July 7, 2017

What Are the Best Oils to Use When Cooking?

By Rachel Wyman
Clinical Nutrition Educator

At Mission Weight Management, we’re often asked which oils are the best to use when cooking. The answer may surprise you – none.

Liquid oil is 100 percent fat, a calorie-dense nutrient, meaning it packs a lot of calories into a very small portion. There are 120 calories in just one tablespoon of oil. For the same calories, you could eat five cups of raw vegetables, two cups of fruit or one cup of low-fat dairy, such as yogurt or milk.

Making these exchanges will create more volume on the plate, which can be more visually appealing and satisfying. These nutrient-dense foods provide benefits beyond just calories, including fiber, protein, vitamins and minerals.

Try these tips for avoiding oils when cooking:

  • Invest in ceramic, porcelain enamel or seasoned cast iron cookware that prevents food from sticking.
  • Sauté with broth, adding a little bit more if the liquid evaporates.
  • Steaming is one of the best ways to retain health-promoting antioxidants.
  • Broiling, poaching or baking in parchment paper are additional healthy ways to cook.

From a weight-management perspective, using these nonfat cooking methods can save significant calories; yet will have minimal to no impact on the appearance or perceived food quality.

Coconut Oil – What’s the Truth?

Coconut oil has been popularized in the last decade with claims that it supports weight loss, lowers cardiovascular disease risk, can treat diabetes and even reverse Alzheimer’s disease. There is no solid evidence to support any of these claims.

Many of these claims are based on the assumption that coconut oil is high in a special type of fat called medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs). Coconut oil only contains 13-15 percent of this type of fat, while it contains 83 percent saturated fat.

Another incorrect assumption is that coconut oil will react the same in the human body as the MCT oil studied in the lab. The truth is, the MCT oil studied in the lab consisted of different types of MCTs, called C8 and C10; while the MCTs in coconut oil are mostly C12, which have not been shown to have the same effect. An American Heart Association advisory paper published in June concludes that replacing saturated fats (such as from butter, lard, palm oil and coconut oil) with polyunsaturated fats (such as from sunflower oil, safflower oil and grapeseed oil) lowers cardiovascular disease risk. The American Diabetes Association and the Alzheimer’s Association agree that saturated fat intake, including in coconut oil, should be minimized.

If you still decide to cook with oil, there are a few important considerations:

  • Measure, don’t pour. Challenge yourself to use half the amount you usually use.
  • Make sure your oil is fresh. Oils can oxidize over time and form free radicals, which are chemicals that have the potential to damage cells. Oxidized fatty acids have been shown to speed up atherosclerosis, which is hardening and narrowing of the arteries. Store oils in a dark-colored bottle, in a cool, dark place.
  • Be mindful of smoke point. When oils are heated, they can start to smoke at varying temperatures, forming toxic fumes and free radicals. Avocado or sunflower oil, with their high smoke point, can be used for stir frying. Grapeseed oil has a medium-high smoke point and can be used for higher heat baking and stir frying. Walnut oil and extra virgin olive oil have a medium smoke point and may be used in roasting below 400 degrees Fahrenheit, as well as in light sautéing. Flaxseed oil, with its low smoke point, should not be heated, may function in salad dressings.

To summarize, from a weight-management perspective, consider eliminating or at least reducing the amount of oil you cook with. According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015-2020, the minimum recommended daily fat intake of 20 percent total calories from fat. This is about 45 grams per day in a 2,000 calorie diet, and can easily be met with the naturally occurring fat in whole foods. From a disease perspective, exchange saturated fats for unsaturated fats. From a general health perspective, be mindful in your selection and storage of any oils you use.

Rachel Wyman, RD, is Clinical Nutrition Educator at Mission Weight Management.

To learn more about Mission Weight Management and to sign up for a free information session, call (828) 213-4100 or visit missionweight.org.