Separating the healthy oils from the unhealthy oils

As you stand in front of the grocery store shelves filled with all kinds of cooking oils, how do you know which one to buy? Choosing the right oil can be a confusing process. Since all oils are made of mostly fat, none are good to eat in large quantities. However, some options are better for you than others.

When it comes to fat, there are two main types: saturated and unsaturated. In general, it’s the saturated fats that are to be avoided or limited and the unsaturated fats that are considered a healthier choice. Comparing the amount of saturated fat versus unsaturated fat in each oil will help give you an idea of which is better for you.

Here are a few of the more popular oils and their health ratings.

Olive oil – considered one of the healthier oils available, olive oil is mostly monounsaturated fat. A large part of the Mediterranean diet, olive oil is a fat that’s got rich flavour and is good for your heart. Choose a higher quality, extra-virgin olive oil for it’s high concentration of polyphenols (powerful antioxidants).

Olive oil is best used in salad dressings or as a topping for bread, pasta, or steamed vegetables. It can also be used to sauté or bake, but doesn’t work well to fry though as it breaks down at very high heats.

Canola oil – if you’re trying to decide between canola, vegetable, or corn, choose canola. While vegetable and corn sound healthier, it’s canola that’s lowest in saturated fat. It’s a monounsaturated fat that doesn’t have much flavour but makes a great option for sautéing, roasting, and baking. That said, studies show you’ll reduce your risk of heart disease by substituting saturated fat (butter, lard, or shortening) for canola oil.

Coconut oil – this is the new guy to the market. But I’m sold. While there isn’t many long term studies on it yet, the short term studies are super promising. While it’s extremely high in saturated fat (92%), the type of saturated fat in coconut oil is harder for the body to turn into fat (super good for energy) and may in fact actually be good for your heart. Coconut oil helps your body absorb minerals, control blood sugar, and boost the immune system. Many people have found coconut oil beneficial for their hair, skin, and teeth on top of increased energy levels.

Walnut oil – an oil high in omega-3 fatty acids and polyunsaturated fats, walnut oil is another oil option that’s good for your heart. With a strong nutty flavour and short shelf life, walnut oil is yummy in certain baked goods, desserts, and salad dressings.

Partially hydrogenated oil – anytime an ingredient list contains the words ‘partially hydrogenated’, you’d do well to choose a different food. Most of these oils come from soybean or cottonseed seed oils (two types of vegetable oils), but they contain trans fats and are known to increase your chances of developing heart disease. In many countries, trans fats are banned because of the harm they do to your health. Ban them from your diet as well.

Grape seed oil – oil made from the seeds of grapes is a polyunsaturated fat. Grape seed oil contains high amounts of omega-3 fatty acids, linoleic acid, and antioxidants that provide powerful health benefits for your heart, immune system, and arthritis relief. It can be used to fry foods, flavour vegetables, and make dressings and sauces.

Palm oil and the forest – as a replacement for trans fat oil, many food manufacturers have turned to palm oil. Much controversy surrounds this oil that’s not only high in saturated fat (as much as butter) but is harvested in a way that causes deforestation and possibly animal extinction. Palm oil has become such a large industry that an estimated 300 football fields of land in the rain forest are cleared every hour just to keep up with the demand. If you choose palm oil, use sparingly.

Jack Wheeler is a personal trainer and the owner of 360 Fitness in Red Deer.

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