If You Don’t Try These Oils Now, You’ll Hate Yourself Later

September 9, 2013

Olive oil with fresh olives on rustic wood

We all know that a healthy, nutritious diet should get few of its calories from oils. But all oils are not created equal.

Take a trip down the aisles of your local supermarket and you will be bombarded with conflicting claims from a dizzying variety of cooking oils.

Some are intended to be eaten as ingredients, while others are more commonly used for frying. Oils provide different colors, different flavors, different nutrients, different amounts of good and bad cholesterol, different frying temperatures – different everything.

(Oh, except one thing. Every food-grade oil weighs in at about 120 calories per tablespoon. So if you’re trying to decide which oil to use, calorie count isn’t a consideration.)

Let’s take a look at the options.

You are probably already familiar with common vegetable oil, which is typically safflower oil or corn oil. These are good general-purpose oils.

Olive oil adds great flavor to food and it is very nutritious. Studies show that moderate olive oil consumption can help stave off heart disease, which – along with the flavor – has contributed to the oil’s popularity.

You’ve probably also tried canola oil, which was created in Canada in the 1970s from members of the mustard plant family, Brassica.

Beyond these familiar products are a wide variety of food-grade oils to use to our advantage. Each has distinct flavors and unique advantages for cooking.

Here are some boutique cooking oils that can add color, flavor, and nutrition to your diet:

Sesame oil is made from pressed sesame seeds, either toasted or untoasted.

Toasted sesame seed oil will become rancid about three to four months after you open it, while untoasted oil lasts a bit longer.

Sesame oil has a nutty, smoky flavor that you will probably recognize because it’s commonly used in Asian cuisine.

Peanut oil is relatively tasteless and colorless, but it’s cholesterol free, and high in protein and monounsaturated fats.

Due to its high smoke point of 437 degrees F, it’s often a favorite for deep frying.

But peanut oil has a dark side: It’s a serious potential allergen hazard.

People with nut allergies can have a severe, even fatal anaphylactic reaction after eating foods made with peanut oil, especially the cold-pressed variety.

Now that you’ve been warned about nut oils, it’s safe to tell you about almond oil, a niche product that has become very popular in gourmet cooking lately.

It’s also great for lubricating your oboe or clarinet, and I’m told that because of its fragrance it is particularly enjoyable when used as a massage oil.

Almond oil is loaded with vitamin E, manganese, and omega-6 fatty acids. It’s tasty and good for you, but use it sparingly, as too much can have a laxative effect.

And that brings us to coconut oil.

Between people’s concerns for their waistlines and their hearts, you’d think that coconut oil, which contains over 90 percent saturated fat, would be the last thing you’d want to eat.

This was the thinking back in the 1970s, but it led to the widespread use of trans fatty acids, which are now known to be far more damaging to our health.

It turns out that virgin coconut oil, used in moderate quantities, is not only quite tasty but actually good for you.

One of its chief components, lauric acid, has been found by medical researchers to increase “good” HDL cholesterol more than any other fatty acid.

Virgin coconut oil also has a high proportion of medium-chain triglycerides. MCTs are so quickly and easily metabolized by the body that they’re used to treat certain metabolism problems.

Studies have also shown that MCTs promote the burning of excess fat. Researchers think they may even help treat brain disorders like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.

Coconut oil is solid at temperatures of less than 76 degrees, and while it’s great for frying vegetables and such, deep frying is not recommended because it has an unusually low smoke point of 350 degrees.

Another hint: If the coconut flavor is a little too strong for you, add just a pinch of salt.

Coconut oil is also very stable and has a long shelf life of up to two years without refrigeration. On top of that, it’s a great skin moisturizer: People use it as a fragrant massage oil or an all-natural personal lubricant.

Most people, however, find it a tasty alternative to butter for many kitchen duties like cooking, baking, and even drizzling on popcorn.

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