If you’re confused about the best types of fats to choose in oils and other foods, you’re not alone. In fact, less than half of consumers know that eating the better fats (monounsaturated and polyunsaturated) can help reduce risk of heart disease, according to the American Heart Association.
These fats don't seem to raise LDL ("bad") cholesterol levels, and may even help lower LDL cholesterol slightly as part of a diet thats low in cholesterol-raising saturated and trans fats.
The liquid vegetable oils we use in the kitchen contain mostly polyunsaturated or monounsaturated fats, which makes them better choices for heart health than solid fats such as butter, lard, shortening or hard stick margarine. For example, sunflower, safflower, corn and soybean oils are highest in polyunsaturated fats, while canola, olive and peanut oils are highest in monounsaturated fats.
Whichever oil you choose, remember, they all contain about 120 calories per tablespoon, so use sparingly to help keep calories in check.
Benefits of Different Oils
Each type of oil is unique in characteristics such as flavor, smoke point and cost. Consider these factors when choosing the best oil for your cooking needs:
Flavor. Some mild- to medium-flavored oils are canola, safflower and sunflower oils. Strong-flavored oils include olive, peanut and sesame oils. Choose a strong-flavored oil to impart its special flavor in a dish, such as the nuttiness of sesame oil in Asian dressing or the fruitiness of olive oil in a pasta dish. Choose a mild-flavored oil such as canola to let the flavor of other ingredients shine through—in cakes and quick breads, for example.
Smoke Point. Smoke point is the stage when the fat in heated oil begins to break down and oxidize, causing it to smoke, and yielding an acrid odor and unpleasant taste to foods. The higher the smoke point, the better-suited the oil for frying. The smoke points of corn, peanut, canola and safflower oils are higher; the smoke point of extra virgin olive oil is low.
Cost. Corn, soybean, sunflower and canola oils are less expensive than olive oil and "gourmet" nut oils such as walnut or hazelnut oils. Use expensive oils to add a special taste to foods, not in recipes where the oils flavor doesnt matter.
Use the chart below as a quick guide to choosing the best oil for your favorite dishes:
| ||Bake||Sauté/Stir-fry||Fry||Salad/Pasta||Flavor Profile|
|Sunflower||X||X|| ||X||Delicate flavor|
|Soybean(also known as "vegetable" oil)||X||X||X||X||Little flavor|
|Canola|| || || || ||Mild flavor|
|Olive|| ||X|| ||X||Extra virgin: fruity flavor|
Virgin: milder fruity flavor
|Light Olive||X||X||X||X||Mild flavor. More refined than other types of olive oil. "Light" refers to color and fragrance, not calorie content|
|Peanut|| ||X||X||X||Varies from light to strong peanut flavor|