Choosing the right cooking oil: What takes heat, what fills you up

Hemera

With every new health report and every new must-try recipe, there is another cooking oil conundrum. From canola to coconut, there are so many types of cooking oil to choose from. Some have a high smoke point, while others form potentially unhealthy compounds in the presence of heat. Ellie Krieger, author of Weeknight Wonders, explains how to use five types of oil.

1. Olive oil: Its aroma might help you feel fuller


One olive oil I use is a really full-flavored, cold-pressed, extra-virgin olive oil that really does not take heat very well. I don't use that for cooking, I just use that for salads and for finishing dishes.

The thing that’s really neat about it is that this type of oil has the most antioxidants. So besides having that great fat profile where you have all those wonderful monounsaturated fats that most of us need more of, you also get antioxidant power. Interestingly, there's research that shows that antioxidant power can help you absorb other nutrients, and also the aroma itself can help add to your satisfaction.

One study that I read really seemed to support that this ultimately has an effect of leading you to feel more satisfied while potentially eating fewer calories. It is truly aroma therapy in helping you get the most sensuousness out of your food without overeating.

2. Canola oil: A neutral-flavored oil with a high smoke point


I don't want everything to taste like olive oil. It has a distinct profile in terms of flavor. When I want something very neutral -- usually when I’m making Asian food that I might want the other spices such as ginger, garlic and heat to come through and not compete with anything -- then I use canola oil.

Canola oil is neutral in flavor and aroma, and it takes the heat very well; it has a high smoke point. Because it's primarily this monounsaturated fat, the same type of fat chain that is in olive oil, not only does that monounsaturated fat have good health benefits, but it also doesn't break down readily with heat.

3. Walnut oil: Keep it in the fridge to prevent it from going rancid
 

When you're cooking with an oil, you want to look at how that oil stands up to heat in terms of forming free radicals or becoming rancid. I always say that the nose knows. You won't necessarily be able to tell if an oil is rancid by looking at it, but you will be able to smell it. I always recommend taking a whiff of any oil, especially if you haven't used it for a while. Certain oils are more likely to get rancid more quickly and react more to heat and light than others.

The oils that react most to heat and light are polyunsaturated oils. Olive oil and canola oil are monounsaturated; our body needs polyunsaturated and monounsaturated. Omega-3, for example, is polyunsaturated. However, omega-3 and other polyunsaturated oils become rancid very quickly.

I love walnut oil, for example, but ideally you want to keep that in the refrigerator because it’s so sensitive to light and heat that it will become rancid really quickly. I buy small quantities of it and I keep it in the refrigerator.

4. Flaxseed oil: Forms potentially unhealthy compounds with heat


Flaxseed is another example of a high polyunsaturated omega-3 oil that you want to keep in the refrigerator. You don't want to apply heat to that at all because it will essentially degrade. It will actually form potentially unhealthy compounds when it is exposed to heat.

5. Coconut oil: A 'tropical essence' to use sparingly


I have a jar of extra-virgin coconut oil in my fridge. The thing about coconut oil -- I was online researching this -- it’s astounding how much misinformation is out there, how much hyperbole. If you really look online, you're going to see this cures every ailment you have; there should be really no sick people walking around because we have this wonderful cure-all. That’s really clearly ridiculous.

The virgin coconut oil, the one that is the least processed, is really nice. I’ll use it instead of butter, for example, in my rice; it just infuses it with this tropical flavor. But it’s a tropical essence more than a strong flavor.

Coconut oil
Coconut oil (Photo: mealmakeovermoms / Flickr)

Coconut oil is solid at room temperature. The thing that makes it solid at room temperature is that it’s made primarily of saturated fat. The health experts have long said that saturated fat is bad for your heart. That’s why coconut oil was on the "do not eat" list.

But we are learning more about the type of saturated fat that's in coconut oil. Possibly -- and I say possibly because I really feel like the verdict is not in yet -- but it seems that the type of saturated fat that’s in coconut oil is not as detrimental to our heart health as we once thought.

The way I use it -- because I like to be a little more sure before I go out and eat tablespoons of this stuff -- I like to use it sparingly. I do recommend using it sparingly because it still does appear to raise cholesterol. It's better to use other oils which may potentially reduce your cholesterol.

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