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The Good Oil

Cooking oils that bring health benefits

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The Good Oil

Choosing a cooking oil can be confusing. Our guide to healthy oils will help you determine which ones are healthy and which ones are not.

Jean LaMantia, RD

The store shelves are stocked with an abundance of options when it comes to cooking oils. Which ones are healthy and which are not?

Fat and oils in our diet provide important fat-soluble vitamins, namely A, D, E, and K. Fat on our bodies insulates us against cold and cushions the skin, bones, and internal organs.

The amount of fat we have is important—too little and we are at risk of a compromised immune system and nutrient deficiencies; too much and we risk heart disease and stroke, diabetes, and osteoarthritis, as well as endometrial, breast, and colon cancers.

Best oils for diabetes

The Canadian Diabetes Association recommends choosing healthy fats to reduce the risk of heart disease. They suggest aiming for no more than 35 percent of total daily calories from healthy fat. This means about 45 to 75 g of total fat each day for women and 60 to 105 g each day for men.

Having diabetes is a risk factor for heart disease, so those with diabetes need to take extra care when it comes to choosing a heart-healthy fat. Choosing to limit saturated and trans fats while enjoying small amounts of healthy unsaturated oils will provide a better ratio of good to bad blood fats and help to control body weight—two key strategies to protect the body from cardiovascular disease.

Improving our body’s sensitivity to insulin allows for better blood sugar control. Studies suggest we can improve insulin sensitivity when saturated and trans fats are replaced with mono- and polyunsaturated fats.

Guide to olive oils

According to the International Olive Council (IOC) there are three classes of olive oil:

  1. extra-virgin
  2. virgin
  3. olive oil

Light and extra light are not included in the IOC classification system.

TypeDescriptionBest uses
extra-virginit has the most full-bodied taste and aroma of the olive oilsbasting meats and seafood, seasoning, and as a dip for breads salads and vegetable dishes
virginmanufactured using only physical methods, without chemicals; slight defects in aroma compared with extra-virgin, which may be due to long transport times or overripe olivessimilar uses to extra-virgin with the exception of bread dip and salad dressings due to slight flavour defects
olive oilmixture of refined oil and virgin oil (up to 20%); more neutral tastehas a higher smoke point than virgin and extra-virgin; use it for sautéing, stir-frying, and frying
light and extra lightthis classification is not recognized by the IOC, but in Canada can be used as “light tasting” or “light colour”higher temperature frying


The health perks of coconut oil

Although considered a saturated fat, virgin coconut oil has excellent antioxidant properties and contains high amounts of medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs). Rather than being deposited into body fat, MCTs may turn into energy and even help us feel full longer. These MCTs are credited in recent preliminary research that suggests virgin coconut oil may even help reduce waist circumference.

Coconut oil’s medium smoke point (350 F or 180 C) makes it ideal for baking and cooking.

—Leah Karpus


Storage tip

Oils must be stored in a cool, dark place. Keep away from direct sunlight and heat. Most oils have a long shelf life and should not be refrigerated, with the exception of flaxseed, sesame, and walnut, which should be kept in the fridge.

