seared tuna and salad
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Why Cook With Fat, Anyway?

Fat's not all bad! Fat makes foods juicy and tender. It adds flavor and texture to what you cook. It also prevents sticking and gives baked goods their flakiness and sauces their silkiness. You do need to limit fat. But cut all the fat out of your diet, and you'll miss out on taste and even some health benefits.

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oil in frying pan
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What's a Smoke Point?

A smoke point is the temperature at which oil starts to smoke. It may also burn. The hotter your pan, the higher your oil's "smoke point" should be. For grilling or searing, try avocado or sunflower oil. For frying, try canola or peanut oil.

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veggie stir fry in wok
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Avoid a Grease Trap

Heat the oil well -- so it's shimmering, not smoking -- and then add your food to the pan. Go light on the breading when you're sautéing or pan-frying. That way, the food absorbs less oil. Don't let food cool off in the pan, or your food will soak up oil like a vacuum, becoming too greasy. Remove food from the pan as soon as it's cooked, and drain or blot it.

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blueberry muffins
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Best for Baking

Grape-seed, olive, peanut, and canola oils all have high smoke points. And they're healthy, too! Use them in baking recipes for muffins, cookies, or dense cakes. They can also be used for oven-roasting or stir-frying. Macadamia nut oil has a stronger flavor, but also works well for stir-frying and roasting.

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pumpkin seed oil
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Light-Duty Oils

Corn, hemp, pumpkin seed, sesame, soybean, and walnut oils all work well in low-temperature baking recipes (like granola), for light or quick sautés, and for sauces.

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olive oil on salad
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On Top of a Salad

Fruity or nutty-flavored oils such as toasted sesame, extra-virgin olive, avocado, and walnut oil, taste great in salad dressings. To make your own dressing, add 3-4 parts oil to 1 part wine vinegar or lemon juice. Then add salt, pepper, and flavors like garlic or shallots to taste. Put the dressing in a small jar with a tight lid and shake it.

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olive and oil
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EVOO vs. Regular Olive Oil

The main differences between extra-virgin olive oil (EVOO) and other olive oils are taste and processing. EVOO has less acid than other kinds, so it's considered the highest-quality olive oil. The amount of fat and calories are the same in all olive oils. You might find lower-quality olive oils to be tasteless compared to EVOO.

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kale saute
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For the Perfect Sauté

For sautés, choose a neutral-flavored oil -- like canola, olive, grape-seed, rice bran, safflower, or peanut oil -- that can hold up to medium or high heat. Olive oil stands up to strong-flavored greens like spinach and broccoli rabe and also dishes seasoned with onion or garlic.

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tablespoon of olive oil
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Don't Guess: Measure the Oil

You might use more oil than you need. Too much oil adds calories and may affect how your food tastes. You probably need only 1 tablespoon of oil or other fat to sauté 3 to 4 servings of meat or fish in a 10-inch skillet.

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cooking oil spray
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When a Spritz Will Do

Spray oil like Pam is good for baking and quick sautéing. You can cover a pan with a little bit of fat. Spray oils contain an ingredient that keeps food from sticking to the pan. But that ingredient, lecithin, can gum up at high heat. So if you're grilling, choose a spray that works in high heat.

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homemade biscuits
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Fats for Flavor and Flakiness

To reach "flaky" perfection in biscuits or piecrusts, you might use a solid fat like butter, lard, or vegetable shortening. You may also have recipes that taste better with a dollop of bacon fat or duck fat. But these fats are the unhealthy kind. Replacing them with low-fat margarine may not work or taste the same. So save these treats for special occasions.

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butter curl
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Salted vs. Unsalted Butter

Most Americans prefer the taste of salted butter. But for the best flavor in cooking, use unsalted butter and add small amounts of salt only as needed. Adding the salt yourself gives you more control over flavor. You'll find you don't need much!

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ghee
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Butter, but Better

Cook unsalted butter until it foams, strain away the milk solids, and you have drawn (or clarified) butter. It has a much higher smoke point than regular butter, making it good for pan-frying. Traditional ghee is a lot like drawn butter, but cooked a little longer. It's popular in Indian cuisine.

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Sources | Medically Reviewed on 10/12/2015 Reviewed by Kathleen M. Zelman, MPH, RD, LD on October 12, 2015

IMAGES PROVIDED BY:

(1)    Healthy Food Images
(2)    Dave King / Dorling Kindersley
(3)    Funkystock / Pixtal
(4)    Ally T / Flickr Collection / Getty
(5)    Maximilian Stock Ltd.
(6)    Image Source
(7)    ZenShui / Michele Constantini
(8)    Andrew Scrivani / Healthy Food Images
(9)    istockphoto
(10)    Daniel Hurst / Pixtal
(11)    Paul Poplis / FoodPix
(12)    Steve Taylor / Stone
(13)    Carol R. Vanselow / age fotostock

SOURCES:

Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: "The Differences Between Olive Oils," "Olive Oil: Fruity, Flavorful … and Confusing."
Cleveland Clinic: "Heart-Healthy Cooking: Oils 101."
Paula Figoni, culinary nutrition professor, Johnson & Wales University.
Frankel, E. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, Feb. 9, 2011.
Innis, S. The Journal of Nutrition, April 2007.
Joachim, D. The Science of Good Food: the Ultimate Reference on How Cooking Works, Robert Rose Inc., 2008.
David Kamen, chef/instructor, Culinary Institute of America.
University of California at Davis: "What Is Extra Virgin Olive Oil?"
University of Nebraska at Lincoln: "Make an Olive Oil Salad Dressing."

Reviewed by Kathleen M. Zelman, MPH, RD, LD on October 12, 2015

This tool does not provide medical advice. See additional information.

THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment and should not be relied on to make decisions about your health. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the WebMD Site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.