Plant based oils often have larger amounts of healthy fats in the form of monounsaturated (MUFA) and polyunsaturated (PUFA) fatty acids. Like all fats these should be consumed in moderation, however the MUFAs and PUFAs can have significant benefits when they are used to replace saturated fats. Swapping fats may lead to lower cardiovascular risk, improved cholesterol, improve blood pressure and reduce inflammation.
There is a wide variety of plant and nut based oils on the market, each with their own unique flavor and fat profiles. The list below provides information and common uses for some of the more popular oils.
Canola Oil: High in MUFAs and PUFAs and low in saturated fats, this oil is versatile and able to replace butter and margarine in a variety of dishes. Canola oil is ideal for sautéing, stir-frying or baking. It can also be applied to a grill rack to prevent sticking.
Flaxseed Oil: This oil contains particular PUFAs that are considered to be heart healthy. Flaxseed oil has a lower smoke point, the temperature at which oil burns. Rather than using it to cook, combine it with herbs and vinegar for a nutty salad dressing.
Peanut Oil: This oil has a very high smoke point. Peanut oil is great for pan or deep-frying, however its distinct flavor also creates a unique dressing. Peanut oil is also a source of an antioxidant in the form of vitamin E.
Coconut Oil: This is the only oil listed that is solid at room temperature. It is largely composed of saturated fats. It has a high smoke point and creates tropical flavors for sautéing and stir-fry. Despite current health buzz, recommendations remain that saturated fats should not equal more than 7 percent of your daily calories. Consume in moderation.
Walnut Oil: Similar to flaxseed oil, this oil does not heat effectively. Walnut oil is created from pressed nuts so the heart healthy benefits of the omega-3 fats carries over. This oil is nutty and should be used to enhance flavor of dishes or dressings.
Grapeseed Oil: This oil is actually a byproduct of the wine making process. It contains mostly PUFAs and can withstand heat for stir-frying and sautéing. Due to its light, clean taste it also works well for infusions and as a replacement fat in baked goods.
Olive Oil: A staple in Mediterranean cooking, olive oil is excellent for most cooking purposes. Many varieties exist on the market. Extra-virgin olive oil provides a less acidic, more flavorful taste. Light olive oil only pertains to color and taste, however the calories remain the same.
Matt Edwards, dietetic intern from Northern Illinois University
Centegra Healthy Living Institute