bones. Sesame oil also helps fight diabetes, reduce high blood pressure, prevent gingivitis and dental plaque, protect against kidney damage, and fight depression.

Other beneficial oils worth checking out include almond oil, pumpkin seed oil, flax seed oil, grape seed oil, walnut oil, hemp oil, and ghee, also known as clarified butter. On the other hand, corn, soy, cottonseed, canola, sunflower, safflower and various other “vegetable” oils are all damaging to health and should be avoided.

Tips to use the healthiest cooking methods

Choosing better foods to eat is only half the battle when you’re goal is to improve your overall wellness. The road to a better diet is also paved with better preparation methods, not just better foods.

“While most people know to ditch the fryer when cooking up healthy meals many don’t think about how their cooking method affects the nutritional make-up of their entree,” write Lindsay Joe and Elizabeth Jarrard ofGreatist.com, a fast-growing fitness, health and happiness start-up.

For instance, they note, vegetables can lose up to 15-20 percent of some essential vitamins because of heat, including vitamin C, folate, and potassium. They add that some cooking methods are worse than others, which “is why raw foodists cut out cooking altogether, claiming that uncooked food maintains all of its nutritional value and supports optimal health.”

That said, some recent studies have noted that certain foods can benefit from cooking. Heat can help release antioxidants from tomatoes, spinach and carrots, just to name a few, by breaking down cell walls and providing easier passage of healthy components into the body.

Let’s examine a few of the healthiest cooking methods and what effectively makes them better choices:

Editor’s note: For a better explanation of why microwave ovens destroy your food, read this more recent article by Mike Adams, the editor of this site:

Steaming your fish and veggies is safe, healthy and efficient. The experts note that steaming food is an excellent way to prepare it while locking in freshness, nutrients and vitamins.

“Cooking anything from fresh veggies to fish fillets this way allows them to stew in their own juices and retain all their natural goodness,” Joe and Jarrard write. “And no need for fat-laden additions to up the moisture.”

They recommend adding a bit of seasoning first, such as a sprinkle of salt or even a squeeze (or cap-full) of lemon juice.

“To steam on top of the stove, simply bring water to a boil in your selected stove-top steamer, reduce heat so that a strong simmer sends steam escaping, add food to the steaming compartment, cover with a lid, and begin timing,” says Shape magazine.

Poaching is another steaming technique you can use. Some experts think poaching decreases nutrient retention because it generally takes a bit longer, but it is an effective way to prepare delicate foods like eggs, fish or even some fruits.

Broiling and grilling your way to goodness. Anytime you don’t have to toss your food into boiling grease in order to prepare it, you are light years ahead of the game in terms of preparing healthy meals.

Broiling involves cooking food under direct heat at high temperatures for a short period of time. Broiling is a really good way to prepare tender cuts of meat (though you should remember to trim excess fat before doing so). Broiling is not the best way to cook vegetables; however, because it can dry them out easily.

Grilling is another way to retain maximum nutritional value in your foods without giving up flavor. “It requires minimal added fats and imparts a smoky flavor while keeping meats and veggies juicy and tender,” say Joe and Jarrard.

“Grilling adds calorie-free smoky flavor to meats, vegetables and even fruits, and the high heat produces an unmatched crisp crust,” says FoodNetwork.com.

Editor’s note: Grilling is terrible for your health if it burns the food. Burned foods contain cancer-causing chemicals created during the burning process.

Whip up some stir-fry. This cooking method does require use of a small amount of oil in the pan, what is required is very minimal; you should only need just enough to get a nice sear on your meat and veggies. Stir-fry techniques are best for bite-sized pieces of meat, some grains like quinoa and rice, and thin-sliced veggies such as julienned carrots, bell peppers and snow peas.

The chemistry of healthy cooking oils

The use of plant oils rather than lard, butter and other animal-based fats universally eliminates the saturated fat that we would otherwise consume. The way that the human body processes saturated fats ends up forcing the body to build its own low-density cholesterol, so avoiding these types of fats is an exceptionally good idea. With this in mind, not all plants are created equal. Neither are the various oils made by pressing these plants.

