What You Need to Know About … Cooking with Oil

If you gave up oil long ago, listen up: Oil provides a healthy dose of essential fat and can add fabulous flavor to your food. Drizzle some on today!
Cooking with Oil

Dietary guidelines recommend the intake of 2 teaspoons of oil per day. Why? According to Susan Barr, MS, RD, Director of Corporate Program Development for Weight Watchers International, it's not good to have a diet that's too low in fat, so the oil helps meet nutrition needs.

The five recommended oils — olive, canola, flaxseed, safflower and sunflower — are some of the healthiest oils around. Consuming them can "add a little health insurance to your diet," says Barr. Plus, they can add fabulous flavor to your food.

The Basics

Olive Oil, rich in heart-disease fighting monounsaturated fats, comes in many different colors and flavors depending on the region it's from and the processing of the olives. The most flavorful oils are labeled 'extra-virgin' since they are the first oil pressed from the olive. They're wonderful in dressings and marinades, and make a great substitute for butter or margarine when used as a condiment. Less flavorful '"light" olive oils are better suited for baking and cooking when a strong taste is not a main consideration.

Canola Oil, also known as rapeseed or LEAR oil, has the least amount of artery-clogging saturated fat of any edible oil. It also contains a large dose of heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acid. It's mild in flavor making it a great choice for use in cooking, baking, stir-frying or as an ingredient in salad dressings.

Flaxseed Oil, sometimes called linseed oil, is obtained from flax seeds, a very rich source of omega-3 fatty acid. It has a mild nutty flavor making it a good choice for salad dressings or for drizzling over vegetables, hot cereal or potatoes. Flaxseed oil is often added to smoothies for a super-nutrient boost. Unlike some other oils, flaxseed oil needs to be refrigerated after being opened.

Safflower Oil, a flavorless, colorless oil obtained from the seeds of the safflower, contains the highest level of healthy polyunsaturated fat of any edible oil. It is recommended for use in sautéing and pan-frying, and for salad dressings since it can be chilled without solidifying.

Sunflower Oil, extracted from sunflower seeds, is a very high in polyunsaturated fat and low in saturated fat. It has a delicate flavor and can be used in cooking and to add texture, but not a lot of flavor, to dressings.

Suggestions for use

Barr suggests drizzling extra-virgin olive oil over a plate of fresh tomato slices and fresh basil leaves (with or without some cheese) and using olive oil to add texture and taste to homemade hummus. She also recommends sautéing chopped garlic, onion and mushrooms in oil and then adding the sautéed vegetables to omelets, to burgers (as a topping) or to cooked whole grains (such as bulgur and whole-wheat couscous) for a major flavor-boost.

Community User laura281 suggests meeting your oil needs by drizzling oil on plain popcorn, adding it to cooking water when making brown rice, quinoa or barley, and adding some to oatmeal or smoothies. User k8teCat uses oil with a squeeze of lemon juice on salads and for grilling chicken breast and shrimp.

Reicpes to try

Cobb Salad with Flaxseed Oil Dressing

Chicken and Chinese Vegetable Stir-Fry

Frittata with Herbed Ricotta Cheese and Canadian Bacon

Grilled Swordfish with Seasoned Asparagus

Toasted Quinoa Salad with Lemon and Herbs

Explore What You Need To Know About Cooking with Fat-Free Dairy and Grains

Free Newsletter Get it now