What you cook with is just as important as what you cook — and, when it comes to cooking oils and fats, your choices can add health benefits to your diet or take them away.
Most foods require some form of cooking fat to enhance their flavor, make them easier to cook, and add healthy fats to your diet (because, remember, not all fats are bad for you and good fats are necessary). But the one ingredient nutritionists say you should never cook with because it makes you gain weight is easily avoidable — and can be replaced by a number of better-for-you ingredients.
Your cooking oil and fat options seem almost limitless. With everything from olive and coconut oils and margarine and butters vying for your attention, it can be a challenge picking and choosing the healthiest options when you cook.
But because we are spoiled when it comes to choice, that also means you probably never have to choose this one ingredient.
Derived from a plant called rapeseed, canola oil is a vegetable oil that has a high smoke point, which means it’s a helpful one to have when frying and stir-frying a variety of meals. And canola oil even has monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, according to Time.com, making it one of few vegetable oils that doesn’t contain an obscene amount of bad-for-your-heart saturated fats.
But there’s one reason why choosing canola oil, especially in the United States, isn’t a great idea.
There is a lot of confusion over whether canola oil is bad or okay for your health. Dr. Guy Crosby tries to clear up the mystery for Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health: “Most canola is chemically extracted using a solvent called hexane, and heat is often applied which can affect the stability of the oil’s molecules, turn it rancid, destroy the omega-3s in it, and can even create trans fats.”
The presence of trans fats in any food immediately makes it a poor choice, whether you or not you’re trying to lose weight. According to the American Heart Association:
“Trans fats raise your bad (LDL) cholesterol levels and lower your good (HDL) cholesterol levels. Eating trans fats increases your risk of developing heart disease and stroke. It’s also associated with a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes.”
Considering how canola oil is lower in saturated fat than most (and high in polyunsaturated fat, which is also found in better oils like olive oil) it might be worth your time and money to search for cold-pressed canola oil, if you really love the taste. Though they are more expensive and more difficult to find, cold-pressed varieties do not contain trans fat.
The healthiest option of all is to avoid canola oil and opt for oils that contain nutrients like omega-3 fatty acids — olive, avocado, and sunflower oils are up there on the list.