Vegetable and plant oils are liquid at room temperature, because unsaturated fats have a lower melting point than saturated fats. The reason for this is chemical. Saturated fat is called saturated, because every carbon-carbon double bond along the spine of the fat molecule has had all of its double bonds removed and a number of hydrogen atoms added. Simply enough, it’s totally saturated with hydrogen. Though normally perfectly safe to consume, vegetable oils can be chemically converted to saturated fats through a process known as hydrogenation, literally the addition of hydrogen to the fat. If this process is done part way so that only some of the double bonds have been saturated, we end up with partially hydrogenated oils, also known as trans fats. Keep an eye out for hydrogenated and partially hydrogenated vegetable oils on the ingredient lists of foods. They’re just as bad as, if not worse than, animal fats.

Smoke Points and Flavor: The Heart of the Cooking Oil Search

When purchasing straight plant oils, there are two primary factors to consider. First, every oil will taste different. Second, each oil has a different smoke point, the temperature at which theoil will begin to smoke, sputter and denature into something decidedly less than delicious. These two properties influence how each oil is to be used.

A number of popular oils, a description of their flavors, and their smoke points are listed below.

  • Best used when stir frying, almond oil tastes much like the parent nut. Its smoke point is at approximately 420°F.
  • Similar in flavor to olive oil, avocado oil is best used in stir frying, searing and other applications that require a high temperature. With a smoke point of 520°F, avocado oil is among the most robust plant oils on the planet.
  • Olive oil has a rich, light-bodied taste and has a wide range of applications due to the pressing system placed upon the oil. Extra virgin olive oil has a smoke point of about 320°F, while progressive pressings each have a higher smoke point than the one before it. For its part, extra light olive oil has a smoke point of 468°F.
  • Sesame oil has two styles: a light and nutty Middle Eastern variety and a dark and toasted Asian variety. Though a tasty addition to any skillet cooking up meats, it is also a superlative salad dressing base. Its smoke point is at 410°F.

The various cooking oils present on the market each have their own quirks working for them. Varying flavors, smoke points and fat profiles bring about a myriad of uses that the savvy consumer should always stay abreast of.

Bear in mind, however, that plant oils can be corrupted by modern industrial processes. Partially hydrogenated and hydrogenated vegetable oils are, in the end, no better for the consumer than animal fats and defeat the purpose of plant oils in the first place. By applying due diligence, however, the savvy consumer can enjoy these various oils without sacrificing health to do it.

Cooking blueberries decreases their polyphenol content

Polyphenols, the plant compounds that exhibit various cell-protective, antioxidant properties, can be found throughout nature, including in foods such as honey, broccoli and blueberries, to name a few.

Polyphenols comprise over 4,000 distinct species and can have a positive impact on cell-to-cell signaling, enzyme activity, receptor sensitivity and gene regulation. Scientifically, polyphenols are compounds that contain more than one phenolic hydroxyl group. This chemical structure equips them with free radical scavenging properties and the ability to upregulate certain metal-chelating reactions. Yes, some polyphenols help the body naturally detoxify from certain heavy metals.

Polyphenols, which give a boost to men and women’s cellular health, are naturally weaved into the environment. A new study from the American Chemical Society shows how essential polyphenol content is significantly reduced in natural foods like blueberries when they are cooked. This is important, because many people may think that they are eating a healthy snack, but they may not be getting the whole plethora of antioxidant benefits. Blueberry juice, baked blueberry pie or blueberry muffins can have drastically reduced antioxidant properties when compared to freshly picked, uncooked, wild blueberries.

Blueberry’s superfood powers reduced when cooked

Blueberries are high in polyphenols, including anthocyanin, which gives blueberries their blue color. Other flavonoids, like procyanidin, give blueberries their cellular regenerative properties. Quercetin gives blueberries anti-inflammatory properties, while other phenolic acids make blueberries an anti-aging powerhouse food.

These polyphenols travel into the human body and improve thinking, blood pressure and inflammation, but these benefits can be negated through certain cooking methods. For starters, certain processed blueberry drinks show reduced polyphenol content from anywhere between 22 and 81 percent.

