There are so many varieties of plant, nut and seed-based oils available it's no wonder a lot of confusion exists about which ones are best for our health and which are best for different styles of cooking. This week Mind&Body will clarify some of these issues.
Cholesterol free: All plant, nut and seed oils are, by nature, cholesterol free and are healthier than saturated fats, so this is purely a marketing description.
Hydrogenated Vegetable oil: Used in processed foods such as chips, pastries, doughnuts, biscuits and French fries. This process creates trans fats which raise bad LDL cholesterol and lower our good HDL cholesterol levels, increasing the danger of heart disease. Avoid these products wherever possible.
Cold-pressed oil: The oil is mechanically extracted at room temperature without chemicals. These are the healthiest oils as they provide heart and cancer-protecting nutrients - that would be lost if heated. Store away from light, use within twelve months and use in salad dressings or for coating cooked vegetables to best retain their nutrients.
Extra virgin olive oil: Is the first and best cold-pressed extraction and the term refers to the highest quality available with maximum health benefits. Use for dipping or salad dressings and buy in small quantities to retain freshness.
Light olive oil: Has been chemically refined and is lighter in colour. It has less flavour and health benefits than cold-pressed olive oil, but it can be used at low to medium heat for shallow frying.
Vegetable oil: The label indicates plants which have been mechanically heated and then blended, commonly canola or soybean oil. These oils usually have a neutral taste, with a reasonably high smoking point, so they are safe options for roasting, baking or shallow frying. There are less health benefits from heated oils. Plant, nut and seed oils vary greatly in their 'smoking point'. At this point, oils break down, become unhealthy and absorb more readily into food. Always discard used oil as reheated oils have been linked to cancer issues and drain food onto absorbent paper once cooked.
Pan-frying oils: Use light olive oil, grapeseed oil, canola oil or vegetable oil to coat a frypan for cooking at low to medium heat.
Baking oils: Grape seed oil, rice bran oil, light olive oil and canola oil are suitable for baking below 230C. For cake or dessert baking, use walnut, avocado, canola or coconut oils.
Stir-fry or Frying oils: Rice bran, grape seed, peanut, sesame or coconut oils are the safest to use as they have the highest smoking point. They are also best for barbecue grilling.
There can always be too much of a good thing - even with healthy oils. The maximum recommended daily intake of healthy oils should be two tablespoons.