A quick guide to cooking with different oils

How can you make oils a healthy part of your diet? Here's what you should know before you start cooking with oils.

A quick guide to cooking with different oils

Comparing the different oils

Oils contain varying amounts of saturated, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids.

  • Saturated fats tend to raise levels of artery-clogging LDL (low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol.
  • Polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats tend to lower LDL cholesterol, especially when they replace saturated fats in the diet. This is the reason people who are concerned about cholesterol are encouraged to avoid most saturated fats and replace them with mono and polyunsaturates.
  • The saturated fatty acids mostly responsible for raising cholesterol are lauric, myristic and palmitic acids.
  • Coconut, cottonseed, palm and palm kernel oils all contain high levels of these damaging fatty acids.
  • Palm, palm kernel and coconut oils, like animal fats, are solid at room temperature and are highly saturated.
  • The best all-purpose dietary oils are canola, corn, olive, peanut, safflower, soybean and sunflower oils, which contain predominantly mono and/or polyunsaturated fats with very low levels of saturated fats.

Oil in margarine, shortening and butter

  • Oils used to make margarines and shortenings are often hydrogenated to give them a solid consistency and increase their shelf life. The hydrogenation process creates trans fatty acids, which act similarly to saturated fats by raising detrimental LDL cholesterol levels and lowering HDL levels.
  • Many margarines are now non-hydrogenated and are better for cholesterol watchers than butter.
  • About 20 percent of the fat in hard margarine and 13 percent of the fat in soft margarine is saturated; both of these products have much less than the 68 percent saturated fat content of butter, which is also high in cholesterol.

Using oils in cooking

  • Monitor your oil consumption by buying single-source oils, such as pure canola or pure olive, rather than blended oils.
  • Read labels: a blended oil often has an overwhelming proportion of the cheapest and probably least healthful oil mentioned, with only a token amount of the more expensive, better-quality oil.
  • Check labels, too, for the oil content of processed commercial foods, especially baked goods. If a label states "Contains one or more of the following oils: corn, safflower or coconut," the product is probably made only with coconut oil because it's the least expensive of the three listed oils.
  • Oils add a distinctive flavour and texture to salads and sauces. Along with marga­rines, they can replace dairy fats in many baking recipes.
  • Oils are almost indispensable in the preparation of foods for grilling, broiling and roasting.
  • When frying, keep oil absorption low by making sure the oil is at the correct temperature before you add raw foods. Use an oil thermometer if you find it hard to judge the temperature. Before serving fried foods, drain off any excess oil on paper towels or bags.
  • Dip your bread in olive oil instead of using butter. You'll consume about 50 fewer calories — and very little saturated fat.

Flavoured oils

The range of flavoured oils now available include sesame, olive, virgin olive, cold-pressed extra virgin olive, peanut, walnut, sunflower, hazelnut, garlic, chili oil and more.

  • If you like to make flavoured oils by adding herbs, garlic or other ingredients, keep them refrigerated, and throw them out after two days.
  • Oil can support the growth of the bacterium that causes botulism, which is potentially fatal.
  • Commercially prepared flavoured oils usually contain additives that prevent bacteria from growing.

Adding oil to your diet has never been easier! Keep this quick guide in mind and try cooking with oil today.

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