Ana Rodriguez Mateos and fellow colleagues from the American Chemical Society sought to test the loss of polyphenol content of blueberries during the baking process, especially in cooked breads, muffins and pies. They measured the polyphenol content of the baked goods during the time when the dough rises.

What they found was that certain important polyphenol levels declined, including anthocyanin and procyanidin levels. Anthocyanin levels fell by up to 21 percent. The largest procyanidin oligomer levels dropped dramatically as well. While quercetin levels remained about the same, some phenolic acid levels increased.

Another study shows anthocyanidin degradation in cooked blueberries

Another study from Portugal examined anthocyanin and anthocyanidin composition of blueberries when cooked in stuffed fish. Three wild cultivations of blueberries were studied, including bluecrop, bluetravel and ozarkblue. 13 anthocyanins were extracted following the cooking process, and these polyphenols were separated in methanolic extracts of raw fruits. The researchers examined the polyphenols using liquid chromatography and diode array detectors.

What they found was that progressive heating of blueberries, from 12 to 99 degrees Celsius, decreases anthocyanidin and anthocyanin content. In a 60-minute heating session, polyphenol content fell between 16 and 30 percent in the blue crop variety, 30 to 42 percentfor bluetravel, and 12 to 41 percent for Ozarkblue. Despite the loss, the researchers saw no change in free radical scavenging activity, suggesting that other antioxidant levels may increase during the cooking process.

Not all is lost in the cooking process

Not all antioxidant powers are lost during the cooking process, these studies suggest. The Portuguese scientists recommend cooked blueberries right along with fresh wild blueberries for a healthy dose of dietary polyphenol antioxidants. It seems that, while cooking reduces certain polyphenol levels, other antioxidant levels may actually increase.

That’s what the American Chemical Society study found. The baked blueberries showed increased levels of a smaller variety of procyanidin oligomers. The researchers also found that yeast helped stabilize the blueberries’ polyphenol content through the baking process.

New hemp plants bred to have increased oleic acid

Scientists have found a way to make hemp produce 70 percent more oleic acid, making the crop more viable as a source for cooking oil and other industrial purposes.

Scientists breed hemp to increase its monounsaturated oleic acid content

The scientists, from the University of York, used fast-track molecular plant breeding, selected hemp plants that lacked the active enzyme responsible for creating polyunsaturated fatty acids. Instead, they used varieties that accumulate higher levels of monounsaturated oleic acid. The plant-breeding research is published in the journal Plant Biotechnology and outlines techniques to develop hemp plant breeds deemed “High oleic Hemp,” which could be introduced commercially as an attractive break crop for cereal farmers.

This new cooking oil could possess a longer shelf life with greater heat tolerance and be similar to olive oil in oleic acid content, making it suitable for many more industrial applications.

The new “High oleic Hemp” is 80 percent oleic acid, which trumps regular hemp oils containing just 10 percent. This will give the oil more thermal stability that is five times greater than normal, natural hemp oil. The new hemp oil could be more useful in high-temperature industrial processes.

Breeding hemp in this way limits other key components of the plant

As the agricultural sector looks to finally embrace valuable hemp farming, they will do so using a select, scientifically established breed of hemp. The natural composition of hemp, producing 80 percent polyunsaturated fat, hass the most polyunsaturated fat among vegetable seed oils known in the plant kingdom. The new agricultural breeding process will reverse all that. The new high-oleic hemp breed will provide increased oleic acid content that stems from breeding techniques that help the hemp plant produce more omega-9 fatty acids. This will alter the plant’s properties, limiting its composition of beneficial polyunsaturated fats.

As scientists breed hemp varieties without polyunsaturated fat content, the overall value of the plant for human health is rearranged. With its increased oleic acid content, it may be good for industrial purposes, but this increase in oleic acid content steers the plant away from producing other key offerings. One of the sacrifices includes the loss of polyunsaturated fats, which means that essential fatty acids like omega-3 and omega-6 acids could be limited. These fatty acids are not produced by the body but are needed, especially for cell membrane production. They also are used to produce prostaglandin, which aids the body’s inflammatory functions. The change may be insignificant, however, since humans rarely receive beneficial omega-9 fatty acids, which will be increased in the new breed.

