September 22, 2016

How to choose a cooking oil

Are you ever overwhelmed by the variety of cooking oils available? Or maybe you’ve been confused by discussions that go back and forth as to whether an oil is healthy or not.

Cooking oils fall into three categories of fats: monounsaturated/polyunsaturated, saturated, and hydrogenated.

Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats are healthy in moderation. They come from plants and nuts, and help lower bad cholesterol and the risk of heart disease.

Saturated fats should be limited. These can lower good cholesterol and increase your risk of heart disease and stroke.

Hydrogenated oils should be avoided because they lower good cholesterol and can increase the risk of heart disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes. Hydrogenated oils are made through a chemical process through which hydrogen is added to liquid oils to make them solid, which increases their shelf life.

Unsaturated oils, such as canola and olive oil, may already be part of your daily cooking routine, but there are many other monounsaturated or polyunsaturated options available.

What to look for

Before making your selection at the store, check the labels to be sure you are buying high-quality oils. Keep an eye out for terms like virgin (and extra-virgin if you’re using olive oil), organic, cold-pressed, unfiltered or unrefined. Each of these terms certifies the oil is a quality, nutritious and sustainable product.

In addition, check the ingredients. For example, some olive oils are loaded with different types of oils, including both unrefined and refined oils. These mixed oils aren’t as nutritious as pure extra-virgin olive oil, because they can increase chronic inflammation. Chronic inflammation has been tied to many diseases including cancer, cardiovascular disease, metabolic syndrome, diabetes, Alzheimer’s and arthritis.

Smoke point is another factor to consider. That’s the temperature at which a cooking fat stops shining and starts smoking. Past a certain point, the fat begins to break down and release harmful free radicals and toxins.

Choosing the right oil for the job

To best understand oils and their attributes, we’ve created this infographic to debunk the mystery of culinary oils and provide you with information to help you make the healthiest choices you can the next time you’re shopping for oils.