By Isabel Smith, MS, RD, CDN
It’s widely known that fat is an important part of a healthy diet, and that certain fats like mono and polyunsaturated fats can play a role in heart health, managing inflammation, and with fat-soluble vitamin absorption. Oils are an excellent source of healthy fats but it can often be a challenge to understand which oil is best to use in different scenarios.
Use these tips to pick the right fat for salads, juices, cooking, and even those that are good for use on your skin!
A Look at Healthy Oils:
Olive oil: Touted as a great source of monounsaturated fatty acids and for its polyphenols, which may be beneficial to heart health. Olive oil also has a fairly high smoke point – particularly when using regular olive oil over virgin. Not only is olive oil great for use with cooking, but it has a tasty flavor that pairs well with salads and also goes well in savory juices and smoothies. Lastly, not only is olive oil a tasty and healthy addition to our foods, but Mediterranean countries have been using olive oil for skin care for ages. Extra virgin olive oil is great when used as a makeup remover or as a moisturizer.
Avocado oil: A great source of monounsaturated fatty acids, vitamin E and may even help to boost absorption of carotenoids and other nutrients. Avocado oil naturally has an unusually high smoke point due to the high percentage of monounsaturated fatty acids, which means it’s good for cooking at medium to high temperatures. Unlike most oils that are made from seeds, avocado oil is made by pressing the avocado flesh surrounding the pit. Avocado oil is a great addition to salads and other raw foods, and can even be used in juices.
Flaxseed oil: Contains both omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids; it contains essential fatty acids alpha linolenic acid (ALA) that the body can convert into EPA and DHA, which are also the essential fatty acids found in fish oil. Flaxseed oil is not generally recommended for cooking as it has a low smoke point and can rapidly become rancid when exposed to heat. It is however a good addition to juices and smoothies due to its higher content of ALA’s.
Macadamia oil: Has a very high percentage of monounsaturated fats, similar to avocado oil and olive oil, which means it is among the more heat stable oils. Due to its high percentage of monounsaturated fats, macadamia oil may be beneficial with heart health and anti-inflammation. It makes for a great oil to cook with at medium to high temperatures, or to use raw on salads or in juices.
Sunflower oil: Made of mostly polyunsaturated fatty acids and some monounsaturated fatty acids too. It is made from pressing sunflower seeds and is widely used for cooking given its higher smoke point and therefore is great for cooking at higher temperatures. It contains vitamin E, and also contains plant sterols that may help to improve blood lipids.
Coconut oil: Is primarily made up of saturated fatty acids with a small percentage of fat from medium chain triglycerides. Though largely comprised of saturated fat, unlike butter which has a comparable saturated fat profile, coconut oil comes from an all-natural source. Coconut oil is solid at room temperature due to the high content of saturated fats, and therefore needs to be heated slightly to liquefy. Coconut oil can be used in juices or smoothies after heating, or can be used to cook with at temperatures of medium to moderately high temperatures. Another widely known use of coconut oil is for skin-care. Coconut oil makes for a great skin moisturizer.
The best oils to use on raw foods:
Flaxseed, Olive, & Avocado
When choosing a healthy oil to use for raw foods like salads, for juices or for any other uncooked purpose, it’s important to look for those that are cold-pressed or as unrefined as possible, like virgin olive oil. These contain the most nutrition and tend to have the most flavor as well. Cold-pressed oils will have a label that identifies their state of processing on the label, which makes it easy to identify them. It’s also important to store most of these oils at room temperature in a cool dry place, as exposure to heat (as in if you store them by the stove) can turn them rancid over time.
The best oils to use for cooking:
Avocado, Sunflower, Olive, Macadamia, & Coconut
When choosing an oil to cook with, those that naturally have higher smoke points are better to use. The smoke point is the temperature at which the oil becomes rancid, the chemical structure changes, and the temperature at which a blue smoke can be seen. It’s important to choose an oil that has a high smoke point, especially if you’ll be cooking food at high temperatures or doing any kind of frying. It’s also important to store these oils in a cool dry place as though they are more processed and more stable than the cold-pressed oils, they’re able to be kept longer when stored away from heat.
The best oils for your skin:
Olive & Coconut
Healthy oils are used well in both cooking and for skin-care purposes. Both olive and coconut oils are all-natural, great for adding moisture, and tend to be less allergenic than most products that have artificial ingredients and fragrances. Look for cold-pressed or virgin varieties as they are the least processed and contain the greatest percentage of healthy fats that can help provide moisture to skin. There is no need to buy fancy products that contain either olive or coconut oils, purchasing as you would to use in the kitchen is both more cost effective and works just as well.