Europe to welcome “High oleic Hemp” in 2014 field tests

The new “High oleic Hemp” will be openly welcomed in the UK, where farming of oilseed rape has declined recently due to pests and disease. To maintain cereal yields, the UK and other European countries may embrace the “High oleic Hemp” as a quality oil alternative.

With its many other uses, hemp will be a great crop choice for farmers. The hemp straw can alternatively be used as fiber for composites, bedding, wax, biomass and textiles.

“The new line represents a major improvement in hemp as an oil crop. Similar developments in soybean and oilseed rape have opened up new markets for these crops, due to the perceived healthiness and increased stability of their oil,” says Professor Ian Graham, from York University’s Centre for Novel Agricultural Products Biology Department.

The “High oleic Hemp” is set to be planted in 2014 throughout Europe, as field trials launch a new era of farming. This may be good news for agriculture, industry and cooking processes for people around the world.

It won’t be long before agriculturally suppressed countries like the USA begin farming hemp for a variety of purposes as well.

Increased hemp production is a suitable fit for a world looking to sustain itself.

Tips to avoid inadvertently poisoning your food

When it comes to cooking at home, most health-conscious folks would probably say that their aim is to prepare wholesome, savory meals in the cleanest way possible for their families. However, unless these foods are cooked properly at the right temperatures and for the appropriate lengths of time, they could still be harmful to your health even if they are organic.

In addition to the more obvious precautions such as choosing only chemical-free produce and pasture-raised meats and cooking with only healthy saturated fats at higher heat, home cooks also need to pay attention to the ways in which they cook these foods. Certain foods — carbohydrates in particular — can release toxins when they are cooked at too high of a temperature or for too long.

When cooked improperly, potatoes are one such food that can generate a poisonous substance known as acrylamide that animal studies have shown can cause cancer. This white, odorless, water-soluble chemical is generated when starchy foods are cooked at temperatures higher than 250 degrees Fahrenheit or 121 degrees Celsius. Potatoes (including sweet potatoes), grains, and even coffee all generate acrylamide during cooking and/or roasting.

Temperature is not the only thing that matters; cooking time is also an important consideration. For example, when potatoes are cooked above the aforementioned temperature threshold, they continue to progressively produce more acrylamide the longer they are cooked. For this reason, it is important for home cooks to pay attention to both temperature and cooking duration when preparing food for their families at home.

Why is acrylamide so bad for your health? Here’s what The Healthy Home Economist‘s Sarah Pope has to say on the matter, referencing published science:

“Rats and mice fed high levels of [acrylamide] in their drinking water were found by researchers to be at increased risk for several types of cancer. In people, studies on acrylamide in the diet have produced mixed results for some types of cancer including kidney, endometrial, and ovarian. Exposure to high levels of acrylamide in the workplace via inhalation or the skin has been shown to cause nerve damage, which can lead to numbness or weakness in the arms or legs, bladder problems, in addition to other symptoms.”

Take these steps to minimize acrylamide formation when cooking at home

Acrylamide is clearly something we all want to avoid, but what is the best way to accomplish this? The first and most obvious way is to cook starchy foods at 250 degrees F or less whenever possible, paying close attention to the color of foods as they cook. Try to keep browning — and charring in particular — to a minimum. You should aim for a light, golden brown color.

Another easy way to minimize acrylamide formation in carbohydrate foods is to blanch them in boiling water for a few minutes prior to frying, baking, or broiling. You can soakpotatoes in cold water for 15 to 30 minutes prior to cooking; make sure to drain the water and blot them dry before exposing them to hot oils and fats so they don’t splash and cause burns or fires.

Even when you use healthy oils like coconut and palm or healthy fats like lard and ghee, acrylamide will continue to form the longer a food is cooked. Therefore, you should keep cooking time to a minimum, allowing for just enough heat exposure to produce the desired end product. When cooking is complete, dry the cooked foods in a hot air oven for a few minutes to decrease acrylamide content.

