In a world where everyone is trying to eat a healthier diet, fats have gotten a bad reputation. In truth, a certain amount of fat is a necessary part of a healthy diet and is essential to certain bodily functions, such as to dissolve and absorb various vitamins. The key lies not only in moderation, but in knowing which fats are healthy or at least have the fewest negative effects on your health.
Most liquid cooking oils are a healthier option than using margarine or butter, but some oils are better for you than others. What makes an oil unhealthy or healthy is the type and amount of fats that it contains. Look for oils that have high levels of monounsaturated fats, which are among the healthiest types and may even help to lower cholesterol levels. Polyunsaturated fats are also considered to be healthy and can promote heart health.
Plant based oils, such as olive oil, are considered to be the best choice for health conscious cooks. High levels of monounsaturated fats found in olive oil mean that not only is it a tasty addition to many dishes, but it can lower the risk of heart disease when used properly. The word “properly” refers to using an oil below its smoke point. When oils reach the smoking point, the chemical composition changes and those “good” fats can become less healthy. In addition, heating olive oil to its smoke point decreases the amount of antioxidants naturally found in the oil. Olive oil has a smoke point between 365 and 400 F. according to the Olive Oil Source, making it fine for sautéing or sauces, but less appropriate for things like frying. Olive oil also lends a delicious flavor to whatever you are cooking.
Canola oil, at 62%, is one of the oils with the highest monounsaturated fat content; it also has 31% polyunsaturated, and 7% saturated fat. Canola oil has a smoke point of around 400 F., making it perfect for a variety of applications in cooking and while it doesn’t add any particular flavor to a dish, it allows the flavors of the ingredients to shine through.
For high temperature cooking, peanut oil is perhaps the best choice; unfortunately, for those with allergies it isn’t an option. As long as no one in the household has allergies however, it is great for things like stir frying and deep frying. Peanut oil is higher in saturated fats, but with 48% monounsaturated and 34% polyunsaturated fats it is still comparatively healthy. It also lends a terrific flavor to many Asian dishes and has a higher smoke point than most oils- around 450 F.
Choosing the healthiest oil is mainly about choosing the right oil for what you’re cooking. Using a “healthy” oil for a type of cooking that will bring it past the smoke point negates many of the health benefits that it has. Most cooking oils have a smoke point clearly marked on the label and choosing the right one will ensure that you don’t unwittingly add unwanted “bad” fats into your diet.