There is an array of oils on our supermarket shelves these days, each with a label proclaiming the various different health benefits.
But how can we make the right choices? It is important to know the chemical structure of the oil and how it changes once it is heated. Each oil also has different variety of fats like saturated, unsaturated, monounsaturated, polyunsaturated etc.
Oil is a rich source of essential fats and fat soluble vitamins like Vitamin E that we need in small amount every day. Although the overall amount of fat in the diet (total intake of all types of fat from all sources) will contribute to calorie intake and energy balance, the type of fat could be important for weight management. Diets rich in monounsaturated fats like the Mediterranean diet have been associated with lower rates of obesity.
Many people frequently use excess oil when cooking, either unintentionally or because they believe it will enhance the flavour of the food. However, oil is highly calorific, and rings in at approximately nine calories per gram, which amounts to about 120 calories per tablespoon.
How do you pick the best?
How do you make healthy choices when it comes to oil? There is often a focus on one source of fat, but it is beneficial to choose an oil that contains a variety of fats.
Opt for unsaturated fat whenever possible. It has been shown that unsaturated fat can promote a more favourable blood lipid profile (Lipid is another word for fats). Good examples of unsaturated fats are rapeseed oil and olive oil. They are good for your salad dressing or medium heat cooking.
Avoid trans-fat as much as possible. This fat is produced when food is processed. Trans-fat increases the flavour and shelf life of foods. However, it also increases the levels of LDL, or bad cholesterol, and reduces the levels of HDL, or good cholesterol. Always look for hydrogenated oils on labels to identify trans fats.
Know your common fats
Unsaturated oils are found in canola oil, corn oil, cottonseed oil, olive oil, safflower oil, soybean oil, sunflower oil, walnut oil, sesame oil and rapeseed oil.
Saturated fats are found in butter, milk fat, beef fat, chicken fat, lard and stick margarine.
Unsaturated fats can be found in nuts, olives, avocados and oily fish.
Monounsaturated fats can be found in nuts, olives, avocados. Polyunsaturated oil such as omega 3s can be found in oily fish (salmon, trout, herring, mackerel) and plant sources include walnuts, flaxseeds and hempseeds
Each oil works differently when heated. While some oils are good for high heat frying and stir frying, some are better for salads and dips. Let’s look at the three different types of oil:
High smoke point
Coconut oil and palm oil fall in the category of saturated fats and they are the most stable during cooking, as their structure doesn’t change when overheated. Other examples of high smoke point oil are avocado oil, almond oil, corn oil, soybean oil, peanut oil, sesame oil and safflower oil.
Moderately high smoke point
Good examples of this type of oil are extra virgin olive oil, canola oil and grapeseed oil.
Low smoke point
Flaxseed oil and walnut oil are best used for salads, dressings and dips. They can turn carcinogenic once overheated.
Focus on getting a variety of oil in your diet. Wholefoods should provide the majority of the essential fatty acid requirements, as opposed to added oils in processed foods and oil used during cooking. When it comes to cooking, choose high smoke point oil and watch the portion sizes. Avoid unhealthy cooking methods like deep fat frying. Measure out oil using cutlery (teaspoons/ tables spoons) and avoid free pouring out from the bottle onto salads which can add excess amounts of calories.
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