The skinny on cooking oils

provided by Mayo Clinic

ooking with oil doesn't have to be a fattening experience. In fact, a little fat can be good for you - if you choose the right kind. The August issue of Mayo Clinic Women's HealthSource offers a guide to cooking oils.

    In terms of calories, all oils are the same. They each contain 9 calories per gram. Don't be misled by oils that are labeled “light.” The word only refers to the taste. Among cooking oils, monounsaturated oils are the best choice. When substituted for saturated fats like lard or butter, they can decrease LDL “bad” cholesterol levels without lowering HDL “good” cholesterol levels.

    Olive oil is one of the most popular cooking oils, thanks in part to the popularity of Mediterranean cooking. Olive oil burns at high temperatures, however, so never cook with higher than medium heat. Extra-virgin olive oil is the best bet for recipes that don't require cooking, such as dressings, marinades or dips. Olive oil comes in many varieties and brands and has a distinct flavor, so shop around for the one you like best.

    Canola oil is great for sauteing and salad dressings when you want flavors of the other ingredients to come through. Safflower oil has a very low saturated fat, second only to canola oil. It's similar to olive oil and is used in stir frys or as a salad oil.

    Sesame oil has the pronounced flavor of toasted sesame seeds. It's used in many Asian and Indian dishes. The flavor doesn't stand up well to heat, so use it in uncooked dishes or add it at the end of cooking. Peanut oil is also used in a lot of Asian foods. It's particularly good for stir frying or other techniques that require high heat.

    Finally, walnut oil is high in alpha linolenic acid, one of the omega-3 fatty acids which are thought to be protective against heart disease. Walnut oil gives food a distinctive nutty flavor and is especially good on salads.

    All of these oils are healthy additions to your diet - in moderation. Remember that one serving of oil is only one teaspoon. Using a cooking spray made with one of the oils or an oil mister can help control the amount you're using.