When was the last time you shook up the kinds of cooking oils you buy? Most of us seem to be on autopilot, sticking to the same oils month after month, year after year, and (if we’re really being honest) decade after decade.
But adding a few new healthy oils to your shopping list can perk up your pantry – and your taste buds.
The healthiest oils are rich in monounsaturated or polyunsaturated fats, which promote healthy cholesterol levels. To be sure your oils stay fresh and ready to use, it’s a good idea to store them in a cool dry, dark place (far enough from the stove so you won’t get regular temperature spikes, a common mistake). Some, such as flax and walnut oils, are especially prone to spoiling (a process in which they become rancid through oxidation), so it’s a good idea to store those in the refrigerator. When in doubt, use the sniff test: If an oil has an off smell, it’s a good idea to throw it out.
Remember that all oils are fats, so they are calorically dense; just 1 tablespoon of these oils packs over 100 calories each, so you want to use them sparingly, especially if you are managing your weight. When used the right way, they can put a fresh twist on healthy eating. Revise your shopping list by adding something new to it from the following list of healthy, diverse and delicious oils.
Good for Drizzling
Try these oils in your next salad dressing, or drizzle them on steamed veggies or fish for a delicious twist. Buy in small amounts and store in the refrigerator to make them last longer.
Walnut Oil (120 kcals/tbsp)
This fragrant, fragile oil is best savored raw. High in alpha-linolenic fatty acids (ALA), a type of omega-3 fat that contributes to cardiovascular health, walnut oil adds a delicious nutty flavor to salad dressings. And a little goes a long way: Drizzle a small amount on top of steamed green beans or Brussel sprouts, and sprinkle with chopped walnuts for even more flavor and health benefits. Brush a bit on grilled or poached fish right before serving, or toss with pasta and fresh herbs.
Sesame Oil (20 kcals/tbsp)
This gorgeously colored oil packs a deliciously deep, sesame flavor. Rich in mono and polyunsaturated fats for heart health, sesame oil contains linoleic acid, an omega-6 fat that may help reduce LDL (“bad”) cholesterol. This oil is often used in Asian-inspired recipes, dressings and marinades. Sesame oil actually has a higher smoke point, so you can turn up the heat. Sauté it with ginger and garlic, and it’s fantastic on fish. It also is a wonderful last addition to a shrimp, chicken or tofu stir-fry before serving. Or you can put a deliciously healthy Asian twist on an American classic – cole slaw – drizzle with sesame oil and black sesame seeds instead of mayo.
Flax Oil (120 kcals/tbsp)
Flax oil contains omega-6 and omega-9 essential fatty acids for health, and is often suggested as a vegan alternative to fish oil. It’s rich in an omega-3 fat called alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), which can convert in small amounts to DHA and EPA, two omega-3 fats linked to heart health, mood and memory. Flax oil has a strong, nutty taste, but is perhaps the most fragile of this list, so it’s best stored in the refrigerator in small amounts, and best used raw. Try it in salad dressings, drizzled on top of your morning oatmeal, added to your morning smoothie for staying power, or in hearty grain-based salads.
Good for Cooking
When your bottle of vegetable oil is empty and it’s time to refill, try one of these delicious, healthy oils instead. While olive oil is the most delicate of the bunch listed below, these oils can handle the heat of cooking. Buy larger bottles than the oils listed above for cost savings, and store in a cool dark place.
Olive Oil (119 kcals/tbsp)
Rich in monounsaturated fats which may help lower LDL (“bad”) cholesterol and increase our “good” HDL cholesterol, olive oil is the primary fat behind the health benefits of the Mediterranean diet. Use in marinades for fish, poultry or lean meat, to make a salad dressing, or stir-fry and sauté over medium heat (high heat can cause olive oil to smoke). Want a richer, fruitier flavor? Use “extra virgin” olive oil (which means it’s the first pressed oil) when you’re eating it raw (such as salads and drizzling on summer tomatoes). Many chefs I know have two bottles – regular olive oil for cooking and baking, and extra virgin (which is more expensive) for using when taste matters most. Remember that “light” olive oil means it’s lighter in color and flavor, not lighter in calories.
Canola Oil (124 kcals/tbsp)
This oil is rich in monounsaturated fats and also contains omege-3 fats, making it a go-to in my kitchen. Its light, neutral taste makes it versatile in a variety of cooking methods. It also stands up well to higher cooking temperatures: You can bake, stir-fry, or grill with this oil. When I’m making whole grain pancakes for breakfast, I do two things: Swap the melted butter in the recipe for canola oil, and I brush or spray a little canola oil on the grill instead of butter for a healthy swap. It’s also my go-to oil for seasoning my cast iron pans or grill.
Peanut Oil (119 kcals/tbsp)
This affordable oil is rich in the antioxidant vitamin E, as well as heart healthy monounsaturated fats. Peanut oil also contains phytosterols, compounds which may help promote healthy cholesterol levels by blocking the absorption of cholesterol in the small intestine. It has a light, peanut flavor and can be heated to high temperatures, making it ideal for marinades and stir-frying. Best of all, it has a long shelf life.
Coconut Oil (117 kcals/tbsp)
A solid fat at room temperature, coconut oil’s rich, tropical taste has made it a darling in the natural food and vegan world as a substitute for butter or shortening. I tell my clients to think of coconut oil as a “yellow light” fat; use in small amounts, in place of butter or other saturated fats, until we have more evidence.
Made from the meat of mature coconuts, virgin coconut oil is high in lauric acid – a medium chain triglycerides (MCTs) whose shorter length is easier to digest than other fatty acids. And while there’s some research suggesting coconut oil may help raise HDL (“good”) cholesterol, there’s still concern as to whether it’s high saturated fat content raises LDL (“bad”) cholesterol as well. Until we know more, use virgin coconut oil to replace other saturated fats in your diet like butter or bacon, rather than simply adding it to your day. Because of its deep coconut flavor, a small amount goes a long way in soups, curries, fish or adding a lovely tropical flavor to vegetables.
When I’m in need of a vacation, I’ve even been known to put 1 teaspoon in my fruit smoothie! You’ll be instantly transported to an exotic island.