How many of you grew up thinking oil was a bad thing? It conjures up images of pools of yellow slime on a pizza. Fair enough, but there are good oils and bad oils, with varying degrees of good fat and bad fat. Here’s the skinny on — and how to stay healthy eating — fats.
Fats are important for your body because they insulate your nerve cells, balance your hormones, protect you from cold, keep your skin and arteries supple and also lubricate your joints. Pure fats are found in three general areas: vegetable oils (corn, peanut, olive), meats (the white layer which outlines the cut of meat) and dairy products (butter, margarine). The type of fatty acids within each specific type of fat determines the character of the fat including how healthy it is.
Saturated fats (butter, dairy products, meat) are fats that remain solid at room temperature. Unsaturated fatty acids (vegetable oils) remain liquid at room temperature. Saturated fatty acids increase the levels of bad cholesterol (LDL) and clog the arteries. On the other hand, the unsaturated fatty acids increase the levels of good cholesterol (HDL) by taking the LDL to the liver to be broken down and removed from the body.
Your body can’t produce everything it needs on its own, which is why it’s essential to eat a balanced diet. Your body can’t produce essential fatty acids, which are divided into two groups – omega 3 and omega 6. Omega 6 is found in corn, sunflower, and soybean oils, while omega 3 is present in salmon, trout and tuna. That’s why Mediterranean diets rich in olive oil and fish produce really healthy, happy, long-living people.
A tablespoon of any plant-sourced oil contains about 120 calories and 14 grams of total fat. The nutritional value of different oils varies, along with the color, flavor and recommended cooking uses. Here are some guidelines according to Cooking Light magazine.
Lowest saturated fat of any oil. Neutral flavor and high smoke point (nearly 470 degrees) make it great for sautéing, baking and dressings. Fat profile: 7% sat, 64% mono, 28% poly
Long used in many Asian cuisines and loaded with saturated fat. But new studies suggest maybe it’s different and less harmful from other saturated fat, but this is still being debated. It stays solid at room temperature, making it a good alternative to butter for vegan baking. Use a small amount to impart a coconutty flavor to foods. Fat profile: 86% sat, 6% mono, 2% poly
This superstar oil is touted for its heart-healthy monounsaturated fatty acids and fabulous flavor. Use milder, cheaper (but still good) oils in cooking and save the more expensive, zesty kind for dipping and finishing. Taste and compare oils at stores to find your favorite. Fat profile: 14% sat, 73% mono, 11% poly.
Widely used in cosmetics for its vitamin E content, now a tasty addition to your kitchen. Its-true-to-the-nut flavor is as intense and its color. It’s pricey and best used for finishing and in dressings. Fat profile: 14% sat, 49% mono, 33% poly.
Refined Peanut Oil
Its high smoke point (450 degrees) allows less oil absorption by your food, making it a healthier deep-frying option. It contains reservatrol, a heart-healthy antioxidant also found in red wine. It has a mild, neutral flavor. Fat profile: 17% sat, 46% mono, 32% poly.
Toasted Sesame Oil
An almost equal balance of mono-and polyunsaturated fats. Start your stir-fry with a high-smoke-point oil like peanut, and then add sesame at the end for its rich, toasty flair. Fat profile: 14% sat, 40% mono, 42% poly.
Leader in polyunsaturated fat, which means omega-3s (14 grams per tablespoon). Its sublime flavor doesn’t hold up well when heated (nor do omega-3s). Use it as finishing oil over salads or fish. Fat profile: 9% sat, 23% mono, 63% poly.