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9 natural oils you should be using


Credit: 123RF

Credit: 123RF

Natural oils have been used as remedies for thousands of years. They offer a diverse range of health benefits and affect a broad range of bodily systems, such as your cardiovascular and digestive systems as well as your skin’s health and your immunity to disease.

“So many systems rely on oils and fats to function,” says accredited naturopath Claire Murray. “We really decrease our chances of thriving or ageing healthily if our diet is deficient in good fats and oils. Basically, we wouldn’t get very far without fats and oils.”

Natural oils can be beneficial to our health and wellbeing by being consumed or applied topically to soothe skin conditions or infuse moisture into damaged hair. They can help you to improve your energy, mood and focus as well as reduce pain-causing inflammation.

Different oils have different nutritional properties and play diverse roles in health. It’s important to know the specific functions of natural oils and whether they are suited to your specific needs.

Good for your insides

Naturally derived oils are a bit like nutritional superheroes. They can help the brain and nervous system to function properly, protect the cardiovascular system and help store and produce energy.

“Nutritionally, some natural oils contain essential fatty acids like omega-3, -6 and -9. Essential fatty acids can only be obtained from foods and can’t be produced by our body naturally.

“Nutritionally, some natural oils contain essential fatty acids like omega-3, -6 and -9. Essential fatty acids can only be obtained from foods and can’t be produced by our body naturally. They play vital roles in our bodies and some are proven to be protective against heart disease, stroke, diabetes and cancer,” says Sarah Leung, accredited dietitian, nutritionist and sports dietitian, and founder and director of Healthy Energy.

Natural oils can also transport fat-soluble nutrients, assist in insulating your body in cold temperatures and help to maintain hormone balance.

“They are especially useful for painful or achy joints, as well as helping to reduce period pain by reducing the production of prostaglandins, which are hormone-like inflammatory compounds,” says Cassie Mendoza-Jones, naturopath, nutritionist, herbalist, kinesiologist and founder of Elevate Vitality.

Nutritional oils

Avocado oil
Avocado oil contains high amounts of proteins and omega-3 fatty acids, which means it can be used as a light, healthy cooking oil, particularly for salad dressings. Avocados are also great for heart health and can help to regulate blood sugar levels.

Coconut oil
Coconut oil is very versatile as it can be applied directly to the skin as an emollient or taken internally. It’s great to cook with as well, as it can be used at high temperatures and won’t set off your smoke alarm.

“I highly recommend consuming coconut oil,” says Murray. “It can replace olive oil in cooking, be used in raw desserts and eaten by the spoonful! It’s full of metabolism-boosting medium-chain fats that are also anti-fungal and energy-level stabilising.”

Fish oils
Fish oils, such as those found in salmon, mackerel, tuna and sardines, are important sources of omega-3 essential fatty acids. They are rich in DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), a fatty acid important for brain and eye health. They also contain EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid), another omega-3 that helps reduce inflammation and blood pressure and improves blood flow.

Taking fish oil on a daily basis can be good for people with high cholesterol and rheumatoid arthritis, and can help to fight heart disease. It can also help reduce period pain and is important for breastfeeding mums.

“Fish oils are particularly important during pregnancy and breastfeeding, as not only do adequate amounts of both the EPA and DHA components help ensure a healthy brain and nervous system for the baby, they are also protective against postnatal depression for the mother,” says Mendoza-Jones.

Flaxseed oil
Flaxseed oil is one of the best vegetarian sources of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), an omega-3 essential fatty acid. Flaxseeds are high in antioxidants, B vitamins and dietary fibre, which is why it is effectively used to treat constipation.

“Studies have concluded that flaxseed is effective in reducing blood cholesterol,” says Leung. “It has a high content of omega-3, which reduces inflammation in the body. It’s also been suggested that flaxseed oil can improve skin, hair and nails as well as improve rheumatoid arthritis symptoms.”

Similarly, chia-seed oil and hempseed oil can also be used as dietary sources of omega-3s for vegetarians.

