Choosing Cooking Oils: 4 Things You Should Consider Before Purchasing

oil,cooking oils,fat,fatty acids,saturated fat,unsaturated fat,calories,nutrient

(  When my clients hear the word “cooking oil”, they often say that they’ve switched to one of the “healthier types of oils” such as olive oil, grapeseed oil, walnut oil etc. – you name it!  However, many of them do not understand the definition of “good” oils – some interpret this as meaning fewer calories and that therefore, they can use more of this type of oil; also some believe the “healthier” types of oils are better for heart health.   Although olive oil has been a popular choice for the general population, a wide variety of oils are available in our local grocery stores.  But what should consumers be considering when choosing cooking oil?  From a dietitian’s perspective, there is no “one fits all” type of oil; instead, the purchase decision should be based on the following factors:

# 1: Cooking Method
This is the first thing you need to know because this helps you narrow down the types of oil you should purchase. Different types of oil have different “smoke points”.  By this we mean the maximum temperature (or heat) that an individual oil can tolerate before it starts smoking and produces harmful materials.

# 2: Flavor of the Oil
Each individual type of oil has its own flavor and ability to enhance a dish by pairing with other ingredients.  Canola oil and corn oil are considered “all-purpose” oils because of their neutral flavors.  They are suitable for salad dressings, cooking or baking.  Avocado oil and walnut oil have rich and intense flavors and they are good for drizzling over salad greens or for use in salad dressings.

# 3: Composition of Fatty Acids
Understanding the basic components of different cooking oils can help you to make informed choices, which are beneficial to your overall health.  Nutrition panels provide information on total fat, saturated fat, and unsaturated fat content of various oils.The composition of saturated fat and unsaturated fat are different and this often depends on the source of the cooking oil.  For example canola or other vegetable oils are relatively lower in saturated fat than oils pressed from tropical vegetables and fruit such as coconut.  It is important to choose oil with a higher unsaturated fat content as this is a “good fat” which may help lower cholesterol levels and reduce the risk of heart disease. Saturated fat, which is also known as “bad fat”, is the type of fat that has been shown to raise the LDL (or the bad cholesterol level)  and may increase the risk for heart disease.  

# 4: Food Budget
When walking down the oils/fats aisle in the grocery store, you may be overwhelmed by the sizes of packaging of the various types of oils.  A tiny bottle of oil may be triple the cost of one of the larger bottles.  As consumers, your choice should be determined by the suitability and nutrition value of the products.

Bottom Line: Although different types of oil have various nutrition compositions, their calories per serving are the same (one tablespoon of any type of oil has about 145kcals).  However, fat is one of the major nutrients for people to stay healthy and it should be enjoyed in moderation.    Overconsumption of this energy dense food can have adverse effects on overall health because portion size matters! 

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