Food Q&A: Healthy Oil

What is the most healthful oil to use when I am trying to lose weight?

Need ideas for coping with restaurant buffets? Want some good snack ideas? In our Q&A series, nutritionist and food editor Leslie Fink, MS, RD, answers questions about food, nutrition and weight loss.

Q: What is the most healthful oil to use, especially when I am trying to lose weight?

A: Canola and olive oil have stellar nutrition reputations due to their healthy fat profiles: They both contain a high percentage of "good" monounsaturated fat and only a small amount of "bad" saturated fat. But somehow olive oil, in particular, developed a super-food reputation; I've actually heard of people who drink it.

While it is true that olive oil contains a high dose of heart-healthy fat, it contains the same amount of total fat and calories as the badly spoken about coconut oil (that saturated fat monster that sometimes coats movie theater popcorn). In fact, all oils contain 120 calories and 13½ grams of fat per tablespoon. Excessive consumption of any type of oil, therefore, can cause weight gain. It all boils down to moderation.

A look at fast-food French fries illustrates the same point. Fries at certain restaurants may contain less "bad" fats if the restaurant is cooking them in better oil. But they still provide the same huge dose of total fat and the calorie content hasn't changed.

That said, try to choose oils with low saturated fat and high monounsaturated fat contents: olive, canola and peanut oils are your best bets. For the flavor and feel of oil without all the fat and calories, try using nonstick cooking sprays for sautéing, stir-frying, roasting, grilling and coating cookware, pots and pans.

I also recommend the use of highly flavored oils upon occasion. Toasted sesame and hot chili oils provide huge flavor boosts - a little bit of them goes a long way. That's probably the closet thing to "weight loss-friendly" oils that you're going to find.