Macadamia nut oil
Macadamia nut oil has higher levels of monounsaturated fat than olive or flaxseed oil and is uniquely low in omega-6s compared to other nut oils, but high in omega-3s. It also contains vitamin E and oleic acid, which has been shown to reduce inflammation, boost memory power and reduce symptoms of asthma. It has a rich, sweet, buttery flavour and is useful for cooking due to its high smoke point.

Olive oil
Olive oil has been around for thousands of years. It has a high level of mono-unsaturated fats and is rich in antioxidants, particularly vitamin E. “Olive oil is very beneficial for heart health and its high antioxidant content can protect us against heart disease and cancer,” says Leung. “It can also improve immunity and is anti-ageing.”

The “virgin” varieties of olive oil are believed to be the most beneficial to health as they have highest nutrient content.

Peppermint oil
Peppermint oil can sometimes be your tummy’s best friend. Peppermint oil has long been used as a traditional remedy to relieve irritable bowel symptoms such as bloating and abdominal pain by helping to remove excessive gas. It can also help to soothe nausea as well.

Oregano oil
Oregano oil is the king of the “antis”. It is antibacterial, antifungal, antiviral and also an antioxidant. “Oregano oil is anecdotally used for intestinal parasites, to fight against virus, intestinal worms and fungi,” explains Leung.

Sesame oil
Not only does sesame-seed oil make your Asian-inspired stirfries and salads taste amazing, but it can also lower your blood pressure and blood sugar levels.

“Some studies suggest that sesame oil can reduce blood pressure temporarily by reducing excessive sodium in the body,” says Leung.

For your outsides

Natural oils such as olive oil and coconut oil have been used for skincare and haircare since ancient times. That’s because they work.

Natural oils not only moisturise the skin, they nourish it deeply as well. Says Murray, “Our bodies need the right combination of both water and oil to create smooth and moisture-rich skin. So ensuring we are providing our skin with natural oils that truly sink in and are utilised by the skin is a fantastic way to keep our skin glowing and preventing premature ageing.”

Avocado oil is amazing for the skin in a number of ways. It is rich in antioxidants and vitamins such as A, D and E.

Natural oils help to give the skin a healthy glow and make your hair shine, but they can also be a gentle way to treat skin ailments such as a flaky scalp or dry and itchy skin conditions.

Avocado oil is amazing for the skin in a number of ways. It is rich in antioxidants and vitamins such as A, D and E. It is high in sterolin, which studies have shown to facilitate the softening of the skin and to reduce the incidence of age spots and sun damage. It can also boost your scalp health and treat conditions such as eczema and psoriasis. Sweet almond oil is also great for dry, itchy skin and dry hair.

“Oils such as rosehip, argan and jojoba are rich in vitamins A and E,” says Murray. “They are a great source of antioxidants for the skin, as they mop up free radicals caused by sun exposure, air pollution or toxins in makeup. They can aid in the reduction of fine lines and scarring, and decrease the inflammation associated with acne or eczema.”

Rosehip oil is a popular oil to use on the face, as it’s rich in vitamin C, which evens out skin tone and helps to combat those wrinkles and fine lines. Apricot kernel oil is also a good choice, as it can aid the skin in maintaining elasticity and softness.

Jojoba oil is a standout oil because it’s actually similar in composition to the skin’s own oils so is quickly absorbed. “Jojoba oil is fantastic for this as it is actually a wax ester, a substance that closely mimics the sebum created by our skin,” says Murray. “Therefore it truly is an oil that soaks right in and really nourishes the skin.”

Supplements vs foods

Most experts agree that the best option for ingesting oil is naturally from foods but that supplements in addition to a healthy diet are useful to treat a specific condition. The key is that capsules should be a supplement, not a replacement for the real thing.

