Confused about which healthy oils you need in your life? From cooking, to salads, to some rather surprising health benefits nutritionist and author Benjamin Brown brings you seven healthy oils, the science behind them and tips on using them
1. Black seed oil
You may have only encountered these on your naan bread, but in many other countries the black cumin seeds, better known as Black seed (Nigella sativa) are prized for their medicinal properties. Black seed (Nigella sativa) oil is the most incredible oil you have never heard of. Traditionally it is said to cure everything but death, seriously, and there is a lot of modern research into its benefits with clinical studies suggesting it helps people with allergic respiratory symptoms such as hay fever and arthritic pain in particular. Black seed oil is best taken as oil straight off the spoon and has a slight aniseed taste, or you can take the crushed seeds in a capsule. If you have arthritis or seasonal allergies try a teaspoon each day for a month or two to see if it helps.
2. Fish oil
Cold-water fish are rich in unique fatty acids that are extracted to create fish oil. Not to be confused with the terrible cold liver your grandma used to give you, good quality fish oils are clean, have almost no fishy-taste and are so good for you they are recommended in national heart health guidelines and even used medically. More people in the UK consume fish oil than any other dietary supplement, and for good reason. Our diets are deficient in the omega-3 fatty acids it provides and these good fats can have an enormous impact on your overall health- from children to older age. But the elephant in the room is the sustainability of the multi-billion dollar fish oil industry. This year the world’s first certified organic and 100 per cent sustainable fish oil from Scandinavian Rainbow Trout Oil was made available, so give it some thought. At present the organic, sustainable option is only available as a liquid but it is a light, clean tasting oil flavored with a little organic, natural citrus flavor. Try a teaspoon daily, and if you have a condition that could benefit from fish oil such as arthritis, or depression take a tablespoon.
3. Flaxseed oil
As much as a health food, flaxseed is a wonderful culinary addition to your kitchen. The milled seeds are great sprinkled on cereal, salads or in smoothies, and the oil, cold-pressed from these little seeds is wonderful and nutty. One of the main benefits of flaxseed oil (also known as Linseed) is that it is great for your skin. In one study, women who took flaxseed oil (£17.99) daily for 12 weeks had significant decreases in skin sensitivity, skin roughness and scaling, while smoothness and hydration were increased. They took about a teaspoon each day, so if you have dry or rough skin flaxseed oil is great for an inside-out makeover. To get a reasonable amount of flaxseed daily it is best to use oil, if using it as a natural medicine, take one teaspoon daily which could be taken straight off the spoon, mixed into cold foods such as yoghurt or used to add depth to a salad dressing (it goes well with orange, honey and seeded mustard).
4. Pumpkin seed oil
The seeds of your pumpkin are often discarded, but they can be roasted and pressed to extract dark-green and delicious oil that has some remarkable nutritional features and health properties.The deep green color of roasted pumpkin seed oil adds a heady aroma when drizzled over pumpkin soup, but it has also long been prized as a healing food. Its rich green color is due to a very high content of nutrients including the carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin as well as natural forms of vitamin e. Loaded with phytonutrients and healthy fats, its should be no surprise to learn its been shown to improve cardiovascular health. And you will be pleased to know the roasting actually enhances the nutritional value. Try using pumpkin seed oil in foods regularly like you would other salad oils; you do not need to take it every day. In Austria it is popularly used to ooze over a floating dollop of sour cream in thick pumpkin soup but is equally delicious as a dip for fresh, sourdough bread.
5. Peppermint oil
That smell you get from a fresh cup of peppermint tea is from the oils evaporating, but those oils can be distilled from the fresh leaf to create peppermint essential oil, one of the most important natural products for digestive health. Used for decades and subject to around 20 clinical studies, peppermint essential oil deserves it is one of the best-studied remedies for digestive health. Research has shown that it is a natural anti-spasmodic, improves digestion and it has been shown to helps reduce symptoms such as bloating, gas, pain, and distention. If you want to give peppermint oil a go, it is important to take a slow or delayed release capsule. There are a lot of capsules that are not delayed release and these are not only unlikely to work but might give you uncomfortable reflux. Follow the label directions, which is typically one to two capsules three times daily until things settle down.
6. Coconut oil
It’s not often a health fad becomes a health trend but coconut oil has done it and is here to stay. It is the oil cold-pressed from coconuts and has been used as a staple in Asian cooking, and traditional healing, for centuries. Coconut oil has important nutritional properties and has demonstrated some important health effects. Raw, virgin coconut oil preserves natural anti-bacterial, anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant compounds and when applied topically has been shown to relieve some skin conditions. And although a saturated fat it is very stable when used in cooking, much better than other vegetable oils, so it does not create toxic compounds and it does not negatively affect your cholesterol. Try cooking with coconut oil in dishes that would benefit from its flavor, like curries and stir-fry’s. Topically, coconut oil has been shown to help improve skin health when applied like a cream twice daily. So buy a jar for the bathroom as well as the kitchen.
7. Sesame oil
Ayurvedic medicine, the traditional and still widely used healing system of India, uses sesame oil as a base for several treatments, especially for massage when infused with relaxing herbs. It is pressed from sesame seeds and has an amber color and distinctive sweet smell and flavor. Sesame oil is great on your stir-fry but did you know it could replace mouthwash? ‘Oil pulling’ is not as weird as it sounds; it’s an old practice that involves washing oil around in your mouth for a few minutes and is used to improve oral health and hygiene. And it works, several scientific studies have seriously examined it and oil pulling with sesame oil kills off bad bacteria, reduces plaque, can cure halitosis (bad breath) and improve dental health. To try oil pulling take a tablespoon of cold-pressed, organic sesame oil and swish it around in your mouth for about 10 minutes or until it feels thick then spit it out and rinse your mouth with warm water.
MORE: The healthy fat guide