Steak-with-herb-sauceOil Slick

The wide variety of culinary oils can add flavor and good-for-you fats to your diet.

Today’s dieters often fear oils more than last week’s mystery meat. They cook in nonstick skillets and slather their salads with bland fat-free dressings. But while oils contain that dreaded fat, there are a bevy of reasons you should explore the selection of oils at your local supermarket.

Many oils, including olive, walnut, canola, flaxseed,and avocado, provide a payload of healthy unsaturated fats shown to help slash heart disease risk, says Cynthia Sass, MPH, RD, author of Cinch! Conquer Cravings, Drop Pounds, and Lose Inches. “The fat in oils has a positive effect on satiety, metabolic rate, and skin health while boosting the absorption of fat-soluble antioxidants and vitamins such as vitamin A and D,” she adds. Some plant-based oils are also sources of potent antioxidants themselves,according to Sass, plus the various guises of culinary oils can be the secret flavor booster in recipes.

Here are four standouts that will keep your body a well-oiled machine.


EXTRA-VIRGIN OLIVE OIL
The majority of fat in peppery olive oil—73% to be precise—is monounsaturated, so it helps maintain a healthy ratio of good and bad cholesterol in the blood. What’s more, this overachieving oil contains oleocanthal, a natural anti-inflammatory antioxidant,making it an even more powerful champion for heart health.

NEED TO KNOW: Pure or light olive oil doesn’t boast the antioxidant prowess of first-pressed extra virgin. However, with more neutral flavor and a higher smoke point, these more refined varieties are better options for the frying pan.

SMART BUY: California Olive Ranch Extra Virgin (www.californiaoliveranch.com)


AVOCADO OIL
Light, buttery avocado oil is blessed with stellar amounts of artery-friendly monounsaturated fat and the carotenoid antioxidant lutein. Acting as biological sunglasses, lutein is deposited in the retina where it’s been found to bolster eye health by offering protection from UV rays.

NEED TO KNOW: Avocado oil has the highest smoke point of all plant oils—about 520˚F—making it a good choice for high-heat cooking such as stirfrying and grilling.

SMART BUY: Olivado Extra Virgin Avocado Oil (www.olivado.com)


HEMP OILHemp-Pepita
This up-and-coming verdant oil is pressed from hemp seeds and abounds with the essential omega-3 and omega-6 fats. The human body can’t make these fats from other compounds, so they must be consumed from food for good health. Hempseed oil is also a rare food source of the omega-6 fat gammalinolenic acid. Preliminary data suggest it may improve blood pressure, thereby potentially reducing the risk of stroke.

NEED TO KNOW: Hempseed oil is not suited for cooking purposes, so use it in dressings,pestos, and dips. Once opened,store it in the refrigerator.

SMART BUY: Manitoba Harvest Hemp Oil (www.manitobaharvest.com)


ALMOND OIL
With a mild flavor and pale yellow hue, almond oil is especially rich in vitamin E, with 1 tablespoon providing one-quarter of the average adult’s daily quota. Recent research published in the Archives of Neurology suggests people who consume high amounts of food abundant in vitamin E may lower their long-term risk of cognitive decline by as much as 25%. As a potent antioxidant, vitamin E may protect brain cells from free radical oxidative damage.

NEED TO KNOW: With a smoke point around 420˚F,use refined almond oil for sautéing, roasting, and baking. Try drizzling the sweeter and nuttier tasting unrefined variety over salads, soups, pasta, crusty breads, fish, and roasted vegetables.

SMART BUY: La Tourangelle Roasted Almond Oil (www.latourangelle.com)