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Fats often get a bad rap. But despite what you may have heard, fats, and especially oils, are an essential part of a well-rounded diet. Sautee, bake, drizzle, or sizzle, oils are the starting point of any successful meal, plus they help us absorb important nutrients. According to James Roche, MS, Registered Dietitian Nutritionist at SCL Health, “Fat is a very underappreciated nutrient that is essential for optimal health. Fat is linked to many essential health functions and benefits. We do not need to eat a ton of fat, but we should make the fat that we eat count.”
So which oils should be mainstays in your meals? Well, that depends on the type of cooking you’re doing. The most important thing to consider when choosing an oil is its smoke point, or the temperature at which the oil starts burning. When you heat an oil past its smoke point it can lose flavor, nutrients, and even release harmful molecules called free radicals. Another good rule of thumb is to research exactly what types of fats are in your oil. Experts recommend staying away from those high in saturated fat, and opting for ones packed with healthy monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fat. That said, saturated fats aren’t always a bad thing, but we’ll get to that in a bit. We guess what we’re trying to say is, nutrition is a complex balancing act, and we’re here to make it just a little easier. Here are 5 nutrient-packed oils that deserve a spot in your pantry.
Olive oil is popular for a reason. It’s full of flavor and incredibly versatile. If you want to reap its full health benefits, always look for “extra virgin” on the label. This means that the oil is unrefined and has more nutrients, antioxidants, and heart-healthy fats. Compared to other oils, olive has a low smoke point, so it’s best used for medium to low-heat cooking, baking, or as dressings on salads.
Avocado oil boasts a lot of the same benefits as extra virgin olive oil, but with a higher smoking point, making it great for sauteing or pan frying. It's full of vitamin E and has one of the highest monounsaturated fat contents in the oil aisle. Plus, avocado oil doesn't have much flavor, so it will never overpower your cooking skills.
There’s been a lot of hype surrounding coconut oil in the past few years. So, you might be surprised to learn that coconut oil is actually pretty high in saturated fat. Still, this incredibly heat-resistant fat has powerful health benefits. It can help improve cholesterol, kill harmful bacteria, and boost metabolism. And to ease your mind a bit, many recent studies have shown that not all saturated fats are bad for you.
Not only does this oil come from the seeds of the world’s prettiest flowers, it also packs almost 30% of the daily recommended intake of vitamin E in just one tablespoon. Sunflower oil is high in omega-6 fatty acids, which while important for your body, could be inflammatory if consumed in excess. So, like some wise guy once said, “everything in moderation”.
Shocked to see this one on the list? Hear us out. Real, unprocessed butter can be fairly nutritious. It’s full of vitamins A, E, and K2, and rich in inflammation-fighting fatty acids. Your healthiest bet is to choose pure butterfat, or ghee, which is free of sugar and proteins. Opt for butter from grass-fed cows for more vitamin K2 and healthy fatty acids.