Cooking oils 101

per 1 Tbsp/15 mL

Beneficial oil Health attributes Suggested uses Cooking methods Smoke point
almond
  • 5.4 mg Alpha T
  • 9.6 g MUFA
  • 0 g Omega-3
salad dressingas a bread dip or with vegetables or light dishes420 F/216 C
avocado
  • 2 mg Alpha T
  • 10 g MUFA
  • 0.13 g Omega-3
salad dressings and dipssautéing, basting, stir-frying520 F/271 C
canola*
  • 2.48 mg Alpha T
  • 9.0 g MUFA
  • 1.3 g Omega-3
salad dressingsfrying, baking, grilling
400 F/204 C
corn*
  • 1.97 mg Alpha T
  • 3.8 g MUFA
  • 0.16 Omega-3
good all-purpose oilfrying, baking, grilling450 F/232 C
flaxseed
  • 2.42 mg Alpha T
  • 2.8 g MUFA
  • 7.7 g Omega-3
salad dressingsnot recommended for cooking225 F/107 C
grapeseed
  • 3.97 mg Alpha T
  • 2.2 g MUFA
  • 0.01 g Omega-3
cold salads, grilled vegetables, and meatfrying and baking meats420 F/216 C
olive
  • 1.96 mg Alpha T
  • 10 g MUFA
  • 0.1 g Omega-3
salad dressings, marinades, and bread dipany type of cooking468 F/242 C
peanut
  • 2.15 mg Alpha T
  • g MUFA
  • 0 g Omega-3
good all-purpose oilfrying, baking, grilling450 F/232 C
safflower, high oleic
  • 5.8 mg Alpha T
  • 10 g MUFA
  • 0 g Omega-3
good all-purpose oilfrying, baking, grilling510 F/266 C
sesame
  • 0.19 mg Alpha T
  • 5.5 g MUFA
  • 0.04 g Omega-3
Asian-inspired dishesstir-frying, frying, and marinades450 F/232 C
soybean*
  • 1.13mg Alpha T
  • 3.14 g MUFA
  • 0.9 g Omega-3
good all-purpose oilfrying, baking, grilling460 F/238 C
sunflower, high oleic
  • 5.8 mg Alpha T
  • 11.9 g MUFA
  • 0-0.03 g Omega-3
good all-purpose oilfrying, baking, grilling440 F/227 C
walnut
  • 0.06 mg Alpha T
  • 3.1 g MUFA
  • 1.4 g Omega-3
salad dressingsnot recommended for cooking400 F/204 C

Healthy Oil Glossary

alpha tocopherola form of vitamin E; helps prevent oxidation by neutralizing free radicals; found in high amounts in vegetable oils such as sunflower oil
cholesterola type of fat found in animal products; eating a diet high in cholesterol, saturated, and trans fat will promote an increase of artery-clogging LDL fats in our bodies
cold extractionthe current term used to describe how olive oil is extracted from the olives
cold pressedan old term that is no longer used by the International Olive Council
essential fatty acidsbuilding blocks of fat that the body cannot make for itself, therefore are “essential” to consume from the diet; these include omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids
expeller expressedrefers to canola oil that uses water vapour to get the oil out and not chemical solvents
filtered oilbefore bottling, oil is filtered through a large cellulose (paper) filter to remove bad flavours, sensory defects, and water
first cold pressedan old term that is no longer used by the International Olive Council
high oleic (sunflower/safflower oil)sunflower or safflower oil that is high in oleic acid, a monounsaturated fat; developed using standard plant breeding techniques
monounsaturated fatsan unsaturated fat with one “mono” double bond in its chemical structure; sources include avocados, nuts, and seeds as well as almond, avocado, canola, and olive oils
omega-3has the chemical structure of a double bond on its third carbon atom, hence “omega-3”; found in cold-water fish, omega-3 eggs, walnuts, and flaxseeds, as well as walnut, flaxseed, and canola oils
omega-6has the chemical structure of a double bond on its sixth carbon atom, hence “omega-6”; found in eggs, meat, and corn, as well as sunflower and soybean oils
omega-9not classified as “essential,” as it can be made in our bodies; a monounsaturated fat
polyunsaturated fatty acidunsaturated fats with many “poly” double bonds in its chemical structure; omega-3 and -6 are both polyunsaturated fats
refined oilan oil which has been degummed, decoloured, and deodorized by high-temperature distillation
saturated fatssolid at room temperature; implicated in the development of cardiovascular disease by raising blood levels of LDL “bad cholesterol”; sources include meat, palm and palm kernel oils, and dairy products
smoke pointthe point at which an oil, when heated, will break down and smoke, giving off foul-smelling dark smoke; the temperature at which this occurs varies by type of oil and by refinement; although the smoke point is usually listed as a single number, it is actually a range; the more refined or “light” the oil of any origin, the higher the smoke point will be
unsaturated fatsliquid at room temperature and include vegetable oils from many sources
trans fatspresent in foods made from “partially hydrogenated oil,” including some margarines, shortenings, fast foods, and bakery products; like saturated fats, they raise the LDL “bad cholesterol” in your blood and have the added concern of lowering the HDL “good cholesterol”
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