Plant oils are a common pantry staple often used for cooking like sautéing or frying vegetables, making sauces, drizzling onto pizzas, and preventing pasta from sticking together. Olive oil and vegetable oils are some of the most popular plant oils used around the world, each displaying unique characteristics. But which one is better for your health?
The owner of Kwa Mgoli fast food in Khayelitsha in Cape Town, Loyiso Basso, believes that olive oils are nutritious, even though cooking with olive oil is a bit pricey to sustain his food business in the kasi.
“I am a kota king, and can’t afford to lose customers, even though the price of cooking oil has gone up with the ongoing Russia-Ukraine conflict,” he says.
“My food is reasonably priced for workers, students, and events, and I intend to keep it that way. Therefore, if I increase my prices due to the cost of condiments, it is likely that my customers will go elsewhere. As a kasi hustler, you must do what is best for the people in your area.”
Different oils for different uses
Siyanda Jayiya (29), the founder of SJ events in Cape Town, believes that olive oil is beneficial to his health. He also says that oils made from plants and oils made from seeds both have vitamin E, but only olive oil has minerals and sunflower oil does not.
Jayiya recommends canola oil because it is composed of 70% sunflower oil and 30% olive oil. This indicates that those who consume canola oil enjoy greater health benefits than those who consume sunflower oil alone.
“It is believed that these two cooking oils have distinct properties. For instance, sunflower oil is superior to olive oil for producing crispy, golden-brown fried foods. Olive oil tends to be absorbed by flour-based foods, whereas it emulsifies better with salads. Therefore, I would say that both oils are beneficial, but in different ways.”
Is olive oil best for dieting?
Inga Nzuzo, a 24-year-old gender-based violence (GBV) activist from East London, believes that olive oils were once considered a diet-based alternative oil.
Nzuzo adds that she believes these oils should be labelled as to how much of them can be used for health reasons and to avoid confusion.
Factors to consider when selecting an oil
Determining the quality lies in the extraction method and the blend, says registered dietitian Estée van Lingen. She tells Health For Mzansi, “It might say olive oil on the front, but if you look at the ingredients, it contains sunflower and/or other oils as well.”
Van Lingen is a spokesperson for the Association of Dietetics in South Africa (ADSA). She adds that the types of fats that the oils contain differ, as well as the cooking point. Canola might have a higher cooking point than olive, but a lot of the time it has been refined or is a mixture.
“Since olive oil mainly consists of healthy fats, it can help reduce inflammation, protect against heart disease, protect the brain, protect against disease, lower blood pressure, lower LDL cholesterol, improve overall health, and assist with weight management as part of a healthy balanced diet. It also provides the body with essential fats.”
“If you use olive oil in cooking, use it at a low-medium heat for a short duration or use it as a dressing, on salad or potatoes. Sunflower oil is also refined and can cause inflammation in the body.”
Vegetable oils not necessarily unhealthy
Lead R&D technologist from B-Well Foods, Tersia Joubert says there is a misconception that vegetable oils are unhealthier than others. “That misconception is untrue. However, our olive oil is high in omega 3, cholesterol-free, awarded a Cansa seal, and Heart and Stroke [Foundation] approved. But any blend can be bad if not used well and under moderation.
“It’s reassuring to know that all the canola crops in South Africa are grown from non-GMO seeds which contain only 7% saturated fat.”
Van Lingen agrees and says that cheap does not mean bad. “The price doesn’t always show which is the healthiest, it’s still important to look at the label and determine what it contains, how it was produced, etc.”
What is omega 3 and what is its benefit in our diet?
Omega 3 has anti-inflammatory properties so that means it can help lower inflammation in the body, says Van Lingen. She adds that it protects the body against heart disease as it keeps our arteries and body cell walls healthy.
Van Lingen also says that healthy fats are divided into monounsaturated fats (MUFA) and polyunsaturated fats (PUFA). The latter is further divided into omega 3 and omega 6.