6 Cooking Oils Explained: What to Use, What to Avoid
When it comes to heart health, extra-virgin olive oil is a pantry staple. But there’s a crop of trendy oils popping up at farmers’ markets, in specialty grocery stores, and on your foodie friend’s shelf. So, what are the new choices, and how do they compare to your heart-healthy favorite? Here’s an explainer.
First, you should stick to the guidelines your doctor gave you. Your body needs some fat, but fat is rich in calories (9 calories per gram), and some types of fat are healthier than others. It's possible to get too much, even of the "good" fats. Your doctor, or a registered dietitian, can let you know what limits you should follow.
Also, know that each oil has a unique chemical makeup, so some will be more suited for sauteing, some for searing, and others for no-heat preparations, like salad dressings. When cooking, always keep in mind an oil’s smoke point -- that’s the temperature at which the oil begins to smoke and produce dangerous fumes and free radicals. Generally, the more refined the oil, the higher the smoke point.
If you’re looking for a distinctive, nutty flavor to add to a recipe, almond oil is tasty and typically low in saturated fat. Recent studies show that a diet rich in almonds may help reduce blood pressure.
Cooking Tip: With its high smoke point, almond oil is good for searing and browning as well as on salads.
2. Avocado oil
A diet rich in avocados may lower blood pressure and offer cholesterol-lowering benefits similar to olive oil.
Whole avocados have magnesium, which has blood pressure-lowering properties, and potassium, which lessens the effect of sodium in the body. But it's not clear yet if the same is true for avocado oil.
Cooking Tip: This oil has a high smoke point, making it perfect for searing and browning, and on salads.
3. Canola oil
It doesn’t have as much blood pressure-lowering omega-3 as extra-virgin olive oil, but canola oil boasts one of the lowest levels of saturated fats. That can make it a good choice to help your heart health.
Cooking Tip: This oil has a medium-high smoke point. Use it for baking, oven cooking, and stir-frying.
4. Coconut oil
The buzz on this tasty, trendy oil is that it may have disease-preventing properties, but the blood pressure-conscious should beware: This oil packs the highest amount of saturated fat. It’s easy to be tempted by a great flavor boost, but too much saturated fat is a heart health no-no. Stick with traditional, nontropical vegetable oils. Olive and canola are better options.
Cooking Tip: If you want to give coconut oil a try, use it sparingly for light sauteing, low-heat baking, and in sauces. It has a medium smoke point.
5. Nut oils
Walnuts, pumpkins, pecans, and other nutty oils are showing up on fine dining menus and even grocery shelves. All of them contain healthy fats for heart health benefits, including lowering blood pressure.
Cooking Tip: These are no-heat oils that aren’t great for cooking. Use them moderately in dressings.
6. Flaxseed and wheat germ oils
These seed-based oils are rich in omega-3 and omega-6, which may help lower blood pressure.
Cooking Tip: These are no-heat oils, making them good choices for salad dressings and dips. Just be sure to watch your portions.