Time to focus on fats

Amanda O'Brien
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I’ve noticed a variety of cooking oils on store shelves as of late. And no, I’m not referring to the olive, canola or corn oils that have graced store shelves for years. Rather, there seems to be a whole new set of choices available now. Below are a few of these options that perhaps you’re interested to know a little more about.

Avocado oil. I was surprised and excited to see this at a store in St. John’s the other week. Avocado oil has a greenish hue (no surprise there) and a buttery, nutty flavour. It has a higher smoke point as well, which makes it a good choice to use for cooking higher-temperature foods and keeping them heart healthy. In addition, with more than 70 per cent of this oil having monounsaturated fat, it’s again a wise heart health choice. Perfect to try now, given February is Heart Month.  

Grapeseed oil. This oil, obviously, comes from grape seeds, and is a byproduct of wine making. Similar to avocado oil, this oil has a higher smoke point and is versatile enough to use in any dish, whether that be sautéed or fried veggies, or even used at room temperature in a veggie dip or dressing.

Walnut oil. This oil has a high amount of a nutrient called alpha-linoleic acid, which is essentially a plant-based form of the omega 3 fats we see in fish. It has a rich, nutty flavor and is best used away from heat and stored in the fridge. I’ve mentioned this before, but walnuts generally have the highest amount of antioxidants when it comes to varieties of nuts, so again, like all the others mentioned before, this is another heart healthy choice.  

Flaxseed oil. Having the highest omega 3 content of all oils, this oil also comes with heart healthy omega 6 and 9 fats, too. It has a low smoke point, so probably don’t use it for frying. Similarly to walnut oil, you’ll want to try  flaxseed oil unheated.

Coconut oil. This sweet tasting oil is super hot these days, with claims from curing illnesses like Alzheimer’s to aiding in weight loss. Don’t let all the hype about coconut oil excite you too much yet, as many of its health curing claims have not been backed by science, at least to date. What is exciting about this oil, however, is despite it being high in saturated fats, the specific kind of saturated fat is actually neutral on blood cholesterol. So it’s unlikely that it raises cholesterol to the extent we once thought. Coconut oil can be a great option, but if you are choosing it for heart health, remember that many of the above listed oils will likely have more potent heart health effects due to their higher unsaturated fat and lower saturated fat composition. Best bet is to keep other oils in the cupboard and use coconut oil as a substitute for shortening or butter in recipes. It’s especially good in baked goods.

So, which oil is best for cooking? That depends on something called “smoke point” that I alluded to earlier. The smoke point of an oil is essentially the temperature at which it starts to break down.

As a general rule, extra virgin oils will have a lower smoke point. Oils with high smoke points — including vegetable, peanut, sesame and avocado — are better equipped to deal with higher-temperature cooking and still maintain many of their heart healthful antioxidants. Oils like flaxseed, walnut and extra virgin olive are best suited for salads dressings and dips as they have a lower smoke point.

To keep oils at their freshest, store them in a cool, dark place. Next to the stove or on the windowsill is not ideal, as both heat and light degrade oil quality.

You can also store oils in the fridge to maintain freshness. Lastly, keep in mind that even though these oils are healthful to the heart, on average they come with about 120 calories per tablespoon.

When using oils in cooking always be sure to measure out the amount you are using to avoid excess, and keep portions small.


The article last week contained an error. I said that one half of  a pink or red grapefruit delivers over 100 per cent of vitamin C and 35 per cent of the vitamin D needed for one day. I meant to say 35 per cent of vitamin A, not vitamin D.

Amanda O’Brien is a registered dietitian in

St. John’s. Contact her through the website: www.recipeforhealth.ca.

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Recent comments

  • Lloyd
    February 20, 2014 - 18:03

    Great article. Let me say this: Grapeseed Oil has been available for a few years now in Dominion Supermarkets, under the famous PC Brand. I use it on a regular basis. And, it is excellent for frying. Both Avocado, and Walnut Oil ...available for awhile as well. Coconut Oil is suppose to be great stuff. From what I have been researching, the best of the best, is Organic Coconut Oil. If highly processed, then all of the major benefits are completely lost. And countries that use a lot of the coconut oil have less health problems. Internet research will prove my point. Extra Virgin Olive Oil should NOT be refrigerated. It will solidify. Thanks for a great article.

  • patrick quickland
    February 20, 2014 - 14:24

    Pass words are to difficult. Takes to much time sending.