Almost every recipe in the American diet uses some form of cooking oil. There are a lot of cooking oils out there, and many have misleading health claims on the label. Not all cooking oils taste the same and how much you use can effect not only the taste, but your overall health as well. Shopping can be a bit overwhelming when you walk down the oil aisle in the store. What is really important when picking a cooking oil? How do you know which one to choose?
Oil is a fat, and when looking at your overall diet, fat calories are still fat calories, no matter which type of oil you use. So, you should use the least amount of fat possible to prepare your foods. Oils can add a lot of flavor to food and do provide some health benefits. Unsaturated fats are best. They help round out a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds and whole grains. Limit animal fats/saturated fats, but completely avoid trans-fats if possible.
All cooking oils are fairly similar calorie-wise, but vary widely when it comes to saturated fat. This is the fat you want to limit in your diet. Replacing bad fats (saturated and trans) with healthier fats (monounsaturated and polyunsaturated) is better for your heart. In general, choose oils with less than 4 grams of saturated fat per tablespoon, and no avoid hydrogenated oils or trans fats.
In addition to being a source of monounsaturated fats, extra-virgin olive oil is high in antioxidants called polyphenols. Polyphenols have been linked positively to heart health. (“Pure” olive oil— not virgin—doesn’t contain these “bonus” antioxidants.) For a really great breakdown of different kinds of cooking oils, their different flavors, and best uses check out this article from BonAppetit.com
For more information about cooking oils check out these additional resources: