Food & Nutrition
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Cooking Oils 101

From baking and sautéing to dips and salad dressings

There are so many options when it comes to oils! Different oils have distinct flavor profiles and unique fat makeups, and each behaves differently when cooked. Some may be best used for baking, others for frying or sautéing, and some are best raw in dips, salad dressings and marinades.

Our bodies crave the variety of nutrients and essential fatty acids that are found naturally in different oils – discover which may be best for your kitchen.

Oils are fats

Oils are made up of fats that are linked together. There are three types of fat: saturated, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated, and all oils are made up of some combination of the three. The major type of fat in oil determines which category the oil falls into.

Saturated fat is often referred to as “bad fat” because it can cause your body to produce too much cholesterol.

Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats are sometimes referred to as “heart-healthy” because they don’t cause increased cholesterol levels.

However, when it comes to calories, all fats and oils provide 9 calories per gram. Just one tablespoon of oil has 120 calories. If you’re looking to trim a few pounds from your waistline, you may wish to proceed with caution and use fats, including oils, sparingly.

Smoke point

An oil’s so-called smoke point, the temperature at which an oil begins to break down and burn, helps determine whether it is suited for cooking or best used as a raw ingredient, such as in salad dressing. Some oils may lose their nutritional value and cause food to taste unpleasant when cooked at high heat.

Browning, searing & pan frying

Coconut oil, palm oil and palm kernel oil – also known as tropical oils – are predominately saturated fat. Tropical oils have a long shelf life, and all but coconut oil have a high smoke point. Coconut oil has a medium smoke point and should not be used for high-heat cooking. Palm oils may be ideal for browning, searing or pan frying.

Almond, avocado, hazelnut, sunflower and highly refined olive oil – which are predominately monounsaturated – also have a high smoke point and can be used for browning, searing or panfrying.

Stir-frying, baking & oven cooking

Vegetable oils such as canola, macadamia, peanut and extra-virgin olive oil are predominately monounsaturated fat. Because of their medium-high smoke point these oils may be best suited for stir-frying, baking and oven cooking. Monounsaturated oils have a better shelf life than polyunsaturated oils.

Grapeseed, a polyunsaturated oil, can also be used for stir-frying, baking and roasting.

Sautéing & sauce making

Many polyunsaturated oils are great for sautéing and sauce making, including corn, hemp, pumpkinseed, sesame and soybean. These oils have a medium smoke point.

Polyunsaturated oils may be less shelf stable, especially when exposed to oxygen, light or heat for long periods of time. They should be stored refrigerated in dark bottles.

Dip, dressings & marinades

When it comes to dressings, marinades and dips, good flavor is essential. No-heat oils such as extra-virgin olive, toasted sesame, flaxseed, walnut and avocado all provide distinct taste and flavor that is sure to satisfy your taste buds.

Preserving taste and flavor

It’s tempting to buy many different varieties of oil to keep on hand for all your cooking needs. But that may not be the best strategy for maintaining the taste and flavor of your oil. Direct exposure to air and light for long periods of time and prolonged storage above room temperature may change the color and taste of oil. One way to help ensure the highest quality might be to buy just a few varieties in small amounts and store them in a cool, dry place.

Constance Brown-Riggs, MSEd, RD, CDE*, CDN – an award-winning registered dietitian, Certified Diabetes Educator, and former spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics – is the author of The African American Guide to Living Well with Diabetes and Eating Soulfully and Healthfully with Diabetes. Learn more about her work at and follow her @eatingsoulfully. Brown-Riggs is a paid contributor for The DX. All opinions contained in this article reflect those of the contributor, and not of Sanofi US, its employees, agencies, or affiliates.

*“Certified Diabetes Educator” and “CDE” are certification marks owned and registered by the National Certification Board for Diabetes Educators (NCBDE). NCBDE is not affiliated in any way with Sanofi US. NCBDE does not sponsor or endorse any diabetes-related products or services.

© 2015 The DX: The Diabetes Experience


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