Which Cooking Oils to Use and Which to Keep Out of Your Kitchen?
First things first, we have to set the record straight: eating fat doesn’t make you gain weight and not all fats are bad for you. A tablespoon spoon of any oil is the same in calories (approximately 126 calories), but the types of fat they offer can have an impact on your health. Read on to find which oils are best for you!
Good fats, like those that come from vegetables, nuts, seeds, and fish, are an essential source of energy. Polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats, for example, are two types of good fats that have shown to improve blood cholesterol levels and reduce the risk of heart disease.
It’s important that we implement some fat with our daily meals because it actually performs some pretty impressive tasks such as boosting energy, supporting cell growth, protecting your organs, keeping your body warm, and aiding in nutrient absorption and the manufacturing of hormones.
However, due to all the different types of oils that are in our local grocery stores, it can get overwhelming when trying to decide which one is best for our health!
So, which oils are right for you?
That depends on the type of cooking you’re doing. An oil’s smoke point (the point when oil starts burning and smoking), is one of the most important things to consider. If you heat an oil past its smoke point, it not only harms the flavor, but many of the nutrients in the oil degrade causing it to release harmful compounds called free radicals.
Let’s take a closer look into some of the most popular cooking oils and their benefits:
1. Peanut Oil
Peanut oil is a popular oil used around the world. It’s a good source of the antioxidant vitamin E, which may help reduce risk factors of heart disease. It may also help improve insulin sensitivity and blood sugar within diabetics.
Although this oil may have some health benefits, it also contains some disadvantages. It’s very high in pro-inflammatory omega-6 fatty acids and is prone to oxidation, which may increase the risk of certain diseases. With so many other healthy fat choices on the market, it may be wise to choose an oil with more benefits and fewer potential health risks.
Best for: deep-frying, pan-frying, roasting, or grilling
2. Sesame Oil
Sesame oil is one of those vegetable oils that are good for you. It’s rich in mono- and polyunsaturated acids, which are the good kind of fat that cuts cholesterol. Sesame oil is also low in saturated fats, which is the kind of fat that is bad for you.
Sesame oil is not as popular as other oils but it’s slowly rising to the top. Recent studies show that sesame oil’s health benefits are pretty promising. Oh, and of course, sesame oil is a healthy way to add an amazing flavor to your cooking. Plus, it is great for your skin and hair!
Sesame oil has a nice sweet taste with a mild aroma. It can be added to salads as well as to foods like chicken. For a richer flavor, try using toasted sesame oil, it is a great additive in recipes!
Best for: Light sesame oil is good for deep-frying while dark sesame oil is better for stir-frying and in dipping sauces and salad dressings.
3. Canola Oil
Canola oil is going to be the oil that you want to try your best to steer clear from. It’s derived from rapeseed, a flowering plant, and contains a good amount of monounsaturated fats and a decent amount of polyunsaturated fats. Out of all the vegetable oils, canola oil tends to have the least amount of saturated fats. It has a high smoke point, which means it can be helpful for high-heat cooking like frying. However, canola oil tends to be highly processed, which means fewer nutrients overall.
Best for: Frying
4. Coconut Oil
Depending on whom you ask, coconut oil should either be avoided or embraced in moderation. The reasoning for this conflict is that coconut oil has a high saturated fat content and unlike other plant-based oils, it is primarily a saturated fat.
There is a lot of hype around coconut products and how they are deemed the healthiest, however, these facts are not backed by science. That is not to say this oil is going to make you sick, but do not go overboard. I am not anti-coconut oil; I believe that our bodies do need some saturated fat. However, the health and fitness industry has done a good job to make it seem like it’s a superfood. In reality, the research is simply not there to support this.
Best for: Replacing butter in baking and can be particularly used in vegan baking. It has a high smoke point, therefore, it can be used in high-heat cooking preparations.
5. Avocado Oil
Avocado oil is a great choice. It is unrefined like extra virgin olive oil, but it has a higher smoking point meaning it can be used to cook at higher heat levels and is great for a stir-fry. It doesn’t have much flavor, which makes it a good option for cooking. Its texture is creamy, like an avocado.
Avocado oil contains monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids (it has one of the highest monounsaturated fat contents among cooking oils) as well as vitamin E. One downside is that it tends to be more expensive.
Best for: Frying
6. Olive Oil
Olive oil is one of the most versatile and healthy oils to cook with and eat, as long as it is “extra virgin.” You want an oil that is not refined or overly processed. An “extra virgin” label means that the olive oil is not refined, and therefore of high quality.
Extra virgin olive oil contains a large amount of monounsaturated fats and some polyunsaturated fatty acids. Many studies have linked it to better heart health. Olive oil has a relatively lower smoke point compared to other oils, so it is best for low and medium-heat cooking.
Best for: Best used for salad dressings and drizzling over food. Refined olive oil is good for sautéing.
Hopefully, you’ll now feel more confident in choosing the right cooking oil for you when looking at the massive shelf of cooking oils next time you’re in your local grocery store!
– Brynne B., Exercise Physiologist at Dedham Health & Athletic Complex