Most of us use some type of oil every day while cooking. Do you know which types of oil are the healthiest for you, and which ones are the best to use in different types of cooking? Canola and vegetable oil may seem interchangeable. But they actually have different qualities when it comes to nutrition and best use.
When looking at different types of oil, three things to keep in mind are the smoking point of the oil, the type of fat that the oil contains, and the flavor of the oil. The smoking point is the temperature at which the oils start to break down; when this happens it makes the oil unhealthy.
Canola oil can be heated to a variety of temperatures and it has a neutral taste. This makes it a favorite cooking oil for many. Canola oil is widely considered to be a healthy oil, as it’s low in saturated fat and high in monounsaturated fat.
Both monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats can improve cholesterol levels and lower your risk of heart disease. Saturated fat, which is more prevalent in animal products and also found in coconut and palm oil, raises blood cholesterol levels. It’s better to limit the amount of saturated fat in your diet.
One of the major drawbacks of canola oil is that it doesn’t come from a natural plant. It’s crossbred, and most canola oil is genetically modified (GM). While this doesn’t necessary make the oil an unhealthy choice, it does mean that the canola plant is also often sprayed with chemicals, which can be harmful to people with sensitivities.
There is some controversy about whether genetically modified foods are safe long term. Since GMO foods are so new to the industry, long-term safety studies are not yet available.
As there is much debate over whether GM foods are healthy or unhealthy, the important thing is to be aware of whether your foods contain GM ingredients or not. Make your choice with that knowledge!
Vegetable oil is often a mix or a blend of different types of oils. It’s a more generic type of oil that many people will use in their everyday cooking. Vegetable oil is often an inexpensive choice that can be used for all kinds of cooking. And like canola oil, it has a neutral flavor.
The problem with this type of generic oil is that you will be less likely to know what exactly is in your oil. This includes how the plants that the oil was extracted from were grown and how the oil was processed. The ratio of saturated fat, polyunsaturated fat, and monounsaturated fat will vary depending on what oils are included in the blend (sunflower, corn, soy, safflower, etc.), so you won’t have as much control over the types of fats you are eating.
Other Healthy Oils
Canola oil and vegetable oil aren’t your only options when it comes to cooking! Other healthy plant-based options for fats include the following.
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Full of good-for-you monounsaturated fat, olive oil is best used at medium- or low-heat cooking temperatures. When you choose good-quality extra-virgin olive oil, the flavor will be excellent, making it a great choice for salad dressings.
Grapeseed oil has a smoke point that is medium-high, meaning that you can use it safely for a variety of different types of cooking. According to the Cleveland Clinic it has a ratio of 73 percent polyunsaturated fats, 17 percent monounsaturated fats, and 10 percent saturated fats. It’s a great multipurpose oil to use.
Keep in mind that this type of oil is high in omega-6 fatty acids, a type of polyunsaturated fat, which needs to be balanced out with omega-3s, another type of polyunsaturated fat. It’s a good idea to increase your intake of other foods that include a higher ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fats in your diet to compensate.
With a more balanced ratio of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, sesame oil is best used when heated only very lightly or not at all. You can also use it in salads and no-cook dishes to preserve the nutrients.
You can even get other kinds of gourmet oils, like avocado oil and macadamia nut oil! Don’t be afraid to get creative. As you can see, when trying to choose a healthy oil, one of the best things you can do is to enjoy a variety of oils that are higher in monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, and lower in saturated fats.
The more variety you have in your diet with the types of fats you consume, the more nutrients you will get.
Sagan Morrow is a freelance writer and editor, as well as a professional lifestyle blogger at SaganMorrow.com. She has a background as a certified holistic nutritionist.