In recent years, the low fat diet trend has lost a lot of steam. These days, many health authorities no longer recommend restricting dietary fat indiscriminately. Having said that, there is still a fair share of disagreement about what exactly constitutes healthy lipid sources. Just about everyone agrees that hydrogenated fats (aka trans-fats) are harmful. Likewise, most nutritional experts recommend seeking out omega-3 fatty acids such as those found in cold water fish, grass fed meat and select seeds, including flax, hemp and chia. On the other hand, saturated fats and vegetable oils tend to fall into the “questionable” category.
Often times, the difference between a healthy and an unhealthy saturated fat or vegetable oil has to do with the fatty acid and phytochemical composition. For instance, unrefined coconut oil has a very different fatty acid make up than conventional bacon or heavily processed palm oil. Additionally, “virgin” coconut oil and many other plant-based lipids usually contain naturally occurring antioxidants. A popular example of this model is extra virgin olive oil (EVOO).
Camellia oleifera oil or tea seed oil is widely used in China and Taiwan for cosmetic and culinary purposes. From a culinary standpoint, it has broad appeal because of its availability and favorable fatty acid profile – rich in monounsaturated fat, similar to olive oil. Additionally, camellia oil has “remarkably high antioxidant activity” and a smoke point of about 450° Fahrenheit. In comparison, EVOO has a smoke point of about 400° Fahrenheit. Why does this matter? A recent reviews explains:
“Determining the smoke point is important because when cooking oil reaches this temperature it degrades and starts to release free radicals. Oxygen derived free radicals are thought to be related to the formation of cancer, inflammation, atherosclerosis, ischemia-reperfusion injuries, aging, Alzheimer’s disease, shock, diabetes, cataracts, hypertension, cardiovascular disease, exercise related muscle damage and infertility.”
Using this as a jumping off point, I decided to look into the relative merits of camellia oil vs. EVOO. It was interesting to find that only one placebo-controlled study has investigated camellia oil in human subjects. In it, a group of women with high cholesterol were given either 45 ml (1.5 oz)/day of camellia oil or soybean oil. Over the course of 8 weeks, the participants were fed three meals cooked in one or the other oils. At the start and end of the trial, blood samples were taken to determine changes in various cardiovascular risk factors. The authors of the study report that the women in the camellia oil group demonstrated lower levels of oxidative stress (malondialdehyde -11.2% and oxidized LDL cholesterol -8.7%) and reduced systemic inflammation (C-reactive protein -12.3%). Based on these preliminary findings, the conclusion of the trial states that “camellia oil consumption may reduce cardiovascular risk”.
While promising, it should be noted that the majority of research involving tea seed oil has been carried out in animal and in-vitro experiments. Most of the published data describes positive results including cardiovascular, gut and liver protection. Even so, based on what is currently known, I don’t yet suggest going out of your way to track down camellia oil. Presently, there are many more reasons to recommend extra virgin olive oil. And, the research supporting EVOO just keeps getting stronger. The latest batch of studies confirm that EVOO-rich diets decrease oxidative stress, metabolic risk (diabetes and pre-diabetes) and, may even, benefit difficult to manage conditions such as fibromyalgia.
Note: Please check out the “Comments & Updates” section of this blog – at the bottom of the page. You can find the latest research about this topic there!
Study 1 – Camellia Oil-Enriched Diet Attenuates Oxidative Stress & Inflammatory … (link)
Study 2 – Comparison of Oil Content and Fatty Acid Profile of Ten New Camellia … (link)
Study 3 – Triacylglyceride, Antioxidant and Antimicrobial Features of Virgin … (link)
Study 4 – Antioxidant Activity and Bioactive Compounds of Tea Seed (Camellia … (link)
Study 5 – Oil Smoke Point Testing of Camellia Oleifera … (link)
Study 6 – The Effect of Camellia Seed Oil Intake on Lipid Metabolism in Mice … (link)
Study 7 – Beneficial Effects of Camellia Oil (Camellia Oleifera) on … (link)
Study 8 – Beneficial Effects of Camellia Oil (Camellia Oleifera Abel.) on … (link)
Study 9 – Nutrigenomics of Extra-Virgin Olive Oil: A Review … (link)
Study 10 – Mediterranean Diets Supplemented with Virgin Olive Oil and Nuts … (link)
Study 11 – Extra Virgin Olive Oil Improves Oxidative Stress, Functional Capacity … (link)
Study 12 – Consumption of Extra-Virgin Olive Oil Rich in Phenolic Compounds … (link)
Study 13 – Extra Virgin Olive Oil Improves Post-Prandial Glycemic and Lipid Profile … (link)
The Fatty Acid Composition of Camellia Oil vs Other Culinary Oils
Source: Molecules 2013, 18(4), 4573-4587 (link)