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Q. There are so many oils to choose from―peanut, sunflower, olive, etc. Which should you use when cooking? And which are the healthiest?
Margate, New Jersey
A. Trying to decide which cooking oil to use for a recipe isn't easy when there are dozens to choose from. Oils have different ratios of heart-smart unsaturated fats to less healthy saturated fat, and they vary in how much heat they can take before they start to impart unpleasant flavors to foods. Dawn Jackson Blatner, RD, a nutritionist and the author of The Flexitarian Diet (McGraw-Hill, $25, amazon.com), says every cook needs to consider an oil's nutritional profile, flavor, and smoke point (the temperature an oil can reach before unfavorably altering the taste of food). Here she details the 12 most commonly used oils.
The Least Saturated Fat
- Canola oil: The most widely used oil, canola contains the lowest amount of saturated fat (6 percent) among common oils. It also has a generous helping of monounsaturated fats, one of the good types of fat that help reduce the body's low-density lipoprotein (LDL), or "bad" cholesterol. It doesn't add any notable flavor to dishes, which makes it a go-to for cooking and baking. Cook on low to medium-high heat.
- Flaxseed oil: Loaded with more than 50 percent of omega-3s―fatty acids touted for their ability to raise the body's "good" cholesterol, lower triglycerides, and enhance brain development. Because heating can strip flaxseed oil's omega-3s of effectiveness, drizzle it on over foods once they're finished cooking or mix it in salad dressings.
- Safflower oil: Abundant in polyunsaturated fats, safflower oil is derived from safflower seeds. Cooks love it for its high smoke point and use it for deep-frying, but safflower oil lacks a distinctive flavor and the health benefits of vitamin E.
- Sunflower oil: Extracted from sunflower seeds, this oil has a low amount of saturated fat and a high amount of polyunsaturated fat, the other good fat known to counteract saturated and trans fats by lowering the body's LDL levels. Use it for salad dressings and low-heat cooking.
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