Choosing healthy oils at the supermarket is not what it used to. Today, supermarket shelves have a surplus of various kinds of oils all claiming to be healthy for you. Knowing which ones to choose and which to avoid can mean the difference between oils promoting heart health or oils possibly harming heart health.
Replacing oils consisting primarily of unhealthy saturated fat with healthier oils containing more unsaturated fats is a step in the right direction of decreasing heart disease. Saturated fat raises the bad LDL cholesterol levels in the blood which can increase your risk of a heart attack or stroke. The current recommendation from the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans is that saturated fats should not exceed 10% of total calories.
Healthier unsaturated fats include polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats. Both types of fats are needed in our diet and when we replace saturated with these healthier options, our heart benefits from that.
Key considerations in choosing cooking oils
Remember, oils are still a fat and all fats contain calories, no matter what type of oil you choose. Using the least amount of fat possible to prepare foods is the best way to go to still get the taste and health benefits you want without excessive calories.
Certain oils can be stored at room temperature while others need to be kept refrigerated. Oils needing refrigeration can quickly become rancid impacting the oils’ taste and quality.
Knowing the smoke point of oils is another consideration to keep in mind. The smoke point is the temperature that causes oil to start smoking, producing toxic fumes and harmful free radicals. Depending on their chemical makeup will determine their smoke point. Oils with a high smoke point can be used for cooking at higher temperatures.
Healthy oils to consider
The oils featured are ones having a good balance between monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, with minimal saturated fat content. All oils are a mixture of monounsaturated, polyunsaturated and saturated fats but choosing oils with the healthier fats is the better option.
1. Extra-virgin olive oil – This oil is high in monounsaturated fat with a fruity, bold flavor. It is minimally processed and contains antioxidants and stanols. It can be used for grilling, sautéing, roasting, drizzled on bread and salads for a rich flavor. It has a medium-high smoke point.
2. Canola oil – Very versatile with a neutral flavor. It contains some omega-3 fatty acids along with monounsaturated fatty acids. Can be used for sautéing, baking, frying and marinating. The smoke point is medium-high.
3. Avocado oil – Extracted from the flesh of ripe avocados, it is high in monounsaturated fat with a sweet aroma. Cold-pressed avocado oil contains antioxidants and other beneficial plant chemicals such as lutein, an antioxidant important for eye health. It can be used in salad dressings, sauces or drizzled over soups. It also has the highest smoke point of any plant oil.
4. Flaxseed oil – This oil is the best source of omega-3 fatty acids and is high in monounsaturated fats. It needs to be kept refrigerated due to its high polyunsaturated content and susceptibility to oxidation. This oil cannot be used for cooking with heat.
5. Peanut oil – This oil is made from shelled peanuts and has a nutty yet mild flavor. Popular in Asian dishes as well as Southern cooking, it is great for stir-frying, roasting, deep frying or baking. It contains the heart healthy phytosterols and has a medium-high smoke point.
6. Walnut oil – Using this oil provides a rich, nutty flavor. It is high in polyunsaturated fats and is a good source of omega-3 fatty acids with a medium smoke point. It is susceptible to oxidation when exposed to light or heat and needs to be stored tightly capped in a cool, dark place where it will remain fresh for 3 months. But it is best to store it refrigerated for a longer shelf life and to prevent rancidity.
7. Sesame oil – Made from sesame seeds, this oil is popular in Asian cooking and needs to be kept refrigerated. Depending on whether you use dark or light sesame oil will determine the taste. Dark sesame oil is bold and heavy while light sesame oil has a nutty flavor. It can be used for stir-frying (light only) or used in dressings/sauces (dark only). It has a medium smoke point.
8. Coconut oil – Once upon a time, coconut oil was the evil oil. Not so anymore. It does contain a high amount of saturated fat but it is in the form of lauric acid, known for its anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial properties. Coconut oil also contains medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs) which are metabolized by being used as a quick energy source instead of being stored in the fat tissues. Considered a very stable fat, it can be used for cooking at high temperatures.
Choosing an oil to best fit your cooking and health needs can be challenging. There is no need to have multiple bottles of various oils. Choose one or two types you will use frequently as any of them can have their taste and quality impacted by heat and light over time. Store any of them in a cool, dark place or refrigerated and replace when they smell bitter or have an ‘off” taste.