Healthy fats are a necessity in our diet and specialty oils are the perfect source. Here are some of my favorites, each with its own purpose and star qualities. Learn how to use them and you won’t go without their delicious flavor at any meal.
In our mothers’ kitchens, anything that needed frying was done in butter, margarine or lard. Unfortunately, these fats are high in saturated and trans fats and are detrimental to our health. Thank goodness those days are gone and we now have a variety of healthy “nouveau” oils to choose from.
The bright green oil is slightly thick and sticky with a smooth avocado flavor. It works well with lemon, salsas and strong herbs.
Avocado oil is loaded with potent antioxidants including vitamins D and E and a phytochemical called beta-sitosterol. This plant compound helps reduce levels of “bad” cholesterol and balances levels of “good” cholesterol.
If you’re already cooking with olive oil then think of avocado oil in the same way. The oil has a high smoke point. It will not burn or smoke – even at 500°F (which is higher than olive oil). Give it a try next time you plan to saute something.
Pumpkin seed oil
This thick and fragrant oil is delicious in warm potato salad or drizzled over soup, fish and vegetables.
Pumpkin seed oil is very rich in essential fatty acids. (One tablespoonful contains almost twice as much as a whole avocado!) In Germany, it has been approved as a treatment for enlarged prostate glands.
Pumpkin seed oil cannot withstand high temperatures, so don’t use it as a replacement for olive oil when frying or sauteing. It will burn and destroy valuable nutrients. Check the label before buying to make sure you are purchasing only pumpkin seed oil and not a product that has been blended with cheaper oils.
Delicate yet rich, walnut oil tastes wonderful, but is quite expensive. Use it mainly in cold dishes, dressings, tossed with pasta or drizzled over soup.
Walnut oil is rich in antioxidants and a good source of omega-3 fatty acids, which help lower the risk of heart disease and reduce inflammation. It is also rich in several hormone-stabilizing phytonutrients. Do not use walnut oil for sauteing because it has a low smoke point and becomes bitter when heated.
Rice bran oil
This clear, almost colorless liquid possesses unique properties including an appealing mild flavor. Rice bran oil is very versatile and can be used for baking, sauteing, salad dressings and as a cooking spray.
Rice bran oil contains loads of gamma-oryzanol, and tocotrienols. Gamma-oryzanol is a potent antioxidant and it helps strengthen muscles. Tocotrienols are a unique form of vitamin E, a formidable antioxidant that helps protect against cellular damage and preserves youth.
USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference: Oil, Avocado
U.S. Department of Agriculture: Dietary Guidelines for Americans; 2010
Institute of Medicine; Dietary Reference Intakes; Macronutrients; 2005
American Heart Association: Saturated Fats; October 2010
Mayo Clinic: Dietary Fats; Know Which Types to Choose; February 2011
Phytotherapy Research: Supplementation with Pumpkin Seed Oil Improves Plasma Lipid Profile and
MayoClinic.com: Nuts and Your Heart: Eating Nuts for Heart Health
OChef: What is the Shelf-Life of Oil?
Harvard Health Publications: Health-beat: Fats Resource Center
What’s Cooking America: Health Benefits of Walnut Oil
Science Daily: Can Rice Bran Oil Melt Away Cholesterol?