As grilling season winds down I find myself doing more sautéing and cooking on the stovetop. Using a small amount of oil to cook your veggies or brown meat not only prevents food from sticking to the pan and causing a clean-up nightmare – the right oil also brings a plethora of nutrients of its own, adds important ‘good’ fat to your diet to help your body absorb the nutrients in the food you’re cooking and adds a ton of flavor. With the grocery shelves full of a huge variety of options, many people question which to reach for. So many to choose from!
Which Oil Do I Choose?
Not all cooking oils are created equally. Some are better for adding flavor to finished dishes while others are better for high-heat cooking. Here’s how to make some sense of them all.
Best Bets For High Heat
High heat can break down some oils, causing them to oxidize, making your body more susceptible to carcinogens and cell damage. Coconut oil (antimicrobial and adds a light fruity flavor), avocado oil (anti-inflammatory, very light and almost flavorless) and (if you don’t have allergies in your household) peanut oil are all great choices for frying and high-heat cooking. These oils have higher smoke points and are able to withstand higher temperatures. Ghee (clarified butter) is also a delicious way to get a buttery flavor and added nutrients at high temperatures.
Ideal For Light Sautéing
Contrary to popular belief, olive oil is not ideal for pan-frying or cooking veggies over high heat; its lower smoke point means faster oxidation when heated. If you like the taste of cooking with olive oil, choose light olive oil (not extra-virgin) for sautéing at low temperatures only. Sesame oil can be mixed in for Asian-inspired flavor.
Salads, Dipping, Finishing Drizzles
This is where extra-virgin olive oil really shines. The olive residue that makes EVOO less ideal for high-heat cooking gives it huge flavor and makes it an excellent choice for salad dressing, dipping and drizzling over side dishes. Hemp Seed oil and Flaxseed oil are two oils that that should not be heated and add great flavor and nutritious benefits when drizzled over finished grains and soups. Store both of these oils in the fridge when not using.
Avoid If Possible
Canola oil, generic “vegetable oil”, soybean, sunflower, corn, cottonseed, and safflower oils are commonly used in packaged foods and commercial kitchens because they are very neutral tasting and relatively inexpensive. However, these highly refined oils are very inflammatory to the human body and actually decrease your body’s ability to fight inflammation, which leads to the development of illness like heart disease, type 2 diabetes, obesity, cancer, autoimmune disease and more.
With so many choices of beneficial oils to try out there, it can be fun to experiment with the different flavors, health benefits and uses that are unique to each one.A drizzle of oil can bring dishes from basic to exotic and wake up those taste buds!
Koren Bradshaw, MS, CLC is a clinical nutritionist and certified lactation counselor passionate about functional nutrition and lifestyle education.