Sacramento Experts Weigh in on the Benefits of Cooking Oils
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Step into any grocery store and you’ll see what seems like an endless variety of cooking oils—canola, avocado, coconut, extra virgin, the list goes on! But did you know they all have different uses in (and out of) the kitchen?
“There are many types of oils, all of which are made by pressing nuts, seeds or fruits,” explains Kirsten Ransbury, MS, RD, CDE, at Kaiser Permanente Roseville. “More nutrients are retained in cold-pressed oils. [Although oils each have] their own unique flavor, with processing, many taste very similar. The main difference is in their smoke points—the temperature at which oil starts to smoke in a pan. That smoke indicates that an oil has been damaged and should be discarded.”
When choosing which oil to use in the kitchen, it’s important to think about the best oil for the job and the health effects, explains Debbie Lucus, MS, RD, CDE, and a clinical health educator at Sutter Medical Foundation.
For baking, canola oil is a neutral flavor, so it won’t change taste. It’s also a good source of essential fatty acids.
If you do fry, you’ll need oil with a high smoke point, such as avocado, almond, peanut or safflower. When you sauté—which uses much less oil than frying—extra virgin olive oil, grape seed, canola and peanut oils are best.
For dips, dressings or marinades, go for olive, flaxseed (not for cooking), walnut or sesame oils. “These all add flavor to your food,” Lucus says.
Lucus also explains the oils can be lumped together based on fat types. Olive, peanut, canola and avocado oils are monounsaturated fats; grape seed, sesame, sunflower and soybean oils are polyunsaturated fats; and coconut, palm and palm kernel oils are saturated fats. Each of these oils affects your health differently. “In general, saturated fat is linked to inflammation and health problems such as heart disease and cancer, while monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats are linked to better heath. Most oils are unsaturated, with the exceptions of palm and coconut. Coconut oil, however, is being studied to see if it can ward off Alzheimer’s disease and [so far] doesn’t appear to raise cholesterol like other saturated fats do, Ransbury says.” Lucus adds that extra virgin olive oil contains antioxidants, which are important to reducing the risk of chronic disease, while polyunsaturated fats—which contain omega-3 fatty acids (walnut, flax, canola)—have heart benefits (not lowering cholesterol, but preventing clotting risk).
When it comes to daily intake, Ransbury says it’s recommended that oil be eaten in moderation—due to the high concentration of calories. “Fat found naturally in whole foods is preferable (nuts, seeds, avocado, etc.). Essential fats the body needs to be healthy can be found in abundance in flaxseed oil, hemp seed oil, walnut oil and canola oil,” she adds.
Lastly, Stephanie Dodds, a healthy eating specialist at Whole Foods Market Arden, says it’s very important to store oils properly. “Air, heat and light cause oils to oxidize and turn rancid,” she says. “This is why you’ll almost always find oil in a dark glass container, and [should store it] in a cool, dark place. If oil oxidizes, it is no longer healthy to consume. Make sure no matter what kind of oil you use, it smells and tastes fresh and pleasant.”
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Oil can also have a purpose beyond the kitchen. “Coconut oil can be used as a hand moisturizer, eye makeup remover or shaving cream,” Stephanie Dodds, a healthy eating specialist at Whole Foods Market Arden, says. “Olive oil can be used as a hair conditioner and ‘curl tamer’ for long hair. Apply it from the ends up and stop a few inches from your scalp. Avocado oil can be used as an anti-aging serum as it helps ‘quench the thin and delicate skin around your eyes.’ And avocado, almond and grapeseed oil all offer a deep moisturizing solution for sun care.”