Beyond olive: 9 healthy oils for cooking, salad dressings and more

When it comes to healthy, flavorful oils, olive oil isn't always best.

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/ Source: TODAY
By Michelle Hainer

Olive oil is one of the most widely used oils for cooking, not just because it's versatile, but it's also lauded for its health benefits.

After a study showing that the Mediterranean diet, which suggests incorporating a healthy amount of extra virgin olive oil into your daily routine, may stop heart disease and increase your healthy years, the oil's popularity has only continued to grow.

While a good quality olive oil is great for salad dressings or light sautéing, it doesn’t work for every cooking method because of its relatively low smoke point: the oil's flavor will start to degenerate, resulting in an unpleasant taste if you're using it for frying or other high-temperature preparations.

So, what's a home cook to do? Keri Glassman, MS, RD, CDN and author of “The O2 Diet,” recommends nine other popular oils that are healthy, full of flavor and may be a better alternative for cooking, depending on the dish.

Grapeseed oil

The numbers: 1 tablespoon contains 120 calories and 14 grams of fat (only 1 of which is saturated.)

Why it’s good for you: Grapeseed oil is high in vitamins C, E, and beta-carotene. Due to its high omega-6 content (up to 70 percent), grapeseed oil can be good for psoriasis, acne and many other skin conditions.

How to use it: Since it has a higher smoking point, grapeseed oil is great for frying or sautéing. Its light flavor also makes for a delicious salad dressing.

Walnut oil

The numbers: 1 tablespoon contains 164 calories and 16 grams of fat. Most of the fat is polyunsaturated fatty acids.

Why it’s good for you: Walnut oil contains a variety of minerals, including zinc, selenium, magnesium, copper, potassium and phosphorous. This oil also contains healthy amounts of vitamins C and E, both of which have antioxidant properties.

How to use it: When exposed to high temperatures, walnut oil turns bitter, so it’s best used uncooked in dressings or sauces.

Cold Sesame Noodles

Cold Sesame Noodles

Debbie Koenig

Sesame oil

The numbers: 1 tablespoon contains 119 calories and 13 grams of fat.

Why it’s good for you: Sesame oil has antibacterial properties, so using it as a topical treatment or a dietary supplement may help protect against abnormal bacterial growth. It also contains a chemical called phytate, which acts as an antioxidant in cells and may help prevent cellular damage and genetic alterations, decreasing your risk of developing cancer and other diseases.

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How to use it: Light sesame oil has a high smoking point so you can fry and sauté with it. It also makes a deliciously rich addition to many dressings and sauces.

Safflower oil

The numbers: 1 tablespoon contains 120 calories and 13 grams of fat, all of which is unsaturated.

Why it’s good for you: Safflower is high in unsaturated fats, making it a healthy choice for the heart and cardiovascular system. There are two different types of safflower oil: one variety is high in oleic acid and has a high smoking point. This type of safflower oil has high levels of monounsaturated fat and vitamin E content, making it nutritionally similar to olive oil. Other varieties of safflower oil are high in linoleic acid and are better suited for using cold.

How to use it: If the bottle doesn’t say “high heat,” don’t cook with it. Instead, use that safflower in salad dressings or as nutritional supplements.

Sunflower oil

The numbers: 1 tablespoon contains 120 calories and 13 grams of fat, all of which is unsaturated.

Why it’s good for you: Sunflower oil is best known for being rich in oleic acid and the antioxidant vitamin E, as well as betaine, phenolic acid, choline, arginine and lignans.

How to use it: Sunflower oil is heat stable and makes an excellent cooking oil. It’s also great for baking.

Canola oil

The numbers: One tablespoon contains 124 calories and 14 grams of fat (one of which is saturated).

Why it’s good for you: Canola oil is among the best sources of plant-based omega-3 fat and has the least saturated fat of all cooking oils and is free of trans fat and cholesterol. It’s also a great source of vitamin E. Organic canola oil is available is a non-GMO product, as well.

How to use it: Canola oil has a high heat tolerance, neutral taste and light texture, making it perfect for sautéing and baking.

Coconut oil

The numbers: One tablespoon contains 122 calories and 13 grams of fat, 12 of which are saturated.

Why it’s good for you: Because it’s so high in saturated fat, coconut oil’s health benefits are often called into question. But it actually elevates HDL levels (the good cholesterol) and reduces heart disease. It also contains lauric acid, which has antibacterial, antimicrobial and antiviral properties.

How to use it: Coconut oil has a very high smoking point, making it ideal for frying. When unopened, coconut oil has the consistency of thick hand cream. But if the room temperature is high, usually over 76 degrees, it may liquefy. The oil is still usable in its liquid or solid state.

Flax oil

The numbers: One tablespoon of flaxseed oil has 120 calories and 13 grams of fat (1.5 of which is saturated.)

Why it’s good for you: Flaxseed oil contains alpha-linolenic acid, which is a fatty acid that the body converts into the omega-3s EPA and DHA. It also has omega-6 and omega-9 fatty acids, B vitamins, potassium, lecithin, magnesium, fiber, protein and zinc.

How to use it: Because of its low melting point, skip the stove. Instead, add it to foods such as salads, yogurts and vegetables after they are prepared.

Avocado oil

The numbers: One tablespoon contains 124 calories and 14 grams of fat.

Why it’s good for you: Avocado oil is high in vitamin E and unsaturated fats and contains more protein than any other fruit — and more potassium than a banana. Research has shown that avocado oil exerts anti-inflammatory effects that may be helpful in preventing bone erosion associated with periodontal disease.

How to use it: This oil is similar in nutritional value, texture and taste to olive oil and you can use it for cooking at low temperatures, as well as in dips and dressings.

Get more tips and recipes for seasonal eats at Made By Michelle.

Want to try cooking with coconut oil? Check out this delicious dish:

Pan-Seared Salmon and Roasted Brussels Sprouts

This article was originally published Feb. 26, 2013.