Ever since I’ve had my son, I’ve started cooking a lot more. Before that, we often ordered in sushi, or I would rely on healthy frozen dinners if my husband worked late. Often times if I did cook up a quick pasta sauce or turkey burger, I just used spray olive oil to coat the pan.
As I started to roast and sauté more vegetables, fish, meats and poultry, I’ve discovered the best cooking oil can make or break a dish. I used to think olive oil should be used for everything; and since it’s heart healthy, I still automatically fall back on it a lot. Olive oil is actually great for drizzling on salads and using as a dip for bread; but for all types of cooking, it’s not ideal if you need to cook at higher temperatures.
When thinking about the best cooking oil to use, it’s important to look at the oil’s smoke point, or the temperature at which it breaks down: If oil burns or goes past it’s smoke point, it releases carcinogens. Here’s a quick look at the top choices for healthiest cooking oils at all temperatures:
1. Use olive oil for dishes that don’t require high heat. It has a low smoke point (rate at which it starts to burn) so I prefer to use Extra Virgin Olive oil in salad dressing, for sauces that simmer on low such as pasta, for sautéing garlic or onions on low heat and for bruschetta that requires a short amount of time in the oven. For an excellent bruschetta recipe, click here.
2. To stir fry, use coconut oil. Coconut oil is high in Medium Chain Triglycerides, it smells amazing when cooking and it’s stable enough to handle high heat. Coconut oil has a much higher smoke point than olive oil and it gives stir fries a slightly sweet taste that balances out the saltier soy and zingy ginger. For an easy stir fry, choose your protein—chicken, beef, shrimp or tofu. Heat the pan on medium high, add the protein and sear it on each side for about 3 minutes, then remove it from the pan. Add all the veggies you want—bell pepper, water chestnuts, celery, snow peas -- and sauté until al dente. Add the protein back in, toss in a stir fry sauce (ginger, reduced sodium soy, red pepper flakes) and some chopped peanuts or almonds and voila! You have an amazingly delicious, filling, and healthy dinner!
3. Use peanut oil for frying (yes, frying can be healthy if you do it correctly). Peanut oil has a very high smoke point and has a healthy amount of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fat. I remember taking a cooking class years ago on my honeymoon in Italy and the chef, Mamma Agata, used peanut oil to fry her eggplant in for eggplant parmagiana. She got the heat high enough and dipped the eggplant for just a few seconds, turned it quickly, then placed it on a paper towel immediately. The dish wasn’t greasy at all and it was very tasty. Of course we dipped our bread in EVOO, which she used in her pasta sauce. To learn more about cooking with peanut oil you can read more here. It’s not something to do all of the time but a lightly fried cauliflower appetizer or some sweet potato fries now and again are pretty tasty!
4. Don’t forget sesame oil. Sesame oil is common in Indian, Korean and Chinese food and it has a nice nutty flavor which is less powerful than peanut oil. I love it for spicy Indian chicken tikka masala or for cooking kebabs and meats. It has a high smoke point as well; and of its 13.6 grams of total fat, 5.4 grams are monounsaturated and 5.6 grams are polyunsaturated which makes this a very heart healthy oil as well. Here are some fun recipes using sesame oil.
A few extra tips:
If you’re slowly sautéing garlic for instance, you can use olive oil and keep the temperature low to maintain the beautiful flavor of the oil without it breaking down. If you need to cook a turkey burger on medium to high heat, it’s better to use oils with a higher smoke point. If you’re a fan of canola oil, it has a neutral taste, is high in monounsaturated fats, and is good for cooking meats or baking with.
You can use an avocado oil to coat your pan for taco meat, chicken or fish. Peanut, grapeseed and sunflower oil all work well for frying because of their higher smoke points. Rub veggies with a good extra light olive oil or canola oil when roasting and just make sure you never let your oils burn.
As with all oils, a little goes a long way and especially with these flavorful, high quality oils, you don’t need much to cook with. Buon Appetito!
For more about eating healthy fats, watch the whole Happier video:
(For more Kristin McGee, go here to learn about Happier’s free “Eat, Move, Feel Strong” course.)
Happier health and fitness expert Kristin McGee is a celebrity yoga and Pilates instructor, a contributing yoga and wellness editor for Health Magazine (and Health.com), and a brand ambassador for C9 by Target.