Extracted from olives, nuts and other plants, vegetable oils supply key essential fats, along with a host of nutrients and other health-boosting compounds. Here’s a guide to selecting the best oils to meet your cooking (and health) needs.
Pressed from the whole avocado fruit, this versatile oil has a very high smoking point, making it great for high heat cooking (frying, sautéing and baking.) Like olive oil, avocado oil is rich in heart-healthy monounsaturated fats and vitamin E, which helps protect your body cells from aging and related diseases, such as cancer. Studies show that when used in salad dressings, avocado oil helps boost absorption of carotenes and other nutrients from vegetables.
This popular cooking oil is extracted from a plant that is a cousin to mustard greens. Canola oil is very rich in monounsaturated fats (which studies show help lower artery-clogging LDL levels) and supplies a small amount of essential heart-healthy omega-3 fats. Numerous studies show that consistently using canola oil for cooking and in dressings helps lower rates of heart disease. And thanks to canola oil’s high smoking point and neutral flavor, this oil is versatile in all types of cooking, baking and frying.
Unprocessed coconut oil (often called “virgin”) has a nutty-sweet taste, like coconut! It’s very rich in saturated fats (in fact, even more so than butter), which is why coconut oil is solid at room temperature. It does supply some antioxidants that come from the coconut meat itself. Studies show that some saturated fats, such as the type in coconut oil, may be less harmful to blood cholesterol levels — but the jury is still out. Coconut oil’s flavour makes it a great addition to baked goods. Or use a small amount when sautéing vegetables.
This light-coloured oil can be heated to high temps (just over 200ºC) before smoking. It’s also great in salad dressings or for making oil “infusions” (just add herbs, such as rosemary and sage or garlic to a bottle and allow it to flavour the oil). Grapeseed oil is a rich source of the essential fat linoleic (or omega-6). Some studies have shown that substituting this oil for saturated fats, such as butter, leads to lower circulating cholesterol levels and higher levels of the heart-healthy cholesterol carrier called HDL.
Food historians believe that people have been using olive oil since 5,000 B.C. Extra-virgin olive oil is made from the first pressing of olives and is rich in phenols called hydroxytryrosol and oleuropein. These antioxidant compounds give the oil its beautiful green hue and rich taste. They also have been shown to combat inflammation that may lead to heart disease and help keep LDL cholesterol from damaging artery walls. It’s best not to cook with this oil at high temperatures (doing so alters the phenolic compounds and gives the oil an off taste). Enjoy it in vegetable sautés, drizzled on pasta or added to dressings for salads.
Dark sesame oil is made from toasting the tiny seeds prior to oil extraction, which enhances the rich, sesame flavour. Sesame oil supplies an array of antioxidants and a 50/50 blend of heart-healthy monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. With its very distinctive flavor, sesame oil makes a great addition to Asian and Indian cuisine (like stir fries), as well as dressings and dips.
This oil has a very delicate and nutty taste best used in dressing or tossed with pasta so that its distinctive flavour isn’t overpowered. Walnut oil supplies a mix of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats (with a decent amount of essential omega-3 fats.) Due to this fat blend, walnut oil is very susceptible to going rancid - light, oxygen and heat may damage its nutritional attributes, too, so it’s best stored in a dark container in the refrigerator.