Follow the fads too much and you’ll end up with a lot of mixed messages when it comes to health and nutrition. Many of my clients are especially confused when it comes to fats and oils. So, I’m here to help break it down for you in this month’s “Ask the RDs.”
Fat is essential for your body’s overall health. In her article "How Fats Fit into a Healthy Diet," Jen discussed how dietary fat provides energy, supports cell growth, and allows the body to absorb fat-soluble vitamins.
But not all fats are created equal! Take a trip down the oil aisle at your grocery store, and you’ll see a wide assortment lining the shelves. So, how do you choose?!
Select by the smoke point
The most important thing to consider in choosing cooking oils is the smoke point. The smoke point is the temperature at which an oil begins to smoke and break down. It loses some of its nutritional value and has the potential to bring a bitter flavor to your food.
Some oils, such as vegetable, peanut, and sesame, have a high smoke point and are great for pan frying or stir-frying dishes. Oils such as flaxseed and walnut have a low smoke point and should only be used for things like salad dressing and dips.
Let’s look at 6 common oils you’ll see at the grocery store and find ways to add them to your cooking routine. [SLIDESHOW]
1. Canola Oil
What is it? This oil is extracted from the canola plant. A good source of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fat, it also has omega-3s.
How do you use it? Due to its neutral flavor, canola oil is extremely versatile in cooking. Use it to coat your pots and pans when cooking. It’s great for grilling too!
Smoke point: Medium-high
Quick tip! Looking to “lighten up” your baked goods? You can substitute canola oil for butter by using 3/4 cup canola oil for every cup of butter used!
Try this recipe: Toasted Coconut Almond Granola from Canola Info
2. Olive Oil
What is it? This oil is high in monounsaturated fat, which has been shown to decrease “bad” cholesterol (LDL) and increase “good” cholesterol (HDL) to lower your risk of heart disease.
How do you use it? Extra virgin olive oil has a fruity, tangy, and bold flavor. “Pure” or “virgin” olive oil is lighter in color and has a milder flavor that makes it more diverse in cooking. Use olive oil for marinades, salad dressings, drizzling over dishes, and sautéing. It's also a healthy dip for bread!
Smoke point: Medium-high to high
Quick tip! The term “cold pressed” on bottles of extra virgin olive oil indicates that no heat was used to extract the oil from the olives. Without heat, the oil is able to retain more of its nutritional value as well as its full flavors and aroma.
Try this recipe: Fall Harvest Quinoa Salad from Healthy Nibbles and Bits
3. Sesame Oil
What is it? This oil is commonly used in Asian cuisines. It contains both polyunsaturated and monounsaturated acids, including linoleic acid. Linoleic acid is a type of omega-6 fatty acid that reduces LDL cholesterol leading to a happier, healthier heart.
How do you use it? Dark or toasted sesame oil has an intense, nutty flavor and is best used as a condiment, added to food just before serving. Light sesame oil, also nutty in flavor, is best used in salad dressings, marinades, or for cooking meats and vegetables.
Smoke point: Medium
Quick tip! Sesame oil is best when kept refrigerated to prevent rancidity.
Try this recipe: Sesame-Ginger Marinated Vegetables from EatingWell
4. Flaxseed Oil
What is it? This oil contains both omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, which packs a lot of punch for heart health!
How do you use it? Due to its low smoke point, flaxseed oil is not recommended for use in cooking. Instead, drizzle over your vegetables or mix in a salad dressing for optimal flavor.
Smoke point: Low
Quick tip! Flaxseed oil is best when kept refrigerated to prevent rancidity.
Try this recipe: Flaxseed Oil Dressing with Herbs from Whole Foods Market
5. Grapeseed Oil
What is it? This oil is made from grape seeds, a byproduct from wine making, and is full of polyunsaturated fats, which lower total cholesterol and LDL (“bad”) cholesterol.
How do you use it? Grapeseed oil has a mild flavor which makes it all-purpose! Its ability to reach moderately-high temperatures makes it perfect for use in sautéing vegetables and pan-frying.
Smoke point: Medium-high
Quick tip! Grapeseed oil is best when kept refrigerated to prevent rancidity.
Try this recipe: Roasted Stuffed Pumpkin with Spiced Pumpkin Seeds from EatingWell
6. Walnut Oil
What is it? This oil is made from dried and cold-pressed nuts. It’s a great source of polyunsaturated fat and alpha-linolenic acid. Alpha-linolenic acid is a precursor to omega-3 fatty acids, which boost heart health.
How do you use it? The rich, nutty flavor of this oil makes it perfect for salad dressings or drizzling over any dish.
Smoke point: Low
Quick tip! Walnut oil is best when kept refrigerated to prevent rancidity.
Try this recipe: Walnut Balsamic Vinaigrette from Healthy Seasonal Recipes
Hungry for more?
Check out how to eat a healthier meat and three. Plus, get to know our Registered Dietitian Nutritionists and learn more about our nutrition counseling services. Let us partner with you to reach your healthy living goals!