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Cooking Oils Guide

September 1, 2009

oliveoil

I’ve been giving quite a bit of thought to cooking oils recently. My 92 year old father grew up with saturated fats and continues to consume substantial amounts of fried foods. Unlike most of us, he seems to have escaped the deleterious effects from this – almost century old – practice of abuse to his body. It’s kind of amazing, but I would not recommend his proclivities to anyone who is seeking a healthy diet. I can only imagine that there were other factors that contributed to the longevity and high quality of life he has enjoyed.

He and my mother always had a garden. We ate fresh vegetables in the summer. During the winter months we ate many of those same vegetables which my mother had spent the summer months canning in a small, airless, and hot kitchen. Dad also loved fish and ate a lot of it, and they consumed very little of the preservatives, chemicals, and hormones that we find in our food today, but I truly believe that he was also blessed with wonderful genetics.

After cooking for Dad over the past three years, I’m ready for healthier foods. You can imagine how difficult it is to maintain a healthy weight while eating fried foods several times a week. This is the thought process that led me to look for a primer on healthy oils. After three years of sketchy eating habits, I’m eager to embrace a healthy routine once again – diet, exercise and reduced stress. Sounds good, doesn’t it?

In that endeavor, I searched for a guide on cooking oils this morning and found one at Eating Well.  The following is the result of my effort.

All oils have something to offer. Choose according to your needs and preferences.

A well-stocked kitchen includes a variety of different oils chosen for characteristics like cost, smoke point, nutritional profile and culinary uses.

Regardless of which cooking oil you select, be proud of choosing a liquid over a solid fat, such as shortening or butter. It’s a fairly safe bet that by doing so you avoid saturated animal fats and trans fats, the undeniable nutritional bad guys.

Numerous studies confirm that a high intake of saturated fats and trans fats can cause cholesterol and heart-disease risk to rise—and that when unsaturated fats replace saturated fats in the diet, those risks are largely averted.

Use this guide to pick the right oil for your cooking and health needs.

Almond
Monounsaturated: 65%
Polyunsaturated: 28%
Saturated: 7%
Omega-3s: n/a
Smoke point: high
Cost: $$
Comments: Good source of vitamin E.

Avocado
Monounsaturated: 65%
Polyunsaturated: 18%
Saturated: 17%
Omega-3s: n/a
Smoke point: high
Cost: $$$
Comments: Contains vitamin E and heart-healthy phytosterols.

Canola
Monounsaturated: 62%
Polyunsaturated: 31%
Saturated: 7%
Omega-3s: Check +
Smoke point: medium-high
Cost: $
Comments: A top pick (see below). Fair source of omega-3s.

Coconut
Monounsaturated: 6%
Polyunsaturated: 2%
Saturated: 92%
Omega-3s: n/a
Smoke point: medium
Cost: $$$
Comments: High in saturated fat but of a more benign type. Sweet.

Corn
Monounsaturated: 25%
Polyunsaturated: 62%
Saturated: 13%
Omega-3s: Check
Smoke point: medium
Cost: $$
Comments: Heart-healthier, high-oleic versions coming soon.

Flaxseed
Monounsaturated: 18%
Polyunsaturated: 75%
Saturated: 7%
Omega-3s: Check++
Smoke point: no heat
Cost: $$$
Comments: Heat-senstitive: buy “cold-pressed” and refrigerate.

Grapeseed
Monounsaturated: 17%
Polyunsaturated: 73%
Saturated: 10%
Omega-3s: n/a
Smoke point: medium-high
Cost: $$
Comments: High in vitamin E, but also omega-6s. Light taste.

Hazelnut
Monounsaturated: 82%
Polyunsaturated: 11%
Saturated: 7%
Omega-3s: Check
Smoke point: high
Cost: $$$
Comments: Vitamin E source, high smoke point, but heat traps flavor.

Hemp
Monounsaturated: 15%
Polyunsaturated: 75%
Saturated: 10%
Omega-3s: Check+
Smoke point: medium
Cost: $$$
Comments: Has anti-inflammatory fatty acids. Refrigerate.

Macadamia nut
Monounsaturated: 84%
Polyunsaturated: 3%
Saturated: 13%
Omega-3s: Check
Smoke point: medium-high
Cost: $$$
Comments: Rich in antioxidants. Sweet, bold flavor.

