Read almost any recipe, and one of the first ingredients you’ll see is oil. With so many types available, you may be confused about which one is the best to use. While fat got a bad reputation years ago, our bodies rely on fat for energy, cell growth and the absorption of nutrients. In fact, according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, fat should make up between 20 to 35 percent of your diet. But choosing the right fats is important for your health.
Polyunsaturated fats. Also known as PUFA’s, these fats are liquid at room temperature and include oils like safflower, flaxseed, grape seed, sunflower and corn. Polyunsaturated fats can help reduce LDL cholesterol levels, which can lower your risk of heart disease and stroke. They also contribute vitamin E to the diet, an antioxidant that most American’s need more of.
Monounsaturated fats. Also liquid at room temperature, monounsaturated fats are found in olive oil, avocado oil and canola oil. These fats have also been shown to lower your risk of cardiovascular disease by lowering LDL cholesterol.
Another thing to keep in mind when choosing an oil is the temperature you’ll be using to cook your food. Oils have smoke points, which is the temperature that the fat begins to breakdown and release damaging free radicals. Canola and avocado oil are very versatile oils and can be used for sautéing, baking and grilling due to their high smoke points of 400°F and 480°F, respectively. Olive oil has a lower smoke point of 375°F, so it is best for low heat cooking or used in salad dressings and spreads.
While all fats are higher in calories per volume (9 calories per gram of fat), their beneficial properties and protection again heart disease make them important to include in your meals. Try using mono and polyunsaturated fats over saturated fats as often as possible. Saturated fats are solid at room temperature and include sources like butter, coconut oil, palm oil and lard. They are commonly found in baked goods, highly processed foods and fried foods. Saturated fat consumption increases LDL cholesterol levels, increasing your risk for cardiovascular disease.
So the next time you’re at the grocery store, check out the oils and consider keeping two on hand in your kitchen. One that you can use for lower temperature cooking, and one that stands up well to higher heat. You’ll be able to swap most oils for any recipe that you come across, making them a versatile staple in your kitchen. Learn more about Wellness Workdays and our wellness program offerings by downloading our brochure.
Written by: Jessica Favazza Wellness Workdays Dietetic Intern.
1. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics
2. Today's Dietitian
5. American Heart Association