By Ondrea Bluestone, TX State University Nutrition Intern

Oils, like people, come in many different shapes and sizes. They are all processed, served, and prepared in very different ways. With hundreds of oils on the market, it can be very difficult to decipher which oils are the best for your health, your taste buds and your cooking styles. In today’s post we will discuss what the different kinds of fats mean, how they effect your body, and examples of which oils are best to cook with.

Saturated Fats, trans Fats, unsaturated Fats, SOO MANY FATS! There are a lot on the market, but fats can be divided into two subgroups; saturated fats and unsaturated fats. The main difference between the two fats is how they change form at room temperature. Saturated fats at room temperature are usually solid, while unsaturated fats remain liquid. Saturated fats in excess can raise cholesterol, which can cause blockage of the arteries and raise your risk for heart disease.

Oh my, so what IS considered a saturated fat you may ask? Saturated fats come from animal products (cream, cheese, milk products, butter, fried foods, fatty meats, etc.) Saturated fat is also in coconut and palm oils. Scientists have also gotten creative and found a way to change the structure of plant oils and turn them into something called trans fat, which help shelf-stabilize products. This is considered the worst fat for you and should be avoided entirely. This is found in stick margarine, shortenings, and a lot of commercially baked goods like cakes or pies. A good way to identify if a product has trans fat is if it has “partially hydrogenated” oil in the ingredients, even if it says 0g trans fat on the nutrition label. They don’t have to report it on the label if the content is less than 5 grams per serving.

It sounds like a lot of fats could be bad for me, but that is actually not the case. Fat is incredibly important for our body to store energy and help our billions of cells to grow and function properly. Our brain alone is made up of 60% fat, and we need fat in our diet to survive. That is where unsaturated oils can help! Unsaturated oils as I said before are liquid at room temperature. Examples of unsaturated fats are extra virgin olive oil, canola oil, avocado oil, peanut oil, sesame oil, soybean oil, etc. They have anti-inflammatory properties and can help lower cholesterol and promote heart health.

Talk about anti-inflammatory!!

Now that we have distinguished the difference between saturated and unsaturated fats, and how they affect our bodies, let’s get to the good stuff: examples of ways to cook with them.

  • Frying food is a common way to cook almost everything it seems, and typically vegetable oil is used to fry or stir-fry foods. Better choices include canola, avocado, safflower, grapeseed, peanut, soybean, and sesame oils and are excellent to fry or to roast food. These oils are best for cooking meals at high temperatures because of their high smoke point, or the point at which they begin to burn.

  • For lower temperature cooking such as baking, sautéing, or even just using in salad dressings, you can use olive, walnut oils. These have great nutritional properties but do have a low smoke point, so would burn with higher temperature cooking. You can also use many of the higher smoke point oils too as they are versatile. For example, a great snack idea is ¾ cups of edamame tossed around in some sesame oil.

Simple alterations from saturated fats to unsaturated fats could really make a difference in your health long term and short term. Of course, just like with anything, having saturated fats sometimes will not kill you and actually are OK if kept under 10% of our daily calories, but next time you are frying some chicken or baking some veggies, experiment with the taste of olive oils or other unsaturated fats, you may be surprised!