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, keep three things in mind:
- its smoking point (the temperature at which the oil starts to break down, making it unhealthy)
- the type of fat that it contains
- its flavor
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 produced from genetically modified plants (also known as GMOs).
While this doesn’t necessarily make the oil an unhealthy choice, some GMOs are being sprayed with chemicals that can be harmful to people, including those with sensitivities.
There is also some controversy about whether GMOs themselves are safe in the long term. Long-term safety studies aren’t yet available, and there is much debate over whether GMOs are healthy or unhealthy.
The important thing is to be aware of whether your foods contain GMO 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 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’re less likely to know exactly what’s in your oil. This includes how the plants from which the oil was extracted were grown and how the oil was processed.
The ratio of saturated fat, polyunsaturated fat, and monounsaturated fat varies depending on what oils have been included in the blend (sunflower, corn, soy, safflower, etc.), so you won’t have as much control over the types of fats you’re eating.
Unfortunately, cooking oils can be prone to going rancid, particularly when exposed to oxygen. When oxygen interacts with the compounds in oils, it results in the breakdown of peroxides. This can give cooking oils an unpleasant smell or taste.
With time, the oxygen can contribute to a greater number of free radicals. These are potentially harmful compounds that have been linked to cell damage and potentially to causing cancer. As a result, it’s important that you take care where you store your cooking oils and how long you store them.
Most cooking oils should be kept in a cool, dry place. In particular, keep them away from heat (above or too close to the stove) and sunlight (in front of a window).
Wrap clear glass bottles of oil in aluminum foil or another material to keep light out and to extend the life of the oil.
If you purchase a large bottle of oil, you may wish to transfer some oil to a small bottle that you’ll use more quickly. The rest can be stored in the refrigerator or in a cool place away from sunlight.
If you purchase cooking oils that contain herbs and vegetables (such as chili peppers, garlic, tomatoes, or mushrooms), they can be prone to bacterial growth, including Clostridium botulinum bacteria (which can cause botulism).
Oils with this kind of mixture should be refrigerated after opening and used within four days after opening for maximum freshness and taste.
Generally, most cooking oils go bad in about three months. That’s more incentive to go ahead and cook healthy foods with them.
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.
Avocado oil has a high smoke point. This means that it’s ideal for searing, browning, or baking foods. Avocado oils are high in monounsaturated fats, with polyunsaturated fats about half those of monounsaturated.
The oil can be costly because it takes many avocados to create even a small amount of oil. However, it has an excellent, neutral flavor that makes it ideal for adding to soups, drizzling over fish or chicken before baking, or mixing with vegetables for roasting.
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 is excellent, making it a great choice for salad dressings.
While coconut oil may be high in saturated fats, it also has a beneficial effect on a person’s high-density lipoprotein (HDL) levels. HDL is also known as a person’s “good” cholesterol, which works to reduce levels of unwanted high cholesterol.
However, because coconut oil is so high in saturated fats, most health experts recommend using it sparingly. Coconut oil has a medium smoke point, making it best for using with low-heat baking and sautéing.
Grapeseed oil has a smoke point that’s 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 that needs to be balanced 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.
Medium chain triglycerides (MCT) oil is a cooking oil known to be low in calories and is an excellent source of energy for the body. As a result, some athletes use MCT oil to enhance athletic performance.
However, if a person simply chooses to consume MCT oil by the tablespoon, they should start in small doses. Eating too much at a time is associated with nausea.
Also, don’t heat the oil higher than 150 to 160 degrees to avoid affecting the taste. Many people enjoy MCT oil as a salad dressing (and, no doubt, are happy to avoid keeping track of the oil’s temperature on the stove).
Peanut oil is a flavorful oil high in resveratrol, a compound that helps to fight heart disease and reduces a person’s cancer risk. This oil is well-balanced in terms of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats.
It has a medium-high smoke point, which makes it ideal for stir-frying, baking, or cooking dishes in the oven.
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 get other kinds of gourmet oils too, like 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 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.