Don’t store potatoes in your refrigerator, and never eat sprouted potatoes

Normally when we think of sprouted foods, the implication is that they’re always healthier and more nutritious than their non-sprouted counterparts. In the case of potatoes, however, the exact opposite is true. When potatoes sprout, they produce a toxic substance known as solanine that has been shown to trigger gastrointestinal and neurological problems when ingested.

To avoid this, always store your potatoes in a dark, cool place where they are not exposed to the light. It is also important to avoid storing potatoes in your refrigeratorbecause this actually increases the amount of acrylamide produced when those potatoes are later cooked.

High-heat cooking can also produce other dangerous and potentially carcinogenic compounds, such as heterocyclic amines (HCAs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), as well as advanced glycation end products (AGEs). Like acrylamide, these substances result from the chemical reactions of various creatines and amino acids that are produced during the cooking process.

Both HCAs and PAHs are recognized cancer-causing agents and are likely the very reason that meats, for example, have been vilified in recent years as potentially causing cancer. It isn’t necessarily the meats themselves that are causing cancer, but rather the way these meats are procured and served — at high heat and often charred.

“Opt for slower, indirect-heat methods of cooking such as poaching, stewing, braising, or steaming,” the group Precision Nutrition suggests. They also recommend that home cooks:

• Cook foods at lower temperatures
• Avoid charring or burning foods
• Avoid cooking any processed foods, which tend to contain high levels of damaging AGEs
• Use liquid in cooking (such as with braising)
• Use acids like lemon juice or vinegar in marinades, which help decrease the formation of toxins like AGEs

Rice Recommends hours-long cooking process

Scientists from the College of Chemical Sciences in Sri Lanka have a new recommendation for how to lose weight, according to a report released by ABC Newslate last March. No, it’s not eating more fruits and veggies, and no, it’s not adding more exercise to your daily routine. It’s not “drink more water” either.

Sudhair James, a graduate student from Sri Lanka who performed the study, advises using a “simple” three-step process when cooking rice so that its caloric content is reduced.

That’s it! No more running, no more forcing down that steamed broccoli you hate so much. Just boil your rice, cool it down in the refrigerator and then nuke it in the microwave to help shed those extra pounds.

Sounds ridiculous, right? Well, it is. Not only is it a silly suggestion for how to slim down, but this “simple method” destroys all of the rice’s nutrition, stripping it of any potential it had of providing your body with essential nutrients.

Scientists recommend turning starch into “indigestible form of starch” to reduce rice’s calorie count

James, whose study was supervised by Dr. Pushparajah Thavarajva, recommends boiling rice with a small amount of coconut oil before placing it into the refrigerator. After letting it cool for a few hours, James says to microwave it briefly, and walah! The rice’s calorie count is reduced by as much as 60 percent.

“The hypothesis is that we turn more of the starch into an indigestible form of starch, which reduces the amount of calories the body will absorb,” said Thavarajva in an interview withABC News.

While presenting the research at the National Meeting and Exposition of the American Chemical Society in Denver, Colorado, James explained how 38 Sri Lankan rice varieties were considered before choosing to test the one with the lowest amount of naturally occurring starch resistant to digestion.

After experimenting with different cooking approaches, researchers decided that the best method was to boil it with oil before decreasing the rice’s temperature.

Researchers claim reducing the calorie content of rice could be a future method for fighting obesity and type 2 diabetes

“The beautiful piece is there was a fifteen-fold increase in the amount of resistant starch after using this method,” James said in the conference. “This led to a 10 to 15 percent calorie reduction.”

ABC News reports:

Starch molecules are shaped like doughnuts, explained Thavarajva. The added oil seeps into the holes of the molecules during cooking to help block digestive enzymes. Cooling the rice then allows the rice molecules to rearrange and pack together more tightly to increase their resistance to digestion, he explained.

The researchers believe their experiment to be such a breakthrough that they think it could one day be used in “commercial preparations” to help fight obesity and type 2 diabetes.

“We as scientists believe that if we are going to do this process on the best varieties and if this method is going to work this could be a massive breakthrough,” said James. “We could lower the calories in rice by 50 to 60 percent.”

Hop on the exercise bike and eat more vegetables!

