Some of us rarely sway from olive, others have several varieties stocked in the cupboard to use with different cuisines and then there are the health nuts who swear by coconut – with all the oils available at the supermarket, how on earth do you choose the right one? A couple of teaspoons of the right type of oil can offer a number of health benefits, and from a flavour perspective, the right oil served with the right dish can make or break your favourite recipe. So, keeping this in mind, here is the ultimate guide to oils, for all your cooking and health needs.
When considering which oil is best for you, the most important thing to remember is that cooking oils are made up of different combinations of the 3 different types of fat – saturated, unsaturated and polyunsaturated. Some oils have better good fat to bad fat ratios than others, but it is also good to know that the majority of oils still contain some saturated fat, the type of fat we need to limit in our diet. Olive oil for example, consists largely of the heart healthy monounsaturated fat, but it still contains some saturated fat. For this reason we still need to control the total amount of fat we add into our diets and for most of us, just a couple of teaspoons or 10-20g of added oil a day is all we need.
The oil with one of the highest proportions of monounsaturated fat and lowest proportion of saturated fat, olive oil is the staple of the heart healthy Mediterranean Diet and adds a rich flavour and nutrition boost to salads, pastas and roasted dishes. The fat balance of olive oil favours cooking at lower temperatures or an even better option is to use your olive oil fresh as a base for salad dressings and marinades. The fresher the olive oil, the higher the antioxidant content so replace your olive oil every 2-3 months. Also keep in mind that ‘light’ varieties are not lighter in fat or calories, only flavour so keep mindful of your serving sizes.
Another oil that is high in monounsaturated fat with the added benefit of being a good source of the plant source of omega 3’s, canola oil is a great option for frying and cooking at high temperatures and has a light flavour so does not dominate the flavour of the dishes being cooked. Canola oil is also relatively cheap so is a good staple to keep in the cupboard for stir fries or BBQ’s. A great option is a ‘spray’ variety of canola oil which can be kept on hand to quickly use for frying meat, eggs or stir fries with the added benefit of portion control.
Sunflower oil is available in both a blend of polyunsaturated oil and a monounsaturated variety. From a health perspective, both types of oil have been shown to help reduce the ‘bad’ cholesterol in the bloodstream and from both a price and cooking perspective sunflower oil is very similar to canola oil and will respond well to cooking at high temperatures.
Rice Bran Oil
Sourced from the germ of the inner husk of rice and heavily promoted as a ‘healthy’ oil to use for cooking in high temperatures, while rice bran oil is high in long chain, polyunsaturated fats, it also has a relatively high proportion of saturated fat. Particularly high in Vitamin E and also linked to a reduction in the symptoms of menopause, rice bran oil cooks well at both high and low temperatures but has a distinct flavour that can be noticeable in cooking.
The current flavour of the month when it comes it oils, it is commonly thought that the type of fats found in coconut oil are less likely to be stored than other types of cooking oil. While coconut oil does contain some of the short chain fats which are processed through the liver, coconut oil is primarily made up of saturated fat, the type of fat that deposits fat into the arteries so the health benefits being claimed appear largely unfounded.
Another type of oil packed with heart healthy monounsaturated fats, avocado oil is packed full of the fat soluble vitamins A, D and E and best used for dressings and with salads.
Of all the oils available in the supermarket, vegetable oil is one type best avoided. Vegetable oil is usually a mix of different types of oil including palm oil, a fat that is exceptionally high in saturated fat with as much as 50% being saturated A much better option is to invest in a specific vegetable oil such as sesame, peanut or canola so you know the exact type of oil you are getting.
A great option nutritionally with low saturated fat levels and choc full of the long chain polyunsaturated fats, sesame oil adds wonderful flavour to Asian dishes and stir fries and is best used for frying. Some people are allergic to sesame so always check with guest before using this oil when catering for others.
Another great option for Asian dishes, peanut oil primarily consists of monounsaturated fats but is also slightly higher in saturated fat than olive, canola and sunflower oil. Best used for cooking in high temperatures but always check for peanut allergies before using this one.
Primarily consisting of monounsaturated fats with very little polyunsaturated fat, macadamia oil is a great option health wise but tends to be a little expensive and also has a strong nutty flavour - for this reason, save it for salads.