Body & Fitness

Well oiled

If you stick to just one cooking oil, it might be time to branch out and make the most of a variety of healthy choices.
Branch out and make the most out the variety of healthy cooking oils

Sesame oil – To lower blood pressure

At least two studies have shown sesame oil helps to lower blood pressure, with one finding that it’s almost as effective at combating high blood pressure as medication when used together with rice bran oil. A source of omega-6 polyunsaturated fats, sesame oil also contains antioxidants like sesamol and sesamin.

Work with it: Use untoasted sesame oil at the start of the cooking process and use toasted sesame oil sparingly in marinades, dressings and at the last minute in stir-fries.

Look for: Choose a darker toasted sesame oil if you prefer a nuttier taste.

Canola oil – For a slimmer waist

People in a study who consumed 40g of canola oil every day for four weeks lost abdominal fat, something that didn’t occur with other oils. This is due to canola’s high monounsaturated fat content, but it is also a source of heart-healthy omega-3 polyunsaturated fats.

Work with it: Canola oil is mild and has a high smoke point, so it can be used for all types of cooking without affecting flavour.

Look for: Seek ‘non-GM’ on the label if you want to avoid genetically modified food.

Rice bran oil -To lower cholesterol

Rice bran oil contains a concentrated form of vitamin E called tocotrienol-rich fraction, which combats cholesterol. When people consumed 28g of a rice bran and sesame oil blend for two months in a recent study, their levels of LDL or ‘bad’ cholesterol fell by 26 per cent, while good cholesterol levels rose by 9.5 per cent.

Work with it: Rice bran’s high smoke point makes it ideal for stir-fries and high-heat cooking.

Look for: Choose a spray if you’re monitoring your saturated fat intake. Rice bran oil contains nearly twice as much saturated fat as olive oil, but a single spray contains just 0.3g.

Olive oil – To safeguard your brain

Known for its heart-healthy monounsaturated fats, olive oil may also protect against dementia. It contains oleocanthal, which boosts production of the proteins and enzymes responsible for removing the protein fragment believed to cause Alzheimer’s disease.

Work with it: Extra-virgin olive oil is the best quality. Use it in marinades, for dressings and in low to mid-heat cooking. ‘Light’ olive oil has the same fat and kilojoules, but it has a higher smoke point so stir-fry with it.

Look for: If you want to know where your oil is from, look for an estate name. “Product of…” only indicates where the oil was packed and shipped, not where the olives were grown and pressed.

Grapeseed oil – For a healthy bowel and heart

Grapeseed oil contains oleic acid, which researchers say blocks chemicals that aggravate the bowel, an inflammatory process that causes chronic problems like ulcerative colitis. And because it’s rich in polyunsaturated fats, it reduces the risk of heart disease by lowering LDL cholesterol levels.

Work with it: It’s a good multi-tasking oil with a neutral flavour that brings out the taste of food rather than adding to it.

Look for: Expeller pressed oil is pressed without the use of chemicals, so choose this if you want cooking ingredients that are as natural as possible.

Flaxseed oil – For strong bones

Flaxseed oil increases levels of osteocalcin, a bone-creating protein, and it preserves bone mineralisation, a process that protects against osteoporosis but which slows down after menopause. Flaxseed contains more omega-3s than omega-6s, making it a well-balanced choice. Both polyunsaturated fats are healthy but research shows omega-6 intake has skyrocketed recently, upsetting the balance between the two fats and increasing the risk of obesity.

Work with it: The omega-3s are destroyed by heat, so only use flaxseed oil in dressings.

Look for: The omega-3s in flaxseed oil stay fresher for longer at lower temperatures, so buy oil that has been stored in a fridge.

Walnut oil – To protect blood vessels

Extracted from the heart-healthy nut, walnut oil also helps fight the risk of heart disease. The oil helps preserve the function of endothelial cells, which line the blood vessels and play an important role in heart health, and its effects kick in immediately after it’s been digested.

Work with it: Its nutrients don’t survive being exposed to heat, so only use walnut oil as a dressing.

Look for: If you prefer a more neutral taste, choose cold-pressed, unrefined walnut oil rather than oil made from roasted walnuts. Good-quality walnut oil has a rich orange-yellow colour.

Avocado oil – For anti-ageing

Mexican researchers have proved that avocado oil supports the vital processes that the body’s cells use to survive, even when they’re faced with an onslaught of damaging free radicals – and boosting cell longevity is an important anti-ageing strategy. Avocado oil is also rich in monounsaturated fatty acids and fat-soluble vitamins A, D, and E.

Work with it: Avocado oil has a mild flavour and a pleasant aftertaste. It also has a high smoke point, so it is suited to a variety of cooking methods.

Look for: Avocado oil that is yellow in colour, rather than green, is either refined (unrefined oil retains more nutrients) or has lost its chlorophyll content due to age, so look for a vibrantly green-coloured oil.

Coconut oil

Experts say many of coconut oil’s health claims haven’t been backed up by credible research. “With over 90 per cent saturated fat, I would definitely be keeping coconut oil off the menu,” says associate professor David Colquhoun, a cardiologist from the University of Queensland.

How to care for your oils

Choose oils bottled in dark glass or tin containers. If that’s not possible, choose a bottle from the back of the shelf, where it’s sheltered from bright store lights.

Store oils in a cool, dark place, away from your oven. And follow the instructions included with specific oils. For example, flaxseed oil should be refrigerated.

Pay attention to dates. Some olive oils also include harvest dates: those made from the current year’s harvest will be freshest.

Words by: Karen Fittall

Photos: Chris Jansen and Getty Images

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