Oils are a great way to get good, healthy fats into your daily diet and help boost your overall wellbeing and body function. They can dramatically change and improve the flavour and texture of foods to create a better-tasting dish, and they contribute to our sense of satiety (or ‘feeling full’). But unfortunately, they can also contain saturated fats that contribute to bad cholesterol in the body, and may even do you more harm than good.
So what oils are good for you – and which ones should be consumed sparingly? It all comes down to what fats they contain and the ratio of those fats present. Let’s take a look!
Good vs Bad Fat
Polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats are essential for your bodies health and wellbeing. Commonly referred to as ‘heart-healthy fats’, these guys help both lower your bodies LDL (bad) cholesterol and increase its HDL (good) cholesterol! Most oils contain these fats to some degree, making them contributors to good health.
However, some oils are also high in saturated fats – which when consumed in excess can contribute to raising your LDL cholesterol and increasing your risk of heart disease and stroke.
How much should you be consuming?
Everything in moderation! Oils are very high in calories, and whether you’re popping some oil in a dip, cooking up a piece of fish or sauteing some vegetables, keeping your quantities in check is key. Only use 1-2 tablespoons of oil per serve – remember, oils are a ‘healthy fat’ and should be considered as such when preparing and portioning your meals!
The importance of smoke point
Different oils have different smoke points – or in other words, they will degrade at different temperatures. This means they will not only change chemically (affecting the health benefits they have on your body) but will also change in flavour too. An oils smoke point is determined by the natural composition of the oil, but also by the way it is produced – which means different brands of the same oil type may have different smoke points. As a general rule, oils with strong or rich flavours have a low smoke point, whereas those with more subtle flavours can withstand higher heats.
Things to remember when using oils
If you’re stir-frying or sauteing at high heat, opt for oils such as canola and rice bran. They are loaded with heart-healthy fats, have a mild flavour (and therefore don’t overpower your dishes!) and are cheap to buy. Just make sure you check their nutritional label before purchasing, as products will differ and some may contain higher amounts of saturated fats.
When using a low to medium heat, such as when you’re grilling, baking and roasting, opt for olive and vegetable oils. So long as the heat doesn’t get too high, they’ll retain their nutritional value and add a subtle, delicious flavour to your meal.
If you’re trying to reduce calories or are including other healthy fats in your meal, use baking paper to line trays as an alternative to using oil.
Some oils should never be cooked with as they are naturally very unstable and deteriorate quickly when exposed to heat. In fact, when heated their chemical composition changes so that they act more like a saturated fat, rather than a heart healthy one! Ones to keep cold or use at a low heat include extra virgin, flaxseed and walnut oils.
Spray oils often contain propellant (butane, propane, isobutane) and soy lecithin. While these ingredients are deemed safe to eat, natural is always best! Use non-spray oils wherever possible.
And finally, limit your use of coconut and palm oils as they are extremely high in saturated fat content!
Oil Comparison Chart
|OIL TYPE||FACTS||SMOKE POINT||BEST SUITED FOR|
|Avocado||Rich in monounsaturated fats, vitamins A, D and E. Has a mild flavour.||271℃||Suitable for sauteing, and works as a tasty salad dressing.|
|Rice bran||Rich in vitamin E, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats
Relatively high saturated fat content compared to other plant based oils.
|254℃||Works particularly well in Asian dishes, and is suitable for stir-fry and sauteing.|
|Vegetable||Commonly found as a blend of canola and soybean. Opt for brands with 20g saturated fat or less per 100g.||Varies, depending on components but generally above 250℃||Any high temperature cooking.|
|Palm||Composed from almost 50% saturated fat||232℃||Avoid using.|
|Canola||Good choice! High in monounsaturated fat,
low in saturated fat (compared to other oils) and contains (heart friendly) Omega 3s.
|204℃||Suitable for cooking at any temperature – mild flavour and high smoke point make it appropriate for any dish.|
|Extra Virgin Olive *Best Choice||Contains primarily heart healthy monounsaturated fats.||208℃||Dressing, marinades, sauces and low heat cooking (roasting).|
|Light Olive||‘Light’ refers to colour and flavour, not fat content. Has a mild flavour||242℃||Suitable for sauteing and stir frying, and has a milder flavour than extra virgin.|
|Coconut||Very high in saturated fat content. Limit intake.||177℃||Suitable for cooking at any temperature. Avoid using as dressing.|
|Macadamia||High in monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, low in saturated fats.||199℃||Best used in cold dishes, as heating can destroy flavour of nut oils.|
|Flaxseed||High in polyunsaturated fats, however also contains significant amount of saturated fats. Limit intake.||225℃||Avoid cooking with – best used for cold dishes.|