As many scientists and nutritionists would likely agree, a better way to prevent diabetes and obesity would be to monitor one’s calorie intake, replace junk food with healthy foods and kick up your exercise routine. That’s right, do it the old-fashioned way.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, aside from genetics, physical inactivity and being overweight are two factors strongly associated with the development of type 2 diabetes.

“An imbalance between caloric intake and physical activity can lead to obesity, which causes insulin resistance and is common in people with type 2 diabetes.”

Many common cooking spices may contain bug parts, rodent hairs

 Hiding inside your pepper grinder and cumin shaker could be things like rodent hairs, bug parts and even salmonella, claims a new report recently put out by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Entitled “Pathogens and Filth in Spices,” the report alleges that up to 12 percent of all U.S. spice imports may contain hidden insect filth, while up to 7 percent may contain bacterial contaminants, an obvious push by the agency to further legitimize irradiating cooking spices.

According to CNN, the agency decided to launch an investigation into the contents of imported cooking spices as part of a general assessment of their safety risks. The agency itself says the endeavor was hatched in response to growing concerns about the effectiveness of current safety control measures for spices. But based on the findings of the report, spices are generally safe and pose a minimal risk to human health.

Nevertheless, the FDA is convinced that spices may be dangerous, categorizing them as a “systemic challenge” due to the fact that they generally contain about twice as much “filth” as other kinds of imported food. And yet, based on 37 years’ worth of records looked at by the agency, there have only been 14 outbreaks ever in the entire world that have been linked to spices or seasonings, resulting in fewer than 2,000 human illnesses and 128 hospitalizations.

“We would agree ready-to-eat spices should be clean and meet FDA standards and be pathogen-free,” stated Cheryl Deem, Executive Director of the American Spice Trade Association, to CNN about the findings. “We did find it really interesting that the FDA said they were going to use this report to develop a plan to reduce illness, but if you look at the data we don’t think that’s a significant problem. That’s a small number of illnesses.”

FDA report fails to distinguish between ready-to-eat and raw spices

Despite its thorough analysis on imported spices, the FDA apparently failed to distinguish in test results whether or not the spices it looked at were in “ready-to-eat” form or in raw form. Ready-to-eat spices have already been cleaned overseas prior to import, while raw spices may still need to processed. It is typically raw spices from non-organic sources that contain the most “filth,” a fact that the FDA should have addressed in its report.

It may seem curious that the FDA appears to have made a mountain out of a molehill concerning spice safety, that is until you consider the fact that the FDA has been trying to amass more control over the food supply for years. Even in its new report, the FDA admits that the agency’s goal is to utilize more of the provisions outlined in the Food Safety Modernization Act, the infamous regulatory overhaul that harmonizes American law with the international Codex Alimentarius food code.

“This is an example of non-experts trying to start a commotion with consumers,” writes oneCNN commenter who claims to have previously worked in the spice industry. “The field insects are mostly of the garden variety and harmless coming from the field where crops are grown…. Welcome to your world people insects are everywhere.”

What are the healthiest cooking oils?

 The average consumer today is spoiled for choice when it comes to cooking oils. Most stores (including health food stores) in the West tend to be packed with oils of various colors, tastes and origins, and it can be difficult to distinguish the healthy ones from the unhealthy ones.

The most important factor to bear in mind when choosing oils is not just whether an oil is safe and nutritious in its unprocessed state, but also whether it remains safe and nutritious after exposure to high temperatures. Unfortunately, many oils — including otherwise healthy oils, such as fish oil and flax oil — are high in polyunsaturated fats, which have a limited resistance to oxidation and rancidification, and can produce cancer-causing free radicals when heated.

However, oils that are high in saturated and monounsaturated fats tend to be both nutritious and highly resistant to heating, making them excellent choices for cooking. The best of these healthy oils are listed below.

Coconut oil

There are many reasons why natural health experts consider coconut oil the king of cooking oils. Aside from being one of the stablest oils at high temperatures (approximately 90 percent of its fatty acids are saturated), coconut oil is rich in lauric acid, an especially beneficial fat with proven antimicrobial, antifungal, antibacterial and antiviral properties.

