Is coconut oil the new extra-virgin olive oil? And is it time to ditch canola? Dietitian Melissa Meier has your guide to buying oils.
The plethora of oils lining supermarket shelves these days can often be baffling. With everything from trendy coconut oil through to avocado oil, it’s easy to see why we’re getting so confused. Let’s break it down.
The old faithful: Olive oil
Olive oil has been a staple for many years now — and for good reason. It’s high in heart-healthy monounsaturated fats, and if you choose an extra-virgin variety, you’ll get a healthy hit of disease-fighting antioxidants. That’s because ‘extra virgin’ means the oil has come from the first squeeze of the olives and is not refined.
Its high ‘smoke point’ of around 200–215°C, paired with its versatility in dishes from stir-fries to baking, makes it an excellent pantry staple. Some varieties are infused with garlic, lemon or chilli to add an extra flavour punch.
The all-rounder: Canola oil
Canola oil consists mostly of monounsaturated fat and is quite low in saturated fat.
It’s also a good plant source of the all-important omega-3s that promote heart health. For these reasons canola oil is recommended by the Heart Foundation as a healthy oil.
This oil pairs excellently with oven-roasted vegetables, and due to its high ‘smoke point’, is suitable for high-temperature cooking at home. The high smoke point means that canola oil does not degrade or generate any possibly dangerous substances.
The trendsetter: Coconut oil
Controversy has surrounded coconut products due to their high levels of saturated fat, which can seriously impact your heart health. In fact, coconut oil is over 90 per cent saturated fat, compared to around 15 per cent in extra-virgin olive oil.
Solid research on the health benefits of coconut oil is limited, so the jury is still out, despite the dazzling claims made by celebrities and bloggers.
The flavour-makers: Peanut and sesame oils
Peanut and sesame oils boast heart-healthy monounsaturated fats, but they also tend to be a little higher in saturated fat.
The nutty flavour of peanut oil is well suited to Asian dishes, so add a dash to a stir-fry or add it to a salad dressing for a robust toasty flavour, too. But a little goes a long way!
Choose unrefined varieties, which have more of the promising nutritional qualities found in the whole food. It’s best to store sesame oil in the fridge so that it doesn’t go rancid.
The debutantes: Avocado and macadamia oils
Avocado and macadamia nut oils are the new kids on the block and are readily available in the oil aisle of your supermarket.
Their fatty acid profile is quite similar to that of olive oil, with low levels of saturated fat and high levels of heart-healthy ones.
However, there is no strong body of scientific literature at the present time to support their health benefits. Nonetheless, you can use avocado oil in a variety of salad dressings, or try macadamia oil in baking.
Try these dietitian-approved ways to use extra-virgin olive oil.
Drizzle it over root vegetables before roasting
Whisk it into your salad dressings to boost health
Melissa is an Accredited Practising Dietitian with a love of healthy, delicious food. She is passionate about helping others to lead healthier lives and teaching people to use nutrition to better their health.