If you are health-conscious and like to cook or bake, you have likely stood in the aisle of the supermarket, glancing at the many types of oils, trying to select the best one. There are more than 20 types of cooking oils and since they are derived from plants, such as nuts, olives and seeds, they all have different characteristics.
Things to Consider When Choosing Oils
Each type of oil has its own unique “smoke point,” and it’s best to select an oil with the right smoke point for the dish you are preparing. Once oil exceeds its smoke point, the temperature at which it begins to chemically break down and produce smoke, it emits cancer-causing carcinogens into the air and a strong foul smell.
Oil is a form of fat, carrying 14 grams in a single tablespoon, so it should be consumed in moderation. Not all fat is created equally, however. There are two types of fat: saturated and unsaturated. Unsaturated fat, whether monounsaturated or polyunsaturated, is considered to be heart-healthy, or “good” fat. Saturated fat, found in fatty meats and vegetable oil, can increase cholesterol and increase the risk of heart disease, heart attack and stroke. While vegetable oil is commonly used, its high fat content from partially hydrogenated oils is bad for the heart.
Some types of oils are flavorless, some have mild flavor and certain types have rich, distinct flavoring. The flavor factor is worth considering when using the oil in baking or when you want to pack some punch to a recipe.
Pros and Cons of Commonly Used Cooking Oils
Depending on the type you choose, olive oil has many uses. Light olive oil has a high smoke point, making it preferable for cooking foods at a high temperature, such as pan-frying. Extra virgin olive oil has a strong, grassy flavor and a lower smoke point, so choose that when whipping up a marinade, dip or dressing. It also is considered one of the healthiest oils, with 75 percent monounsaturated fat.
With a high smoke point, no distinct flavoring and only seven percent saturated fat, canola is one of the most versatile, healthy oils. Canola can be used instead of vegetable oil when baking and when cooking foods at a high heat.
With a strong, intense flavor, sesame oil is a key ingredient in many Asian dishes, and its 350 degree Fahrenheit smoke point makes it perfect for stir-frying. The dense flavor of sesame oil allows you to use a minimal amount - usually less than a tablespoon - which helps to reduce calories. Additionally, it has high unsaturated fat content and low saturated fat.
Sunflower oil is high in monounsaturated fat. This heart-healthy oil is similar to light olive oil and canola oil; it carries a light, almost unnoticeable flavor and can be used up to 440 degrees Fahrenheit.
Coconut oil has gained popularity lately for its rich flavor and versatility. Natasia Tomlinson, RD, LDN, a clinical dietitian at GBMC, does not recommend the use of coconut oil for its high saturated fat content. Its health benefits are limited and largely unproven, so it’s better to opt for a more heart-healthy choice.
Containing hydrogenated oils and saturated fat, vegetable oil can raise cholesterol and increase risk of blood clots. If you have to use vegetable oil, use sparingly when possible. Canola oil is a great substitute for vegetable oil.