“I am a stringent believer in the power of food as medicine and always believe we should attempt to consume as many nutrients via our diets as possible,” says Murray. “However, being a naturopath, I also tend to see people who are ill and in need of therapeutic doses of certain nutrients. For those at risk of developing chronic disease or who have high levels of inflammation, I would consider supplementing in order to bring these levels down.”

Common misconceptions

It’s no secret that in the past oils have had some negative connotations, such as they lead to weight gain, oily skin and even bad heart health. Now we are learning to separate the bad from the good.

“I believe the notion that oil and fat are bad for us is starting to crack and falter,” says Murray. “With science now well and truly debunking the myth that ‘fat makes us fat’, people are starting to allow these wonderful healthy fats back into their diets and experiencing better health and ageing for it.”

Says Leung, “Oils are fatty acids or fats, and fats have been associated with weight gain in the past. It is extremely important not to steer away from healthy fats, as they have very high nutritional value and can protect us against disease and illnesses. It’s true that oils contain the same amount of calories as other fats, like butter. It’s also true that fats and oils provide twice as many calories compared to carbohydrates and protein. But our bodies need calories to survive and we need the nutrients from healthy natural oils to maintain healthy body functions.”

Leung maintains it’s about the quality and nutritional value of fats and oils. “Cutting out fats and oils altogether is not the solution for weight loss, but understanding what makes us sick and overweight is,” she says.

Oils to avoid

Just as we are learning that not all fats are bad, so too are we discovering that not all oils are good, either. Just because an oil is naturally derived, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the best option for you. Believe it or not, cooking with organic butter or ghee can be a healthier alternative to cooking with canola oil.

When selecting your oil next time at the supermarket, try to choose one that has had minimal processing — and it goes without saying that organic is always best.

Murray strongly believes that vegetable oils should be avoided when possible. “In their natural and raw form, vegetable oils can be consumed in moderation like every other food. They are, however, unstable fats and are prone to damage and oxidation at higher temperatures.

“The canola, corn, soy, sunflower and safflower oils that dominate the cooking aisle and pre-packaged processed foods are prime examples of the oxidised and rancid oils that are entering our systems and triggering large amounts of inflammation and cell damage,” she says.

When selecting your oil next time at the supermarket, try to choose one that has had minimal processing — and it goes without saying that organic is always best. Try to also select oils that come in glass bottles as opposed to plastic ones.

There is no doubt that natural oils have nutritional benefits and that they can have a positive impact on your internal health and appearance. Which oils you incorporate in your diet and how much you use really depends on the individual so, if you are unsure, it’s always best to consult a professional. The same goes for your skin, as some oils may not suit your skin type, particularly if you have very oily, reactive or dry skin.

“Some people need more oils than others. It comes down to eating a varied and healthy diet, listening to your body and finding what works for you,” concludes Mendoza-Jones.

Incorporating natural oils into your diet … the natural way

If you’re not one for capsules, you can easily incorporate oils into your diet with a selection of different foods. Sarah Leung recommends:

  • Natural fish oil from salmon, mackerel and herring for omega-3 fatty acids, protein and vitamin D.
  • ABC (almond, brazil and cashew nut) spread for mono- and polyunsaturated fats. It’s also rich in vitamin E, magnesium selenium, potassium and fibre as well as protein. Banana and ABC spread makes a fantastic snack at 4pm to stop the energy slump.
  • Freshly grounded flaxseed meal. You don’t want to buy packaged flaxseed meal as the oil can go rancid if left too long. Flaxseeds are great in muesli with berries and yoghurt, or use a handful in salads.
  • Sesame oil in cooking. Drizzle sesame oil on just before serving to preserve its nutrients and aroma. Sesame seeds are also an excellent choice to obtain the oil and other minerals such as magnesium and calcium. In Chinese culture, black sesame seeds are also said to be beneficial for hair growth.

 

 



 

Kate McKee

Kate McKee is a freelance writer and editor who is passionate about natural health and lifestyle. She enjoys writing for a variety of lifestyle publications on topics ranging from health and beauty to outdoor living and sustainable garden design.