Over the years, dietary fat has come in and out of fashion and at times been a dietary villain. In more recent years, nutritionists are agreeing that the right oils can be a welcome part of a healthy diet. Love fats or hate them, there will always be one consistent fact — fats are very calorie-dense, having more than twice the calories as proteins or carbohydrates. Fat, particularly healthy oils, play a big part in my diet and cooking.
Since heart disease is the number one cause of death for both men and women, it is important to choose oils that support a healthy heart. There is no debating that we should be consuming natural fats and avoiding unnatural ones. Trans fats (partially hydrogenated oils) are man made fats that are associated with an increased risk for heart disease. These should be avoided at all cost. If you see this as an ingredient in any product, be afraid, be very afraid and put it back. Saturated fat, also a contributor to heart disease, is another less than healthy choice and should be reduced as much as possible. These are fats found in the highest concentration in many animal products such as meat and dairy.
We should be choosing oils that are high in heart-healthy mono- and poly-unsaturated fat. These types of oils are associated with a reduced risk of heart disease because of their positive effects on blood cholesterol
Monounsaturated fats actually help to lower total and bad (LDL) cholesterol levels, without negatively affecting your good (HDL) cholesterol levels.
Polyunsaturated fats also help to lower total cholesterol, however some research shows they may also lower good (HDL) cholesterol in the process. Some polyunsaturated fats are also good sources of omega-3 fatty acids, which have been shown to decrease the risk of blood clotting and inflammation to help lower the risk for heart disease.
Knowing which oils are the healthiest is only half the battle. Pairing the right oil with the proper cooking method is important, as well. Some oils are good for high heat cooking, while others are better for salad dressing. One way to determine this is to look at the smoke point — the temperature at which oil begins to smoke and break down, releasing carcinogens into the air and free radicals into the oil. When it reaches this point, you should discard the oil and start over.
Here’s a guide to the healthiest cooking oils and ideas for making good use of them in your kitchen:
1. Walnut Oil: A polyunsaturated fat and good source of omega 3s. With a smoke point of 400° F, this oil is good for baking and sautéing at low to medium-high heat or try it drizzled on a salad.
2. Flaxseed Oil: A polyunsaturated fat and good source of omega 3s. Due to its low smoke point of 225° F, it should not be used for cooking over heat. Try it stirred into dishes after heating or in salad dressings, salsa or smoothies.
3. Canola Oil: A monounsaturated fat with a medium high smoke point of 425° F, use it in baking, sautéing, stir-frying and in dressings.
4. Olive Oil: A monounsaturated fat with a medium smoke point of 325° F, use this flavorful oil for light sautéing, sauces like pesto and salad dressings.
5. Peanut Oil: A monounsaturated fat with a medium smoke point of 350° F, use this flavorful oil for light sautéing, sauces such as curry and salad dressings.
6. Almond Oil: A monounsaturated fat with a high smoke point of 495° F, this is a good oil for high heat cooking, like sautéing or frying. Its great flavor also works well in desserts.
7. Avocado Oil: A monounsaturated fat with a high smoke point of 510° F, this is a good oil for high heat cooking, like sautéing or frying, and tasty in salads.
8. Safflower Oil: A polyunsaturated fat with a low saturated fat level, this oil is a good all-purpose oil. Its high smoke point of 450° F makes it good for high heat cooking, like sautéing and frying.
9. Sunflower Oil: A polyunsaturated fat with a low saturated fat level, this oil has a high smoke point of 460° F making it good for high heat cooking, like sautéing and frying.
10. Grapeseed Oil: A polyunsaturated fat with a low saturated fat level, this oil has a high smoke point of 420° F, making it great for cooking and grilling of all kinds. It also has a very mild, nutty flavor that’s versatile enough to use in salads or virtually anything.
When outfitting my kitchen, I like to have two oils, one for salads and one for high heat cooking. My two go to choices are extra virgin olive oil and avocado oil.
This article was contributed by Dr. Stuart Offer.
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