Olive, extra-virgin
Monounsaturated: 78%
Polyunsaturated: 8%
Saturated: 14%
Omega-3s: Check
Smoke point: medium-high
Cost: $$
Comments: A top pick (see below). One downside: low omega-3s.

Palm
Monounsaturated: 38%
Polyunsaturated: 10%
Saturated: 52%
Omega-3s: n/a
Smoke point: high
Cost: $$$
Comments: Sat. fat may be benign. Don’t confuse with palm kernel oil.

Peanut
Monounsaturated: 48%
Polyunsaturated: 34%
Saturated: 18%
Omega-3s: n/a
Smoke point: medium-high
Cost: $$
Comments: Contains vitamin E and heart-healthy phytosterols.

Pumpkinseed
Monounsaturated: 32%
Polyunsaturated: 53%
Saturated: 15%
Omega-3s: Check+
Smoke point: medium
Cost: $$$
Comments: High in omega-6s. Refrigerate. Bold taste.

Rice bran
Monounsaturated: 46%
Polyunsaturated: 28%
Saturated: 26%
Omega-3s: Check
Smoke point: high
Cost: $$
Comments: Good source of vitamin E. Mild flavor.

Sunflower
Monounsaturated: 14% 55%?
Polyunsaturated: 79% 28%?
Saturated: 7% 9%?
Omega-3s: n/a
Smoke point: high
Cost: $$
Comments: Seek out mono-fat rich (around 65%) types. Light.

Sesame
Monounsaturated: 41%
Polyunsaturated: 44%
Saturated: 15%
Omega-3s: n/a
Smoke point: medium
Cost: $$
Comments: Rich, nutty flavor. Refrigerate.

Soybean
Monounsaturated: 25%
Polyunsaturated: 60%
Saturated: 15%
Omega-3s: Check
Smoke point: medium
Cost: $
Comments: High in omega-6s.

Tea
Monounsaturated: 82%
Polyunsaturated: 8%
Saturated: 10%
Omega-3s: Check
Smoke point: high
Cost: $$$
Comments: Has some vitamin E. Green, grassy, mild flavor.

Walnut
Monounsaturated: 24%
Polyunsaturated: 67%
Saturated: 9%
Omega-3s: Check+
Smoke point: medium
Cost: $$
Comments: A top pick (see below). Refrigerate.

Wheat germ
Monounsaturated: 22%
Polyunsaturated: 61%
Saturated: 17%
Omega-3s: Check
Smoke point: no heat
Cost: $$$
Comments: Lots of vitamin E, but high omega-6s. Refrigerate.

Key

Smoke point: high=for searing, deep-frying, browning, all-purpose cooking. medium-high=for baking, oven cooking, crisp sauté, stir-frying. medium=light sauté, low-heat baking and sauces.

Cost: $=25 cents or less per ounce. $$=25-50 cents per ounce. $$$=more than 50 cents per ounce

Making Oil Choice: Top 3 Picks

If you have room in your pantry and a wallet for only 3 oils, this trio offers health and versatility.

Extra-virgin olive

This flavorful, heart-healthy oil is unrefined thus high in antioxidants and polyphenols that are a tonic to cardiovascular health. Less expensive, but so-called “pure” olive oil (not extra-virgin) is refined and more tolerant to heat but also less nutrient-dense. Don’t bother with “light” olive oil; it has virtually no character and even fewer polyphenols. Use extra-virgin in low-heat cooking, baking and dressings.

Canola

High in omega-3s, this practical bland oil with a relatively high smoke point can be used for sautéing and baking. Most canola oil is highly refined to extract as much oil as possible from the seed. The resulting inexpensive version has a long shelf life. Some consumers choose to pay more for less refined organic canola oil. The organic designation guarantees that the seed was not from genetically modified plants.

Walnut

This specialty oil sports a higher price tag, but along with its rich, nutty flavor comes omega-3s and vitamin E. Close runners-up in this category include toasted sesame, pumpkinseed and almond oils. We chose walnut as a top pick for its relatively long shelf life: 3 months when refrigerated. Use it to dress salads, especially those containing flavorful cheese and nuts.

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