All oils, including healthy oils, are concentrated fats from original food sources.
Here’s what you need to know:
How to spot healthy oils
There are two types of fats: saturated and unsaturated. All oils are made up of a combination of the two. Saturated fats usually come from animals and animal products, as well as some tropical sources. They are linked to heart disease and increasing LDL (bad) cholesterol. Oils high in saturated fats are solid at room temperature. Unsaturated fats can be broken down into monounsaturated or polyunsaturated. Oils high in unsaturated fats are liquid at room temperature.
• Monounsaturated fats lower total cholesterol and even help increase HDL (good) cholesterol.
• Polyunsaturated fats contain omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids. The healthier of these are omega-3 fatty acids, which are anti-inflammatory and improve blood flow and immunity levels.
• Polyunsaturated fats also lower total cholesterol, but there is no evidence that they affect good cholesterol.
There are also trans fats, which naturally come from animals and animal products, but are also artificially produced, often in commercial food production (most deep-fried food is cooked in oil that’s high in trans fats).Technically, because of their makeup, trans fats are unsaturated. But they don’t act that way in our bodies. They decrease good cholesterol and increase bad. They should be avoided.
Cooking with healthy oils
All oils have a smoke point — the temperature at which oils begins to burn and smoke — beyond which they should not be heated, or else they can recompose to contain higher levels of trans fats. This happens mostly with polyunsaturated oils that are higher in omega-6 fatty acids. Polyunsaturated oils higher in omega-3 fatty acids shouldn’t be heated at all, she says, because they will lose the value of the fatty acids as well. Monounsaturated oils are the best to use for cooking. Oils with a low smoke point are best to keep cold and use in dressings and marinades. Saturated oils, on the other hand, are best avoided completely. Since refined oils may be heated as they are processed, “another good rule of thumb is to buy unrefined, cold-pressed oils. They will be labeled.
A few more things to keep in mind
Peanut oil is difficult to categorize because it is made up of nearly equal parts monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fat. Technically it is monounsaturated, but it’s high in omega-6 and should be used sparingly. Extra virgin olive oil has a lower smoke point (320°F) than other types of olive oil (virgin, pomace and extra light – categorized as olive in the chart above). Canola is versatile and can be used in a variety of baking recipes as a substitution to coconut. The most important thing to pay attention to is the temperature. If you are baking below 350°F, it’s OK to use some of those corresponding lower smoke point oils.