The Health Benefits of Oil
Don't be afraid of oils. There are many delicious oils that are also very healthy; in moderation, of course.
Oil is good for you? Surely you jest. If you remember the bygone USDA food pyramid, you may recall the tiny triangle at the top instructing you to consume fats and oil ‘sparingly’ if at all. But, there are some oils out there that, when consumed in moderation, pack a significant health punch.
The important distinction is that these healthy oils are plant-based, liquid at room temperature and contain no cholesterol. Fats such as butter and other animal fats are solid at room temperature and do contain artery-clogging cholesterol. These oils are very high in monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats (the “good” kinds of fats) and are an important source of vitamin E in many American diets.
Olive oil is a great everyday substitute for other additives, such as butter or margarine. It is full of monounsaturated fats and has been shown to protect against heart disease, aid in digestion and support healthy cholesterol levels. Opt for extra-virgin olive oil if you can, and use it in place of butter.
Coconut oil is very high in saturated fat but has a slew of other health benefits. Studies indicate that it can reduce the risk of heart disease, lower cholesterol and help manage diabetes. The lauric acid in coconut oil has anti-viral and anti-bacterial properties as well. Coconut oil has enjoyed a boost in popularity in recent years and is widely available.
Sesame oil is made from the seeds of the sesame plant and is an excellent source of good fat and antioxidants. Unrefined sesame oil is wonderful for dressings and sauces. Be sure to use refined sesame oil for high heat cooking such as frying or searing.
Peanut oil comes from pressed peanuts and is high in monounsaturated fats, which is very good for heart health. Peanut oil is best used for frying, light sautéing and stir-frying. Not to mention that it has a delicious flavor.
Avocado oil is pressed from avocados and is made up of more than 50 percent monounsaturated fats. A heart-healthy option if we’ve ever heard one. It has a light, nutty flavor and is wonderful on salads or when used to sauté fish, sweet potatoes or plantains.
No one oil can be used for all cooking purposes. This is in part because different oils have different ‘smoke points’. The smoke point of oil is the temperature at which the oil starts to smoke and give off toxic fumes, which are best avoided. Most oils will list their smoke point on the label. Do not eat oil or any food cooked with oil that has reached its smoke point.
Oils with high smoke points can be used for high-heat cooking such as searing and deep-frying. These oils are: avocado, almond, hazelnut, sunflower and refined olive oil.
Oils with medium smoke points are best suited for baking, oven cooking and stir-frying. These oils are: canola, grape seed, extra virgin olive oil and peanut oil.
Oils with a lower smoke point are best used for light sautéing, sauces and low-heat baking. These oils include: sesame, coconut and pumpkin seed.