How to Choose the Healthiest Cooking Oil — and How Much You Need to Use

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Use as little as you can, be smart about how you use them. Here James D. Perko, CEC, AAC, Executive Chef for Cleveland Clinic’s Wellness Institute and its Center for Lifestyle Medicine and nutritionist Katherine Patton, MEd, RD, CSSD, LD, offer seven takeaways — including a couple of cooking tips.

1. All cooking oils are equal when you are measuring calories

Regardless of what kind of oil you use, oil is classified nutritionally as a fat. At nine calories per gram, fats are far more calorie-dense than carbohydrates or protein, both of which have four calories per gram. Taste could help to shape your answer to which oil to use in cooking. But even oils billed as healthier, such as avocado, are still fats. Consider how much fat you want to eat and then add it wisely.

2. All cooking oils are not equal when you are measuring their effect on health

When choosing a cooking oil, consider extra-virgin olive oil for heart health. It has the lowest oxidation rate of cooking oils. Oxidation promotes free radicals, chemicals that are highly reactive and have the potential to damage cells, including damage that may lead to cancer.

Olive oil also can help lower your LDL (bad cholesterol) and raise your good HDL levels.

Extra virgin olive oil has an amazing skin- and body-protecting polyphenol called hydroxytyrosol. Studies show that hydroxytyrosol has among the greatest free-radical absorbing capacities.

Olive oil also contains beta carotene, and vitamins A, E, D and K and many more healthful nutrients. Research shows these nutrients have beneficial effects on almost every bodily function.

3. It’s best to consider your diet as a whole and to not focus on a single nutrient such as oil

The problem with restrictive diets that cut out single nutrients is that when they cut fat, they add sugar to compensate for the loss in taste.  It’s good to consider the entire universe of everything you eat and aim for a nutritionally balanced mix that includes a small amount of healthy fats.

4. Sauté or fry?

Pan-frying at home is a cooking technique that uses a larger amount of oil and high heat for a longer period of time. Deep fat frying also uses a lot of oil at high heats but can be for a shorter period of time as in thin cut shoestring french fries. Unfortunately, frying foods in oil – or any kind of fat – promotes free radicals.

With sautéing, generally, small pieces of food are cooked in small amounts of fat for a shorter period of time. No matter which oil you choose, use as little as possible. Planning meals with foods that do not require frying and instead can be baked, grilled, or quickly sautéed is a good first step in cutting back on oils.

5. Make sure your oil is fresh

Old oil is a harbor for free radicals. When you buy many different varieties of oil for different recipes, then store them for long periods in your kitchen, the oils oxidize over time and develop free radicals. Instead, buy just a few kinds of oil in small amounts and store them in a cold, dry place.

6. Spray oil is not always what it seems

Many spray oils claim to have zero trans-fat. They can say so because manufacturers can round down the trans-fat to zero if a serving size is less than a half of a gram — and many manufacturers list a serving size of spray oil as a quarter-second spray. But why mess around with sprays when you can get the same result by simply dipping a towel in oil and wiping the bottom of your pan.

Or try a PFOA-free non-stick or ceramic pan. Be sure to always hand wash the PFOA–free nonstick or ceramic pans with a soft non-abrasive sponge or cloth to protect the surface and keep them in good shape.

7. Be smart about using oil

If you’re eating healthy fats by dunking your ciabatta bread in olive oil or frying foods in canola, you aren’t getting the biggest bang for the buck. Use oil instead to extract, extend and infuse flavors or create new ones.

For example, instead of using a few tablespoons of olive oil merely to moisturize a piece of bread for one person, you can use the same amount in a flavorful dish — such as this roasted beets recipe — that several people can share.


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