Since 2013 when the FDA determined that partially hydrogenated oils weren’t “generally recognized as safe” for use in food, healthier fats began to creep on people’s radar. As the FDA continues its crusade to eliminate trans fats from the food supply, you can look for and choose heart healthier oils that will make you feel good about dressing your salad, baking your next banana bread, or boosting your smoothie.
“All fats are not created equally,” says Sharon Richter, a registered dietitian based in Manhattan. “Even though we are instructed to include healthy fat in our diet, one still shouldn’t go overboard with them.” Richter says to use avocado and coconut oil to cook with (because of their higher smoke points) and nut or seed oils to dress salads.
So, if coconut oil is your latest go-to high heat hitter, or you love it for its metabolism-boosting properties—especially in your morning coffee—and extra virgin olive oil is your salad’s best friend, why not try diversifying with some of these less familiar healthy oils.
What is it… Pressed from the pulp of the fruit, avocado oil is neutral with a buttery and creamy mouthfeel.
Superfood ability It’s high in oleic acid, a monounsaturated omega fatty acid that raises the level of HDL (the good cholesterol) and lowers LDL (the bad cholesterol).
It also has high levels of multiple antioxidants like polyphenols, proanthocyanidins, tocopherols, and carotenoids that aid in heart health.
Best known for… Its smoke point of 500ºF, which gives it the ability to withstand high-heat cooking. It’s also great for salad dressings or for sautéing fish.
_What to look for… _ Cold-pressed virgin or extra virgin avocado oil to ensure a rich, buttery flavor. Avocado oils also come infused with garlic or herbs and are great for dressing salad or grilled vegetables.
What is it… Oil that comes from the pressing of raw hemp seeds. It has a nutty taste and if unrefined, a mellow grassy color. Not to be confused with its relative marijuana, hemp products contain only trace levels of THC and will not cause psychoactive effects.
Superfood ability… It contains an ideal 3:1 Omega-6 to Omega-3 ratio that can help the body metabolize fat, increase immunity, and aid in heart health.
Best known for… Its vegetarian following because of its optimal Omega 6 to 3 ratio. Hemp oil is NOT a high-heat hitter. It’s best used on salads or in smoothies, or drizzled over pasta or veggies.
_What to look for…_Unrefined, organic and non-GMO hemp oil.
Red Palm Oil
What is it… A plant-based oil that is the result of the extraction of palm fruits, harvested from palm trees. Like coconut oil, it will remain in a semi-solid state at room temperature.
Superfood ability… Antioxidant-loaded with tocopherols and tocotrienols (vitamin E) and carotenoids (vitamin A) that protect the brain, heart, and skin. It also contains coenzyme Q10—touted for brain health and omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids.
_Best Known For…_Low smoke point. Once it smokes, the natural antioxidants begin to break down. Best used for light sautéing or in place of butter or coconut oil in baked goods.
What to look for… Make sure the red palm oil you choose is responsibly harvested, sustainable, organic, virgin, and unrefined. Do not confuse it with palm oil, a.k.a. palm kernel oil. Palm kernel oil is derived from the kernel or seed of the fruit; red palm oil is derived from the pulp (flesh) of the same fruit. Palm kernel oil is normally refined, deodorized, and bleached, where as red palm oil is more commonly virgin or unrefined.
What is it… Mild, neutral-tasting oil that is extracted from the germ and the inner husk of rice.
Superfood ability… Rich in vitamin E and high in the antioxidant gamma oryzanol, which is touted for helping heartburn, lowering cholesterol, and protecting the body from free radicals.
Best known for… Japanese wok cooking or frying tempura. Rice bran oil is also a high-heat hitter with a smoke point of 490ºF.
What to look for… Oil that is organic and minimally processed. Keep in mind rice bran oil contains high amounts of omega-6 fatty acids (linoleic acid) and virtually no omega-3 (linolenic acid). Studies suggest that a diet high in omega-6 and low in omega-3 can promote inflammation in the body. Appearance of rice bran oil ranges from cloudy to clear depending on the degree of dewaxing processes applied.
What is it… Not actually a nut, but a tuber, tigernuts are small root vegetables that have been around for thousands of years and originate in Northern Africa and the Mediterranean. The oil tends to be golden brown in color with a nutty taste.
Superfood ability… Tigernuts are extremely high in fiber, iron, potassium, and vitamins E and C. In oil form, it has a high content of oleic acid (monounsaturated fat) and polyunsaturated fatty acids (linoleic acid & linolenic acid) that can aid in heart health.
Best known for… Its high smoke point, making it more resistant to decomposition when heated. Its high oleic acid content also makes it great for your skin.
What to look for… Organic and non-GMO tigernut oil.
What’s next in healthy oils?
If cricket flour is your go-to protein, keep an eye out for edible oils made from insects. Rich in essential fatty acids and a good source of healthy proteins, as well as inexpensive and eco-friendly to produce, certain insects can be freeze-dried, ground, and have their lipids extracted from their bug dust to create an “appetizing” oil.
Researchers at Wageningen University in the Netherlands recently analyzed oils from grasshoppers, cockroaches, flies, crickets and more to see which might be the most appetizing.
We might not be eating cockroach oil any time soon, but cricket and grasshopper might show some future promise.
Photo Credit: Catalina Woken