Moreover, a study published in the journal Lipids discovered that consuming just 1 ounce of coconut oil daily could help trigger weight loss. Significantly, coconut oil seems to be especially effective at removing abdominal or “visceral” fat, which is the really nasty fat that clings to our internal organs and contributes to high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

The healthiest type of coconut oil is raw, extra-virgin coconut oil — the kind that actually smells of coconuts. Refined coconut oil is usually bleached or deodorized, and though it still remains stable when heated, it tends to contain a compromised nutrient profile.

Olive oil

A staple in the Mediterranean diet, extra-virgin olive oil is one of the world’s healthiest oils and has been linked to numerous health benefits. For example, a review featured in Nutricion Hospitalaria shows that one of the main fatty acids in olive oil, oleic acid, possessed considerable anti-inflammatory properties. A study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences also showed that oleic acid is responsible for olive oil’s well-known ability to reduce blood pressure.

However, doesn’t olive oil become toxic when exposed to heat? Actually, this common misconception, which is widely pushed by the mainstream media, has been disproved by several studies. Research published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistryfound that olive oil, which is comprised of approximately 75 percent monounsaturated fat, remains fairly stable at low to medium-heat temperatures and is perfectly safe for cooking.

Other healthy oils

Other healthy oils that remain healthy when heated include palm oil, sesame seed oil, avocado oil and macadamia oil (though macadamia oil should only be used for low- or medium-heat cooking). While not strictly oils, animal products like butter, ghee and lard are also superb cooking aids that have been part of our natural diet for centuries.

Cook these six vegetables for even greater health benefits

 A Study published in the British Journal of Nutrition found that people who followed a strictly raw food diet had normal levels of vitamin A and beta-carotene, but low levels of the antioxidant lycopene. As reported by Scientific American, high lycopene levels have been associated with a lower risk of cancer and heart attacks. According to Rui Hai Liu, an associate professor of food science at Cornell University, lycopene may be an even more potent antioxidant than vitamin C.

It seems that some vegetables need a little heat to release their plant goodness. Most plants have a tough cellular structure. Lightly cooking these food makes it easier for the body to break down the plant’s thick cell walls, making nutrients more available for absorption.

Read on to discover six foods that are healthier cooked.

1. Asparagus

Lightly cooking asparagus spears makes it easier for the body to absorb cancer-fighting vitamins such as vitamin A, C and E, as well as folate. Furthermore, higher levels of antioxidants, ferulic acid in particular, have been reported when this vegetable is cooked.

2. Carrots

Beta-carotene is the compound that gives carrots their vibrant orange color. The body converts beta-carotene to vitamin A, which is vital for vision, reproduction, bone growth and immune health.

Carrots, however, are sturdy vegetables and don’t give up their nutrients that quickly. To get the most out of your carrots, Researchers at the University of Arkansas advise that higher levels of beta-carotene are obtained when carrots are cooked.

3. Mushrooms

According to Andrew Weil, M.D., mushrooms are indigestible when they are uncooked. He said that thoroughly heating them releases the nutrients they contain, including B vitamins, proteins and minerals, as well as compounds not found in other foods.

4. Pumpkin and other winter squash

Not many people will eat raw pumpkin, unless it is put through a juicer, and that is just fine, since cooked pumpkin has been shown to be more nutritious. Just like carrots, pumpkins need a little heat to break down tougher cell walls and release their plant goodness.

5. Spinach

Folate, vitamin C, niacin, riboflavin and potassium are more available in raw spinach. However, slightly cooking spinach increases the levels of vitamin A and E, fiber, zinc, thiamin, calcium, iron and protein – as well as essential carotenoids, such as beta-carotene, lutein and zeaxanthin.

6. Tomatoes

While cooking tomatoes reduces vitamin C levels, it also makes lycopene more available to the body. As mentioned earlier, lycopene has been linked to a lower risk of cancer and heart attacks. Vitamin C is an abundant vitamin, so it is well worth the loss.

As you can see, raw isn’t necessarily always best. However, if you love tomato or spinach salads and can’t stand them cooked, that doesn’t mean you should stop eating them raw. Whether you enjoy your veggies raw or cooked, the most important thing is that you are eating them in the first place.