This post is from our contributor FP Naomi.
By now we all know that staying away from oils such as corn and vegetable is a good idea for our health. The problem is, there are so many other options that it’s hard to pick. There are, however, several reasons to choose certain oils over others, and also different uses for each.
To start, you always want to pick an oil that is cold pressed or expeller pressed. There are several ways to extract oil, but both of these ways are all natural and do not involve chemicals. Second, you want an oil that is high in monounsaturated fats and low in saturated or polyunsaturated fats. Polyunsaturated fats are not horrible for you, but they tend to contain more omega-6 fatty acids (which we get plenty of from other sources) and tend to oxidize in the system, making them harder on our digestive tract and immune system. Monounsaturated fats are rich in antioxidants, contain more omega-3 fatty acids, and help to lower LDL (bad cholesterol) while increasing HDL (good cholesterol). Beyond these first guidelines, the oil we choose is really based upon purpose. For cooking and high heat situations, we want an oil with a higher smoke point, while for no heat situations, such as salad dressings and marinades, we can use a lower smoke point oil.
Now that you get the basic parameters, here are some of today’s most popular oils, and how they stack up.
Fats: Unfortunately, coconut oil is EXTREMELY high in saturated fats. It has even more saturated fat than butter. Typically, this is a bad sign, but there is a strange phenomenon with coconut oil. Several different types of saturated fat exist, and the kind mostly found in coconut oil happens to increase HDL (good cholesterol). Typically saturated fat increases LDL, so coconut oil falls as a slight exception.
Antioxidants: Coconut oil is rich in antioxidants, and also contains Lauric acid. Once in the body, Lauric acid converts to Monolaurin, and has been shown to boost the immune system.
Uses: High heat cooking, baking, and personal care.
The Verdict: Coconut oil is probably best when used sparingly. While it increases HDL, so do many other oils that aren’t high in saturated fats as well. Perhaps we should save the coconut oil for our occasional baking adventures and moisturizing needs instead of everyday cooking use.
Fats: Peanut oil is high in monounsaturated fats, but it also has about 30% polyunsaturated fats and 20% saturated.
Antioxidants: Peanut oil is rich in the antioxidants resveratrol and vitamin E. Resveratrol has been shown to reduce the risks of cancers, heart disease, degenerative nerve disease, Alzheimer’s, and viral/fungal infections. Vitamin E combats free radicals, holds cell membranes together, and is very good for the skin.
Uses: Peanut oil has a high smoke point making it good for sautéing and frying. The flavor is very strong, and is the main reason to use peanut oil. I find it to be best used in Asian dishes.
The Verdict: Peanut oil is best for high heat cooking. If you like to make Asian food, you probably want this guy around; however, despite containing the good monounsaturated fats, you probably don’t want to use it all the time seeing as it does contain saturated fats.
Fats: At 80%, sunflower seed oil is mostly monounsaturated fats. The remaining 20% is polyunsaturated.
Antioxidants: Sunflower oil is very high in vitamin E, which as we just discussed is great for cell membranes, removing free radicals, and keeping the skin healthy. In sunflower seed oil, the vitamin E has also shown to help with rheumatoid arthritis.
Uses: Sunflower seed oil has a high smoking point and is best used for sautéing or frying.
The Verdict: Sunflower seed oil is a great pick. If you’re looking to give your skin a boost, think about incorporating more it into your diet.
Fats: Olive oil comes in several different forms. Extra virgin is made up of 100% monounsaturated fats, while virgin olive oil contains a bit less, and light olive oil even more so. Nonetheless, all three types are very high in monounsaturated fats, and generally lead the pack.
Antioxidants: Olive oil contains the phytonutrient Oleocanthal, which helps to reduce inflammation in the body. It is also high in vitamin E, has been show to reduce risk of rheumatoid arthritis, and can prevent or sooth osteoporosis.
Uses: Extra virgin olive oil has a very low smoking point, and should not be used in any kind of cooking. This is your salad dressing olive oil, and it also goes nicely drizzled over a freshly made plate. Virgin olive oil has a slightly higher smoking point, but still should not be used for anything more than sautéing. Light olive oil is the one with the highest smoking point, and works well for frying/high heat cooking.
The Verdict: Olive oil is where it’s at. Keep this around for your salad dressings, and never feel bad about using it in your meal.
Fats: Olive and sunflower oil beat out canola oil in heart-healthy monounsaturated fats, but it comes in close behind.
Antioxidants: Canola oil delivers a good dose of vitamin E
Uses: With its neutral taste and high smoking point, canola oil works well in dressings and marinades, as well as in high heat cooking situations. For bakers, canola oil can be a butter, and can be used to grease pans.
The Verdict: Canola oil is a great all around oil. You definitely want to have this guy on hand for general use.
Thanks for reading, everyone! What’s your favorite oil?
Visit Naomi’s blog Numie Abbot.