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Healthy Cooking: Oils

Learn which oils are more useful than others in light and healthy cooking.

Healthy Cooking: Oils

Like butter and margarine, oils used in cooking, baking, and salad dressings can blow your fat budget in a hurry. Many people are confused about oils because liquid vegetable oils have long been promoted as being "heart healthy." The reason? These oils are low in artery-clogging saturated fat, and contain no cholesterol. Unfortunately, many people also assume that these products are low in total fat and calories, and therefore may be used liberally. Not so. The fact is that all oils are pure fat. Just one tablespoon of any oil has 13.6 grams of fat and 120 calories. However, for those times when you do need a little oil for cooking, be aware that some oils are more useful than others in light and healthy cooking. Here are a few products that you should know about.

Canola Oil
Low in saturated fats and rich in monounsaturated fats, canola oil also contains alpha-linolenic acid, an essential omega-3 fat that is deficient in most people's diets. For these reasons, canola oil should be one of your primary cooking oils. Canola oil has a very mild, bland taste, so it is a good all-purpose oil for cooking and baking when you want no interfering flavors.

Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Along with canola oil, olive oil should be one of your primary cooking oils. Rich in monounsaturated fat, olive oil also contains phytochemicals that may help lower blood cholesterol levels and protect against cancer. Unlike most vegetable oils, which are very bland, olive oil adds its own delicious flavor to foods. Extra virgin olive oil is the least processed and most flavorful type of olive oil. And a little bit goes a long way, making this product a good choice for use in low-fat recipes. What about "light" olive oil? In this case, light refers to flavor, which is mild and bland compared with that of other olive oils. This means that you have to use more oil for the same amount of flavor — not a good bargain.

Macadamia Nut Oil
This oil has a delicious, light macadamia nut flavor, making it especially complementary to fish, chicken, vegetables, baked goods, and salads. Its high smoking point also makes macadamia nut oil ideal for stir-frying and sautéing. Like olive oil, macadamia nut oil is highly monounsaturated. Look for macadamia nut oil in health food and specialty stores.

Sesame Oil
Sesame oil has a rich, nutty flavor that enhances the flavors of many foods. And when used in small amounts, this ingredient will add a distinctive taste to recipes without blowing your fat budget. Use toasted (dark) sesame oil for the most flavor.

Soybean Oil
Most cooking oils that are simply labelled "vegetable oil" are made from soybean oil. Soybean oil is also used as an ingredient in many brands of margarine, mayonnaise, and salad dressing. This oil supplies a fair amount of omega-3 fat, though not as much as canola and walnut oils do. Like canola oil, soybean oil has a bland flavor that works well when you want to avoid adding any interfering flavors to your dish.

Walnut Oil
With a delicate nutty flavor, walnut oil is an excellent choice for baking, cooking, and salad making. Most grocery stores sell as least one brand of walnut oil such as Lorvia California Walnut Oil. Like canola oil, walnut oil contains a substantial amount of omega-3 fats. Most brands of walnut oil have been only minimally processed and can turn rancid quickly, so once opened, they should be refrigerated.

Nonstick Vegetable Oil Cooking Spray
Available unflavored and in butter, olive oil, and garlic flavors, these products are pure fat. The advantage to using them is that the amount that comes out during a one-second spray is so small that it adds an insignificant amount of fat to a recipe. Nonstick cooking sprays are very useful to the low-fat cook, as they promote the browning of foods and prevent foods from sticking to pots and pans.

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