The little known tea seed oil with big health benefits
It wasn’t so long ago that dietary fats were enduring a lot of bad press, but luckily in recent years, that perspective has shifted.
Aug 17, 2021
More and more we hear about the need for healthy fats in the diet and with good reason. We know that fats are vital for many of our body’s systems, they are important components of cell membranes, are essential for the metabolism of many vitamins and minerals, are used in cell signalling and hormone regulation... Essentially fats are used abundantly throughout the body and are vital for maintaining good health.
But some fats are more beneficial for health and others not so. Generally, it’s recommended that we reduce saturated fat in our diet and avoid trans fats, both of which are over-consumed in a typical western diet of ultra-processed food with a reliance on red meat and pre-prepared meals. Instead, we should be focusing on their more healthful unsaturated counterparts found in particularly high ratios in plant foods and seafood sources.
In recent years, there has been quite a focus on the benefits of dietary patterns like the Mediterranean diet which is known to be protective benefits to cardiometabolic health, cognitive function, and reduces the risk of many lifestyle diseases (1,2). The abundance of olive oil consumed in this dietary pattern is often highlighted as one of the driving forces behind said benefits, namely for its high levels of monounsaturated fats, high antioxidant content, and anti-inflammatory properties. Along with olive oil, there is also a large focus on other plant foods like nuts and seeds that so too give us mono and polyunsaturated fats and a host of other healthful nutrients and compounds.
But let’s be honest, the Mediterranean diet is not for everyone. One of the things I love about food and nutrition is that it is so personal and individual to each and every one of us, and often ties back to our cultural roots. For instance, I often get feedback that the strong flavour profile of olive oil doesn’t work with all types of dishes nor is it traditional to many countries. This is particularly the case for Asian cuisines, where oils that are more resistant to the very high cooking heat are needed...enter tea seed oil.
Tea seed oil, which is extracted from the Camellia oleifera plant, is traditional to Asian cooking and packs a real nutritional punch. This little-known oil has an impressive lipid profile that is comparable to olive oil - it’s low in saturated fat, high in healthful monounsaturated fats, provides omega-3’s and has a relatively low level of pro-inflammatory omega-6 (3). This oil boasts anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects which promote whole-body health, but it also contains phytosterols that inhibit the absorption of intestinal cholesterol (4). The combined effect of these helps to prevent heart disease and in fact, contributes to cardiometabolic health.
Polyphenols and vitamin E, the antioxidant compounds found in tea seed oil are also highly beneficial to our health as they limit the damage caused by free radicals in the body. Compounds like these promote longevity and are vital to the prevention of age-related diseases such as cognitive decline and some cancers (5). But antioxidants like these are not just good for the body, they’re also responsible for the stability of oils in storage and cooking, preventing oxidative rancidity (6). Tea seed oil has a very high smoke-point of 250°C (486°F), higher than that of extra virgin olive oil, making it perfect for the intense heating used in Asian cooking like stir-frying. This high smoke point ensures the oil and its healthful compounds don't degrade during cooking.
Now for those of you who don’t know me personally, I spent a few years living in Hong Kong and was lucky enough to experience the rich food culture first hand. So when I came across YouYou, I was excited to see that this brand that exclusively produces a high-quality tea seed oil had taken care to consider the traditions of the region, and recognise the benefits of their product too. Their cold-pressed oil speaks to both the nutritionist and the foodie in me - not only does this way of extracting the oil from the seed maintain the integrity of its nutrients and antioxidants but it also protects the delicate flavour of the oil.
So for all it’s benefits and versatility, the little-known tea seed oil is certainly worth a mention when it comes to health-promoting fats, and one that we’ll likely be seeing a lot more of.
- Martínez-González, M. A., Salas-Salvadó, J., Estruch, R., Corella, D., Fitó, M., & Ros, E. (2015). Benefits of the Mediterranean Diet: Insights From the PREDIMED Study. Progress in Cardiovascular Diseases, 58(1), 50–60.
- Aridi, Y. S., Walker, J. L., & Wright, O. R. L. (2017). The Association between the Mediterranean Dietary Pattern and Cognitive Health: A Systematic Review. Nutrients, 9(7), E674.
- Zhenggang, X., Zhiru, C., Haoran, Y., Chaoyang, L., Zhao, Y., Deyi, Y., & Guiyan, Y. (2021). The physicochemical properties and fatty acid composition of two new woody oil resources: Camellia hainanica seed oil and Camellia sinensis seed oil. CyTA - Journal of Food, 19(1), 208–211.
- Wang, X., Zeng, Q., Verardo, V., & Contreras, M. del M. (2017). Fatty acid and sterol composition of tea seed oils: Their comparison by the “FancyTiles” approach. Food Chemistry, 233, 302–310.
- Sakai, K., Kino, S., Takeuchi, M., Ochi, T., Da Cruz, G., & Tomita, I. (2010). Analysis of antioxidant activities in vegetable oils and fat soluble vitamins and biofactors by the PAO-SO method. Methods in Molecular Biology (Clifton, N.J.), 594, 241–250.
- Fan, L., & Eskin, N. A. M. (2015). 15—The use of antioxidants in the preservation of edible oils. In F. Shahidi (Ed.), Handbook of Antioxidants for Food Preservation (pp. 373–388). Woodhead Publishing.