Comparing Health Benefits of Oils

With all the different types of  oils flooding the supermarket, picking and choosing has become more difficult than ever. From coconut to flaxseed, finding the healthiest, tastiest, and most suitable oil for the recipe is a challenge. Not only do you want to avoid using too many saturated fats, but it is also important to understand which oil can be used in cooking at higher temperatures without losing nutrients.

Some oils simply can’t take the heat. “Smoke point” is the temperature at which oil starts to break down and may lose nutrients or release harmful free radicals. Generally, vegetable and peanut oils are better for high-heat cooking or frying, while flaxseed and walnut oil is better in salad dressing. Store oils in a cool, dark place and discard once it smells rancid. Polyunsaturated-rich oils, like grapeseed, tend to turn rancid faster than others so they are best stored in the refrigerator.

Here are a few of the more popular oils available today and what you should know about them:

Olive:

  • Health Benefit: Higher in monounsaturated fatty acids than any other oil, this Mediterranean staple may help fight high cholesterol and prevent heart disease. Extra Virgin Olive Oil is only slightly richer in antioxidants but packs in a lot more flavor.

  • Best Used: Since the smoke point is only 200ºF, EVOO is best used in salad dressings, drizzled over cooked veggies or as a dip for whole grain bread.

Vegetable:

  • Health Benefit: Typically a blend of soybean and other oils, it contains primarily PUFA’s (polyunsaturated fats) and a good amount of MUFA’s and saturated fats.

  • Best Used: With a smoke point of 400-450ºF, this oil tolerates heat well so you can use in baking or sauteing.

Coconut:

  • Health Benefit: One of the bigger trends of today, coconut oil has become popular due to its antibacterial, antiviral and antioxidant  properties. It is extracted from the fruit of mature coconuts and is also a saturated fat. Virgin coconut oil is high in lauric acid, a medium-chain fatty acid, which may have a neutral or beneficial effect on cholesterol levels. 

  • Best Used: You can heat this oil to 350°F. The sweet flavor is best as a substitute for shortening or butter and can also be added to curry dishes, fish, and veggies.

Peanut:

  • Health Benefit: Peanut oil is a common monounsaturated fat and contains vitamin E, a powerful cancer-fighting antioxidant.

  • Best Used: Often used as a frying oil because of its high smoke point, 440°F, this distinct flavor pairs well in a salad dressing or stirfries.

Sesame Seed:

  • Health Benefit: Sesame oil is rich in mono- and polyunsaturated fatty acids.

  • Best Used: 410°F is the smoke point of this Asian cuisine staple, so its best used in recipes when drizzled over cabbage slaw, stirfried with bokchoy, or added to noodles.

Flaxseed:

  • Health Benefit: With omega-6 and omega-9 essential fatty acids, heart-healthy flaxseed oil is often recommended as a vegetarian alternative to fish oil. 

  • Best Used: One of the lowest smoke points, flaxseed oil is not ideal for cooking. Sprinkle it over your favorite mixed green salad or as a coating for cooked quinoa or rice with herbs.

Canola:

  • Health Benefits: Low in saturated fat and high in mono- and polyunsaturated fats, including omega-3s, canola oil has a light flavor that makes it a versatile ingredient. 

  • Best Used: This oil can take a little bit of heat with a smoke point of 400ºF. It acts best as a coating for pots, pans and prevent sticking on the grill.

Avocado:

  • Health Benefits: With a unique green color and rich nutty flavor, this oil is comprised of more than 70% heart-healthy monounsaturated fat.

  • Best Used: One of the highest smoke points of 520°F, this oil is best used for frying or sauteing, however, it tastes just as nice as a based in salad dressing.

Nick VanMeter