When you think of vegetable oil, you may picture the jugs of oil commonly found at grocery stores used for deep frying foods. Vegetable oil actually encompasses a much more extensive range of oils.
Which vegetable oils are the healthiest, and how can you incorporate them into your diet?
About Vegetable Oil
The name is a little misleading, as vegetable oil doesn’t always come from vegetables. It is extracted from different types of fruits, seeds, grains, and nuts. Vegetable oil comes in many varieties for many cooking purposes. The healthiest vegetable oils are:
Even the healthiest oils should be used in moderation since they are high in calories and primarily fat. When cooking with vegetable oils, consider the different types of fat.
Saturated fats. Saturated fats usually come from animal sources like lard and butter. They lead to higher cholesterol levels in your blood, putting you at risk for heart and cardiovascular diseases. When choosing an oil, look for one that is low in saturated fat.
Trans fats. Similar to saturated fat, trans fat contributes to an increased risk of heart and cardiovascular diseases. These fats are from foods that are high in hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils, such as processed food. These should be avoided when possible.
Monounsaturated fats. These are also called omega-9 fatty acid and oleic acid. Monounsaturated fats contribute to good cholesterol levels and reduce your risk of heart and cardiovascular diseases. Olive oil, canola oil, sunflower oil, hazelnut oil, and almond oil are all known for being high in monounsaturated fats.
Polyunsaturated fats. These are also called omega-3 and omega-6 acids. This type of fat helps to maintain cell membranes that regulate your body’s processes, like managing cholesterol metabolism in your bloodstream. Polyunsaturated fats also help your body absorb the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K.
How Is Vegetable Oil Produced?
Some oils, like olive oil, are simple to make. Olives only need to be crushed, and the resulting oil is filtered and ready for use. Other oils have more complicated processes. Plants, nuts, and seeds are crushed to produce their oil, which sometimes requires a chemical for complete extraction. The leftover solids are used for feeding animals and livestock.
Refining: Next, the oil gets treated with phosphoric acid, separating any gums from the oil. The oil also has to be treated with caustic soda, which removes free fatty acids that could give oil a soapy consistency.
Bleaching: After refinement, oil is heated and mixed with filter aids that serve to absorb any colors and impurities in the oil. These add-ins are removed after they've done their job.
Deodorizing: Finally, oil is heated to 480 degrees F. beneath a vacuum. This process produces steam bubbles that remove any remaining free fatty acids and impurities. Once deodorizing is complete, the oil is ready to be packaged and used in your kitchen.
Understanding How Vegetable Oil Contributes to Health
Your body needs fats to function, but they should be consumed in moderation. Small amounts are sufficient. Foods that are high in saturated and trans fats may progress health conditions like autoimmune diseases, cancer, and heart disease. These fats also lead to insulin resistance, and potentially diabetes.
Consider your entire diet. Oil contains nine calories per gram, while proteins and carbohydrates have four calories per gram. Even healthier oils like avocado and olive oil are still fats. Your fat intake should represent no more than 25%-35% of your calories each day. Also, keep in mind that foods processed to be lower in fat often have added sugar and salt for flavor. These may not be ideal swaps.
Choose nutrient-dense oils. There’s no doubt that certain oils can contribute positively to your health. Olive oil may lower LDL bad cholesterol while also raising HDL good cholesterol levels. Olive oil also has other great nutrients like beta carotene and vitamins A, E, D, and K.
Think about how you cook with oil. If you tend to use oil for deep-frying, your food absorbs more oil. Instead, try sautéing with a lesser amount of oil. Over time, the high heat from frying also promotes free radicals that may increase your risk for skin cancer.
A good rule is to remember that all oils safe for use at very high cooking temperatures should be consumed as little as possible. Vegetable oil uses extend past the stove and oven, and can be enjoyed in things like dressings.