Best Cooking Oil

According to the American Dietetic Association (ADA), olive oil may be the most beneficial. Olive oil comes in several varieties including virgin, light and extra virgin. They are equal in terms of health benefits as they all have the same fat content. Flavor is another story. Extra virgin is the fruitiest. Virgin is slightly less intense. Light is the least flavorful and the lightest in color.

For all of the risks it brings to the table, fat tastes good and using certain fats for cooking and baking is actually good for you. The question is which ones should you use?

Harmful Fat

  • Saturated fat. This fat comes from animal sources and is found in varying amounts in meat and dairy products. Saturated fat is also used in the manufacture of coconut oil, palm oil and palm kernel oil, the “tropical oils” that are standard ingredients of coffee creamers, whipped toppings and some snack foods. Cooking or baking at home? Keep in mind that butter is full of saturated fat. Saturated fat contributes to high cholesterol that can lead to cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, obesity and cancer.
  • Trans fat. This fat starts out as a liquid vegetable oil, but through a process called hydrogenation, changes to a solid. Processed food manufacturers often use trans fats in their products because they extend shelf life (on ingredient labels, trans fat is listed as “partially hydrogenated vegetable oil”). Trans fats are also sold as hard margarine and vegetable shortening for cooking and baking at home. Like saturated fat, trans fat contributes to high cholesterol and its associated health risks.

Healthier Fat

  • Polyunsaturated and Monounsaturated fats. These fats are found in fish, nuts, seeds and plants. Omega-3 fatty acids, which help reduce the risk of heart disease, stroke, joint pain and assorted skin ailments, are in this group. Polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats are also found in varying amounts in liquid vegetable cooking oils like canola, corn, olive, safflower, soybean and sunflower. These unsaturated fats are healthy fats because they help keep cholesterol levels low.

Cooking with Oils

  • Use liquid vegetable oils or nonfat cooking sprays whenever possible.
  • When frying, coat pans and food with cooking spray to seal the outside crust and encourage browning.
  • When cooking or making dressings, use the oils that are lowest in saturated fats, trans fats and cholesterol – such as canola oil, corn oil, olive oil, safflower oil, sesame oil, soybean oil and sunflower oil – but use them sparingly, because they contain 120 calories per tablespoon.
  • Stay away from coconut oil, palm oil and palm kernel oil. Even though they are vegetable oils and have no cholesterol, they are high in saturated fats.

The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which can be downloaded at the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) website, recommend consuming less than ten percent of calories from saturated fats by replacing them with foods high in polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats. The Guidelines also recommend limiting intake of trans fats by cutting consumption of partially hydrogenated products. In addition to enhancing your culinary efforts, using cooking oil in place of butter, lard, margarine and vegetable shortening can help you meet this goal.

[Janet Lubman Rathner]