Fitness Nutrition Forums

Burn the Midnight Oil, Not the Stuff You Cook With


Oils are essential to our well-being and are utilized by our bodies in a variety of ways. Oils are defined as fats that are liquid at room temperature. Oils include vegetable cooking oil and the oils found in nuts, olives, avocados, fish and animal fats. You want to consume oils that are high in monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats because these provide vitamins and help you absorb fat soluble vitamins A, D, E and K. They also supply essential fatty acids that are needed for growth and the health of our skin, brain and nervous system. Oils are a calorie-dense food, at 120 calories per tablespoon (about the same as solid fats such as margarine/butter) and you need to limit how much you consume to stay within your daily goals.

One really important thing to consider about which oil you want to consume is how you will use it to prepare food. When cooking with oil you need to keep in mind the smoke point of which oil you are using because oils all have a variety of temperatures at which they begin to smoke. When oil starts to smoke or reach the smoke point, the properties of the oil change. At the smoke point, oil oxidation occurs and carcinogenic free radicals form. So some oils are better for high-heat cooking and others for low-heat cooking, dressings or added flavor.

The more refined an oil is, the higher the smoke point for the oil. For easy assessment, you can look at the color of the oil, the lighter the color the higher the smoke point. Vegetable oils have higher smoke points than animal fats and oils, with the exception of hydrogenated vegetable shortening. Remember high smoke point = good for cooking. Low smoke point = good for dressing.

All of the following oils have a variety of benefits and health effects. Vegetable oils do not have cholesterol but still have varying amounts of other fats including saturated, polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats. You also want to include fats that contain omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, since these fats are associated with heart health. Omega-3 fatty acids are found in soybean oil, flaxseed oil and canola oil, as well as walnuts. Omega-6 fatty acids are found in soybean, safflower and corn oils.

Coconut Oil

This oil is high in saturated fat, and relatively low in mono and polyunsaturated fats, which limits it from being the healthiest choice. Its medium smoke point and strong flavor are good for cooking a variety of foods. It also has iron, vitamin E and K.

Canola Oil

Canola is popular for its mild flavor and that is it is a good source of both mono and polyunsaturated fats. It is also low in saturated fat and contains omega-3 fatty acids. It is a good oil to use for cooking, frying and baking since it has a medium-high smoke point.

Palm Oil

This oil is from the fruit of the palm tree and unless it is refined, this oil may be red from the high beta-carotene content found in the fruit. This oil has a mild flavor and a high smoke point. But this oil is low in mono and polyunsaturated fats and high in saturated fat, making it one of the unhealthier choices.

Safflower Oil

This oil is rich in vitamin E and is a good source of monounsaturated fats. Safflower oil is often refined, and therefore has a high smoke point for cooking foods. Use this oil when you want to stir-fry or bake foods on high heat.

Sunflower Oil

This oil is a favorite in many places in the world. It has a mild flavor and a high smoke point so you can cook almost anything in this oil. Around the world, this oil tends to be one of the cheaper choices. It is a good source of mono and polyunsaturated fats and is low in saturated fat. It is also a good source of the fat soluble vitamins E and K.

Olive Oil

When reading labels for olive oil, there is often confusion. You want to look for labels that read "Extra Virgin Olive Oil" or "Pure Olive Oil." These are usually the least refined and best tasting olive oils. Olive oil that reads "Light" is describing the light color of the oil, not the fat content. Basic virgin olive oil is second best, but often more affordable because it is derived from a mixture of vegetable oils.

Olive Oil (Extra Virgin and Virgin): Strong flavor, medium high smoke point, good source of fat-soluble vitamins E and K, low in saturated fat and a good source of mono and polyunsaturated fats.
Olive Oil (light/refined): milder flavor but still a good source of mono and polyunsaturated fats and low in saturated fat. This oil is popular because it has a high smoke point which makes it one of the best oils to use for high-heat frying, searing or browning of foods.

Flaxseed Oil

Flaxseed Oil needs to be refrigerated and is highly perishable, so you will need to use it quickly before it expires. This oil has a strong flavor and is low in saturated fat. It is one of the best oils to consume for omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids and is also a good source of mono and polyunsaturated fats. This oil is very low on the smoke point scale and should be used more for dressings or flavoring than for frying foods.

Grape Seed Oil

Sometimes Grape seed oil can be very expensive, but its mild flavor and medium-high smoke point are a selling point. It is a good source of omega-6 fatty acids, mono and polyunsaturated fats and low in saturated fat.

Peanut Oil

This oil has a medium-high smoke point, low in saturated fat and is still a good source of mono and polyunsaturated fats, although not as good as olive oil or sunflower oil.

Sesame Oil

This oil has a very strong flavor that adds to the traditional flavors of many ethnic cuisines. It is low in saturated fat, a good source of mono and polyunsaturated fats and is high in antioxidants. It has a medium smoke point, so use it for low-heat baking, sauces or light sautéing.

Soybean Oil

This oil is usually one of the more inexpensive oils and has a high smoke point. It has a mild flavor combined with it being a good source of omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin E. It is also a good source of polyunsaturated fats. Be careful to check the bottle during purchasing to see that you are not buying soybean oil that has been hydrogenated, thereby limiting the trans-fats in your diet.


Portion Your Plate to Control Your Weight

Emily DeLacey MS, RD is a Registered Dietitian and currently working in Jamaica as a HIV/ AIDS Prevention Specialist. She attended Central Washington University for her Bachelor's Degree in Science and Dietetics and continued on after her internship to Kent State University for her Master's Degree in Science and Nutrition, with a focus on public health and advocacy. She served as a U.S. Peace Corps Volunteer in Malawi 12'-14' working as a Community Health Advisor in a rural village, immersing in the joys of life without electricity or running water. She has been to 20+ countries and 47 of the 50 states in the US. Traveling, adventuring and experiencing new cultures has made her a passionate advocate for the equality of nutrition and wellness for all people.

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