Cooking Oils 101 – A Buyer’s Nutrition Guide

Cooking Oils 101 – A Buyer’s Nutrition Guide
  • Dr. Taylor Wallace
  • August 26, 2014

Are you feeling overwhelmed or confused on which cooking oil to buy? Supermarket shelves are full of options!

Health wise, the fact that you’re shopping for liquid vegetable oil instead of solid fat (e.g. butter or lard) is a good start. Oils that are liquid at room temperature are typically higher in heart-healthy fats and low in saturated fat. Liquid oils do not contain trans-fat. Both saturated fat and trans-fat can raise your bad cholesterol levels and thus their use should be limited.

The best cost and health effective option is to purchase soybean oil, which is a good source of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats (i.e. the heart healthy fats associated with decreasing risk of cardiovascular disease). Canola, sunflower and corn oils are also healthful “all purpose” options that are more cost effective. Olive and sesame oil are more expensive but preferred for more flavorful culinary creations.

Studies of the Mediterranean diet have suggested many unique benefits of olive oil. Extra-virgin olive oil has a lot of flavor and antioxidants but isn’t very suitable for cooking (its great for salad dressings) because of its low smoke point. When oils reach their smoke point, they begin to burn – not only sending the nutrition up in smoke but also creating compounds that are bad for you. Processed olive oil although not “extra-virgin” has a higher smoke point (i.e. better for cooking); however processing removes many of the natural antioxidants. Large amounts of the antioxidants in extra-virgin olive oil can also easily be lost during storage.

In fact, storage is a big concern for most artesian oils that are really intended for salads or finishing a dish. While TV chefs may tout walnut oil, toasted sesame oil or other exotic options, its better to purchase them in small quantities and store them in the refrigerator. These oils can become rancid extremely fast.

Remember all fats and oils contain about 90 calories per tablespoon (9 calories per gram)… even the heart healthy ones. As always, moderation is key to a healthy lifestyle!

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