A Guide to the Healthiest Oils: Breaking Down Good and Bad Fats
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What kind of oil do you use? If you look in your pantry and find olive or canola oil, you’re not alone. These are some of the more popular kitchen staples and they serve great purposes. Other oils are growing in popularity so you may want to consider more options that deliver different nutrition profiles, distinctive flavors and a variety of uses. Let’s look at how you might “change your oil.”
Breakdown: Good Fats and Bad Fats
Not all fats are created equally. The two major categories are unsaturated and saturated. Unsaturated fats are healthier and include monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats. Monounsaturated fats are heart healthy because they can improve good HDL cholesterol and reduce bad LDL cholesterol. Focus on nuts, avocados and olives and their respective oils which include HDL. Polyunsaturated fats include omega-6 fats and omega-3 fats. Omega-6 fats are found in soybean, sunflower, grapeseed and safflower oils. Omega-3 fats are more heart healthy than omega-6. Since omega-6 fats are so plentiful in the American diet, try to replace some with more omega-3 fats in walnuts and flaxseed and their respective oils. The worst types of fats are saturated because they are correlated with increased cholesterol, heart disease and type 2 diabetes. Oils high in saturated fat are palm, palm kernel and coconut oil. Try to limit these in your diet.
Best Uses for Various Oils
All vegetable oils have different roles in the kitchen so it’s helpful to know their specific uses, especially if you’re experimenting with some new ones. The best oils for searing, browning and pan frying are almond, sunflower, canola and highly refined olive oil (not the extra virgin kind). These have a high smoke point and therefore can tolerate higher heat conditions. Heating oil beyond its smoke point can create harmful fumes and toxins. If oil starts to smoke in the pan, discard and start over. You might check the food label for the appropriate cooking temperature. When stir-frying, baking or cooking foods in the oven, your best options are canola, grapeseed or peanut oil; each of these has a medium-high smoke point. For sautéing and making sauces, go with olive oil, walnut oil or sesame oil with lower smoke points. Finally, if you are whipping up a dip, dressing or marinade your best bet is to use oils that do best in no-heat conditions, such as extra virgin olive oil, toasted sesame oil, walnut oil, avocado oil and flaxseed oil.
Now that you know the best methods to use oils, let’s look at some favorites and how to incorporate some new options into your routine. Your overall best pick is extra virgin olive oil. Note that when making salad dressings or sauces you do not have to use the most expensive olive oil on the shelf. Light olive oil refers to its color and is no healthier or lower in calories. Avocado oil has a sweet aroma and makes a flavorful base for homemade salad dressing. Drizzle flaxseed oil over whole grains like quinoa. Mix grapeseed oil with garlic or basil and drizzle on toasted bread for an appetizer. Peanut oil has a distinctive flavor and is a best bet for stir-fries. Sesame oil, with its rich nutty flavor, is great for Asian dishes and dipping sauces.
You can’t overlook portion control when you use oil. Keep in mind that 1 tablespoon of any oil contains 120 calories and 14 grams of fat. When it comes to even the healthy unsaturated fats, too much of a good thing is no longer a good thing. When cooking, start with a small amount and use a handy measuring spoon. A good rule of thumb is not to exceed 1-2 tablespoons for a dish that has 3-6 servings. Another easy way to limit portions without measuring is to fill a pump spray bottle with your favorite oil and mist instead of pour.
Experience an array of health-filled fats by trying out some different oils to enhance your cooking. You may find a few new favorites!
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Article provided by Elana Paddock, RDN, LD, CDE, registered and licensed dietitian and certified diabetes educator at Cooper Clinic.