How to Pick the Healthiest Cooking Oil for Every Temperature

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Fat used to be considered a bad word. Now, it's common knowledge that fat plays an important role in strengthening blood cells, maintaining hormone production, increasing vitamin absorption, and making our food scrumptious.

Cooking oils are a common source of fat in our diets. Coconut, olive, and canola oils have had bad raps in the past, but these fats actually provide much-needed vitamins and fat to the body if cooked correctly.

Coconut oil is a trendy oil. As part of a proper diet, it's known to increase metabolism and is beneficial for the skin and immune system. Olive oil has been repeatedly shown to positively impact health by supporting healthy cholesterol levels. And canola oil is a fat that has drawn harsh debate, having seen ups and downs. But when included as part of a balanced diet, some preliminary research suggests, monounsaturated fats can help decrease abdominal fat.

Even though certain oils have shown themselves to be nutritionally beneficial, they're not all equal. Some cooking oils will lose their benefits depending on your cooking method.

If It Can't Stand the Heat, Get It Out of the Kitchen

Too much heat can damage fats by corrupting their carbon chains, releasing free radicals upon consumption — and that can cause serious damage. So how can you prevent that damage? Be picky with your choice of oils, and always consider the type of heat you'll use when cooking with each.

Before you break out the saucepan, keep these guidelines in mind to increase the nutritional content in your meals that contain fat: Cook oils on low, and if you see smoke, start over with new oil. Choose extra virgin oils when you can, and always check an oil's saturation level. The higher the saturation level, the more it can stand up to the heat.

A note about vegetable oil, a category that includes cottonseed, canola, soybean, safflower, and sunflower oils: The word “oil” here is a bit of a misnomer. Vegetable oil is mostly made up of seeds. Seeds have very little oil in them, so the vegetable oil must be created using a high heat process, which can destroy the seed's natural polyunsaturated fatty acids. The health benefits of seed oils might have already been destroyed before you begin to cook.

Some Oils Like It Hot, But Others Do Not

A few oils are best eaten uncooked, but others can be lightly heated and still be nutritious. Some oils are perfect for cooking at higher temperatures in the oven or on the stovetop. Use this list to help you determine which temperature is ideal for the oil you desire to cook with.

1. Au naturel: Polyunsaturated fats such as fish, sesame, walnut, and flaxseed oils need to be eaten without any heat at all to maintain their integrity. To maintain the healthful benefits of these oils, eat them cold, raw, and unfettered. Drizzle these gems on your favorite salad or cooked dish.

2. Not too hot, but not too cold: Avocado, macadamia nut, peanut, and olive oils are all delicious when cooked over low to medium heat. Cooking temperatures ranging from 250°F to 374°F would fall into this category. As long as the heat stays moderate, you can use these yummy monounsaturated fats to simmer, make reductions, or cook on the stove.

3. Turn up the heat: Saturated fats such as butter, coconut oil, and animal fats are ideal for high-heat cooking. If you want to grill, fry, or sauté anything at a temperature higher than 375°F, these fats will maintain their nutritional benefits despite the extreme heat.

Oils can and will lose their healthful qualities if you aren't careful while preparing them. Before you get started on tonight's dinner, consider which fats will retain their nutritional benefits when used in your desired cooking method. After choosing the oil that best suits your needs, you can enjoy your meal knowing it's full of important fat-based nutrients.

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