How to Choose Healthy Fats and Oils

There are many to choose from — oils, butter, margarine, and cooking sprays — and some are healthier than others. Here are some of the options.

Olive oil

Olive oil is probably the most popular oil to cook with, and it’s one of the healthiest. It is high in monounsaturated fat and antioxidants, which may help to lower cholesterol and may also lower the risk of developing certain cancers. When you’re cooking with olive oil, use the “pure” type rather than “virgin” or “extra virgin.” Pure olive oil can take high heat and won’t lose flavor. If you choose to cook with virgin or extra-virgin olive oil, make sure you set a lower temperature. I personally stick to adding a little bit of extra-virgin oil to increase the flavor of foods after I cook them. It’s also delicious on salads and in marinades.

Canola Oil

This oil is another healthy choice. Studies have shown that it helps lower the risk of coronary heart disease. It contains the lowest amount of saturated fat compared to other common oils and a good amount of omega-3 fatty acids. Canola oil is also high in monounsaturated fat (but not as high as olive oil). It holds up wonderfully in high-temperature cooking, such as when you’re sautéing or stir-frying.

Butter

I think we can all say that we love butter — I do! I just remember to use it in moderation. Despite being high in calories, saturated fat, and cholesterol, it does contain vitamin A and other essential fatty acids. Most important to me is that butter is made from all natural ingredients. I recommend using it only on rare occasions and to limit the amount you use. Of course, it can be used in cooking, but I still recommend sticking to olive oil.

Margarine

I have nothing good to say about this product. I recommend staying away from it. The problem is that many margarines contain trans fats, which raise “bad” cholesterol levels and lower “good” cholesterol levels. For sautéing and stir-frying, olive or canola oil is a much better choice than margarine. The only time I’ll use margarine is if a baking recipe calls specifically calls for it. If you do use margarine, look for a brand whose packaging says “trans-fats-free.” I can’t say anything more on this product — I have to move on…my heart hurts!

Cooking Sprays

Honestly guys, spraying fat from a can does not seem natural to me, so I avoid these sprays. I admit I have tried various sprays in the past, but I always ended up using too much without even thinking about it. If you find cooking sprays convenient, be sure you use only what you need to lightly coat the pan so that you don’t add unnecessary fat and calories to your dish.

Cooking Tip: Make Your Own Infused Oils

Now that I’ve gone over different types of cooking fats, I want to tell you how to create your own flavored oils. Using infused oil is a great way of adding flavor to your food easily. This method is simple, but you do have to wait a couple of weeks for the finished product.

Here’s what you need:

  • Several teaspoons of your favorite fresh herbs (such as rosemary, thyme, or basil) and/or whole spices (such as cardamom, coriander seeds, or cloves)
  • One bottle of extra-virgin olive oil (or oil of your choice)

And here’s what you do:

  • Bruise the herbs and spices to release their flavors. You can do this by tapping down on them with the back of a knife or a rolling pin.
  • Empty the oil into a pan, and place the pan over low heat.
  • Place herbs and spices in the bottle.
  • When the oil is warm, pour it back into bottle over the herbs and spices.
  • Let the oil sit in the bottle for two weeks.
  • After two weeks, taste the oil. If the flavor has not taken too much, add more herbs. Infused oil can be stored in the refrigerator, where it will keep for about three months. (If it gets cloudy when it’s chilled, don’t worry. It will become clear when it comes back to room temperature.) Use the oil for cooking or drizzle it on salads or whole-wheat breads.

There you go! I hope I helped you choose the right fats to cook with.


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