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Choosing Which Oil to Use

Food Fitness. Nourish your body.

The American Heart Association recommends that no more than 30-percent of a day's calories should come from fat (a tablespoon of virtually any vegetable oil contains 120 calories). Here is more information on specific oils to help you make educated choices:

Avoid Most Saturated Fats
Saturates includes tropical oils and other hard fats. Oils that contain less than one-third saturated fat are called unsaturated and they are further labeled poly or mono.

Occasionally Choose Polyunsaturates

Polyunsaturates help lower cholesterol in the blood and diminish the bad fat, or LDL's, but the also reduce the good fat, or HDL's. Corn, cottonseed, safflower, soybean and sunflower oils are polyunsaturates that also contain linoleic acid, an essential fatty acid that the body needs to make its own fat.

Do Choose Monounsaturates

Monounsaturates are today's nutritional "good guys". They lower LDL's while preserving HDL's. Widely appreciated by nutritionists, monounsaturates -- including olive, avocado and peanut are recommended for daily use.

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Use any oils wisely -- don't overuse them. Try to roast, bake or broil foods instead. Avoid frying at all cost. Instead of frying, if you must do something similar, saute with only a drizzle of oil or use a non-stick pan -- they work wonders.

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Anatomy of Oil

  • Oils are liquid fats (as opposed to solid fats, such as butter or shortening), so 100 percent of any oil's calories come from fat.
  • Oils are derived from plant sources -- nuts (such as walnuts), seeds (such as sesame seeds), plants (such as rapeseed), and fruits (such as olives or avocados).
  • Many oils are low in saturated fat and high in heart-healthy monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats.

Storing Oil

Light, oxygen and heat are oil's enemies, causing it to spoil rapidly. Store oils in tightly sealed, colored glass or opaque containers in a cool, dark place; a cabinet or pantry is ideal. It's best to buy oil in small quantities and keep them for about two months. If you cook often with a paritcular oil and want to keep it near the stove, use a small opaque bottle or cruet and store the rest in the cupboard. Keep fragile oils, like toasted nut or seed oils or unfiltered extra virgin olive oil, in the refrigerator. If the oil soldifies, just set it out at room temperature to soften.

Favored Oils

Cooking Oils

Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Extra virgin olive oil has a rich range of flavors, from pungent and bold to smooth and buttery. In the United States, the term "extra virgin" generally means a minimally processed oil. In Europe, olive oils labeled extra virgin must meet strict classifications.

Extra virgin oil is robust in flavor. As with wine, the characteristics of an individual oil depend on the olive varietal and where it is grown. Many high-end and imported extra virgin oil states on the bottle where the olives came from and the kind or kinds that were used to produce that particular oil (often a blend).

Extra virgin olive oil ranges in color from pale golden to deep emerald and has a pronounced fruity -- sometimes peppery -- taste. Because the flavor of extra virgin oil can diminish with heat, it is often used to finish a dish, drizzled over pasta, or whisked into a vinaigrette.

Regular Olive Oil
Also called "pure" or "light" olive oil, which are simply marketing tags and not an indication of nutritional qualities, this olive oil is a blend of refined olive oil and extra virgin olive oil. It costs less and has a mild flavor. Use it when you want to preserve the flavors of the food rather than impart the character of the oil to it. Works well in saute's and fries.

Canola Oil
Derived from a strain of rapeseed in Canada in the 1970's that yields oil with lower acidity than traditional rapeseed, this oil's name is an amalgam of the words "Canada" and "Oil". Canola oil continues to be a major export crop for its namesake country. It is high in both polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats and very low in saturated fat. Its neutral flavor makes it a good choice when you do not want to detract from the flavors of the food.

Sesame Oil
This oil is pressed from crushed sesame seeds. The lighter-colored oil comes from raw seeds and possesses a mild, neutral taste. The darker oil comes from toasted seeds and has a rich, nutty flavor. Use it in salads, noodles dishes and stir-fries.

Walnut Oil
Unrefined walnut oil tastes just like the nut from which it comes. It is rich and flavorful (especially if made from toasted walnuts) and perfect as a finishing drizzle on salads, rice, pasta or even desserts like tarte tatin or rice pudding. Recommended: Flora Certified Organic Walnut Oil#

Hazelnut Oil
Hazelnut oil is highly flavorful oil usually imported from France. Pressed from toasted hazelnuts, it's used sparingly to enrich dressings and to add flavor to savory and sweet dishes. Paired with zesty lemon juice and sugar, it blends the distinct and delicate flavors.

Note: Because they are fats, remember that oils should be used judiciously.

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