Cooking Smarter By Picking the Best Oil for the Dish
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Published on November 15, 2016

woman shopping for cooking oils

Cooking Smarter By Picking the Best Oil for the Dish

From coconut to canola, the once-simple section of the supermarket called “oil” now is a vast maze of extra-virgin this and cold-pressed that.

Since it seems like culinary and nutritional advice tends to trend in cycles, it can be confounding, and lead you to just sort of grab one and hope for the best.

Don’t do that. Avera Registered Dietitian Anne Ailts, MS, RDN, LN, offers you four quick tips for oil choices as well as some general guidance and you’ll be back in the kitchen fully equipped to make about any dish you see on Pinterest.

Here are her tips on cooking oil choices as well as some facts on some you might not know as well:

Avoid high omega-6 oils: These oils counteract omega-3s and cause inflammation in the body, and they include vegetable oil, soybean oil, canola oil, grapeseed oil, corn oil, sunflower oil, safflower oil, and most margarine products.

Know the difference between refined and unrefined:Refined oils are processed and heat-stable, which makes them appropriate for cooking at medium to high temperatures. However, the processing they undergo reduces their nutritional value. Unrefined oils are minimally processed and cannot undergo high temperatures. They are generally only appropriate for low temperature cooking, uncooked foods, or for adding to foods after the cooking process. However, because they are minimally processed, they have a higher concentration of health benefits and a more pronounced flavor.

Learn the smoke point of your oil: The temperature at which the oil begins to smoke is called its smoke point. When oils are heated past their smoking point, the fat breaks down and releases harmful free radicals and a substance called acrolein, the chemical responsible for the smell and taste of burnt foods.

The three recommended oils are extra virgin olive oil, unrefined coconut oil, and avocado oil. Extra virgin olive oil and unrefined coconut oil have smoke points of 350 degrees or less; whereas, avocado oil has a smoke point of up to 525 degrees. So reserve avocado oil for any high heat cooking such as stir-frying.

You may not be surprised by the recommendation of extra virgin olive oil or avocado oil, but coconut oil is less well-received.

Ailts said that although coconut oil is high in saturated fat, it is mostly medium chain triglycerides (MCTs) rather than long chain triglycerides.

“MCTs don’t need to be broken down into single fatty acids for the body to absorb them. Instead, they are metabolized by the liver and quickly used for energy rather than stored as fat,” she said. “In addition, coconut oil has been linked to higher satiety as well as more stable blood sugar and energy levels.”

In addition, Ailts explained that the predominant type of MCT in coconut oil is lauric acid, which has powerful antiviral, antibacterial, and antimicrobial properties. Lauric acid has also been linked to an increase in HDL (good) cholesterol.

Research also shows that coconut oil can improve glucose metabolism in the brain of Alzheimer’s patients, which may help slow the progression of the disease.

“When buying coconut oil, choose extra virgin or unrefined coconut oil in order to get the most nutritional benefits,” Ailts added.

She also provided some creative ways to add coconut oil into your diet:

  • Add to smoothies, oatmeal, soup, homemade energy bites or granola bars and even coffee
  • Melt coconut oil in the microwave, and drizzle on ice-cream or cold cereal. It will form a sweet, crispy shell similar to the shell ice-cream toppings you can buy.
  • Use in place of other oils when baking or cooking. It will give a slight coconut taste, which works well to enhance desserts and Asian cuisine. If you don’t want a coconut taste, you can purchase liquid coconut oil in flavorless or savory flavors.
  • Purchase the liquid coconut oil and use to make homemade salad dressing. For a vinaigrette dressing, the perfect ratio of oil to vinegar is 3 to 1. Add any other herbs and spices you desire.

In addition to consuming coconut oil, you can also use it as a health and beauty product, here are some examples:

  • Conditioner for hair, or as a body and face lotion (coconut oil naturally contains SPF 4)
  • Makeup remover and lip balm
  • Use as deodorant or to make homemade toothpaste
  • Put on sunburns to speed healing process or on mosquito bites to reduce the itch
  • Use to help soothe psoriasis or eczema, or to help skin heal faster after injury or infection

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