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What's the Deal with Oil?

Knowing which oil to use can be really overwhelming. I recently asked for nutrition questions from Kitchen Nutrition's followers for blog post ideas and here is one I received:

"Coconut oil! Good? bad?! I’m always worried since it’s a saturated fat. Also, olive oil vs avocado oil vs grape seed oil vs vegetable oil vs canola oil? What should we use??"

This is a great question! I personally have 3-5 oils in my kitchen at any given time. Even Registered Dietitian opinions will vary on this topic because high fat diets and high intake of specific fatty acids are currently being studied in treatment of diseases. However for the general public wanting to consume a healthy diet, the best way to pick which oil to use is looking at the fatty acid profile.

Let's go back to a little chemistry here--oils contain saturated fats, monounsaturated fats, and polyunsaturated fats (including Alpha-linolenic Acid and Linoleic Acid). The fat you consume in your diet impacts the amount and type of cholesterol found in your blood. Remember you want to have low total cholesterol, low LDL, and high HDL.

Saturated fats increase total cholesterol and LDL.

Monounsaturated fats decrease total cholesterol & LDL while increasing HDL.

Polyunsaturated fats decrease total cholesterol, LDL, and HDL. Alpha-Linolenic Acids can help reduce blood clotting in the arteries and protect the hardening of the arteries. Linoleic Acid also helps lower LDL.

So what does this mean? Monounsaturated fats are the best choice to have the most often for the most desirable outcome on your blood cholesterol. See the chart below from one of my favorite nutrition resources, ADA Complete Food & Nutrition Guide, for a breakdown of fatty acid types in commonly used oils:

As you can see, canola oil and olive oil are both very high in monounsaturated fats and are versatile for cooking with at home. Canola oil has the best blend of all the fatty acids in their desired proportions which is why it is highly recommended by many.

Of course, there are other things to consider when choosing your oil such as flavor and function in the food. You can't forget the actual cooking part! Olive oil would leave a bad aftertaste in brownies but enhances the flavor of roasted vegetables. Canola oil doesn't do much as a flavor enhancer. I do use coconut oil at home but use it sparingly and I recommend that you do the same! I enjoy seasoning rice with coconut oil for Indian or Asian dishes. Coconut oil is also a great substitute for butter in baking for someone who needs to be dairy-free.

I hope this helps you better understand how to assess which oils to use in your kitchen!

Sources/Additional Resources:

Duyff, Roberta Larson. American Dietetic Association Complete Food & Nutrition Guide 4th ed. 2012.



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