Cooking with oil--instead of lard or butter--is a healthier choice. Why? Plant oils have less saturated fat, are naturally cholesterol-free and often are a great source of antioxidants and vitamin E, which helps fight free radicals linked with premature aging and even cancer.
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But before you start cooking with oil, there are two things you should know:
1. Pay attention to smoke point. When you heat an oil to its smoke point (the point at which it literally smokes), the oil breaks down, harmful substances are created and the beneficial compounds of the oil are destroyed. Instead of memorizing the smoke point for each oil, a better rule of thumb is to just heat the oil until it shimmers.
2. Mind your oil quantity. People often use too much oil, and the calories can easily add up. Try to stick to about 2 tablespoons a day--the recommended amount for most adults.
As you probably know, extra-virgin olive oil is a super-healthy choice: it's rich in monounsaturated fats, which promote healthy cholesterol levels, and also polyphenols, compounds that may help lower blood pressure and reduce risk of heart disease.
But what else is out there? Here are 3 alternative healthy oil choices:
1. Peanut Oil
This oil is good for your heart health: it has vitamin E and resveratrol, a heart-healthy antioxidant that has been shown to lower risk of stroke and heart disease. It's cheaper than olive oil, but has just as many benefits.
Peanut oil has a high smoke point, which makes it ideal for stir-frying, sautéing and roasting. With most other oils, the high temperature causes them to change their molecular structure and oxidize, but this doesn't happen with peanut oil. The fats aren't fragile, so they don't get damaged at high heat.
Lastly, peanut oil has a neutral taste, so it's great for when you don't want a strong oil flavor.
2. Grapeseed Oil
This oil contains compounds that--preliminary research suggests--may have anti-cancer properties. Grapeseed oil also has a high smoke point and is a great all-purpose cooking oil because it has a mild flavor.
3. Flaxseed Oil
Flaxseed oil is great for getting heart-healthy omega-3 fats into your diet. But flaxseed oil has a very low smoke point, so you can't cook with it. Try it in a salad dressing.
Related: 2 Oils You'll Want to Avoid
What type of oil do you primarily cook with?
By Brierley Wright, M.S., R.D.
Brierley's interest in nutrition and food come together in her position as nutrition editor at EatingWell. Brierley holds a master's degree in Nutrition Communication from the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University. A Registered Dietitian, she completed her undergraduate degree at the University of Vermont.
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