Monday, 24 October 2011

Which are the Healthiest Cooking Oils?

A healthy cooking oil might seem to be a contradiction in terms. Whichever way you look at them, there’s no getting away from the fact that oil is 100% fat. And fat means calories, lots of them. Weight for weight, fat has over twice as many calories as protein or carbohydrate and most cooking oils have around 125 calories per 15ml tablespoon or 825 calories per 100ml.

However, all fats are not unhealthy. In fact, some are essential for our health and well being. The key to choosing the healthiest cooking oil is to look for those which have the greatest amount of healthy fats in the ingredients.

You’ll find a bewildering array of different types of cooking oils on the supermarket shelves these days. From the more popular vegetable oils, sunflower oils, Canola oils (US/Canada) and olive oils to exotic, specialist or infused oils including sesame oils, walnut oils, peanut oils, rice bran oils or almond oils.

So how do you know which cooking oils are the healthiest? Generally, oils, which are liquid at room temperature, rather than solid fats, such as lard, dripping or solid vegetable fat, have much lower levels of saturated fat, the unhealthy type of fat. But whichever you choose, all cooking oils are made from a combination of three types of fat – saturated fat, polyunsaturated fat and monounsaturated fat.

Saturated Fat: Bad fat

Solid Fats
Without a doubt, the most important aspect of your cooking oil from a health point of view, is how much saturated fat it contains. Saturated fat comes mainly from animal sources and some plant sources e.g. coconut oil or palm oil. It has no health benefits and eating large quantities is known to increase the risk of cardiovascular disease.

All cooking oils contain varying amounts of saturated fat, but those with the lowest amounts of saturated fats are vegetable oils (usually rapeseed oil), Canola oil, almond oil and walnut oil. Highest levels of saturated fats can be found in solid white fats such as lard, dripping and some vegetable fats.

Monounsaturated Fat: Good fat

Olive Oils
This is the healthiest type of fat. Studies show that eating a diet which is high in monounsaturates can help to reduce the risk of heart disease, as long as it’s included within moderation as part of a healthy diet. 

Monounsaturated fat is healthiest oil to cook with because it produces fewer free radicals (responsible for ageing and tissue damage) when heated. Oils which are high in monounsaturates include olive oil , sunflower oil, vegetable oils and Canola oil.

Polyunsaturated Fat: Good fat

Corn Oil
Polyunsaturated fat is also a healthy fat as it includes the essential fats - omega 3 and omega 6. We have to obtain these fats through our diet because we can’t manufacture them ourselves. They’re necessary for maintenance of a healthy immune system, brain functioning and growth. Oils with omega 3s include soybean, Canola, vegetable, walnut or flaxseed oil. Those with omega 6 include soybean oil, corn oil and safflower oil. Hemp seed oil is also very high in polyunsaturated fat.

Generally, the healthiest oils to cook with are vegetable oils (rapeseed) or Canola oil, sunflower oil and groundnut oil. Olive oil is the healthiest oil for using in other forms of cooking such as drizzled over food, dipping bread in or mixing into dips or dressings.

When choosing your cooking oil, check the nutrition label to compare the amounts of the three types of fat. Choose one which has the lowest amount of saturated fat compared with the monounsaturated or polyunsaturated fat.

Here is an example of the label on a bottle of groundnut oil which has 15.5g saturates, 48.7g monounsaturates and 23.4g polyunsaturates.

Typical Nutrition Label

Trans fats / Hydrogenated fats: Worst Fat

These are the most unhealthy fats and should be avoided as far as possible. While cooking oils generally don’t contain this fat, repeated re-use of oils can end up creating small amounts of trans fat. In the US, Canola oil may contain small amounts of trans fats but this may not appear on the nutrition label. You can read more about trans fats in cooking oils here.

In the chart below, you can see at a glance which oils have the highest and lowest amounts of the different fats.

Percentage of Fats in Oils

Remember, although some cooking oils are healthier than others, they all have roughly the same number of calories. So if you’re trying to cut down on your calorie and fat intake, use your cooking oil sparingly!

 © Diets and Calories 2011



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