Nutrition

All About (Cooking) Oil

The last time you went to the supermarket, did you happen to notice all the different types of cooking oils on the shelf?  There’re the old standbys olive and canola oils, but you may also encounter things like walnut, sesame and even avocado oils.  All cooking oils are a type of fat made from plant sources (typically nuts and seeds), and many are the heart healthy mono- and polyunsaturated types which may help raise “good” cholesterol; especially when substituted for butter.  We all need some fat in the diet to help build and maintain cells and absorb certain vitamins.  Plus, fat adds flavor and texture to food and baked goods.  Specialty and gourmet oils can even add their own distinct flavor to your dishes.

When deciding what type of oil to use when cooking, the most important thing to be aware of is the smoke point:  the temperature at which heated oil starts to smoke.  Heating oil beyond this point will cause it to break down and leave an unpleasant flavor in your food.  (Not to mention a good chance the oil will catch fire!)  The smoke point is different for each type of oil, making some better choices than others for certain cooking methods.

If your holiday menu includes fried foods (like latkes), an oil with a high smoke point like canola or corn oil is best.  Canola oil can even be used as a substitute for butter or margarine in some recipes; its neutral flavor won’t affect the taste of the finished dish.  Oils with a lower smoke point, such as some types of sesame or walnut oil, are better suited to use as a condiment to add flavor to finished dishes or cooking at a lower heat.  Olive oil, a main feature in the Mediterranean Diet high in heart-healthy monounsaturated fatty acids, falls somewhere in the middle.  Extra virgin olive oil can be used in baking or sautéing foods at medium heat, but its distinct flavor is also well suited to dressings and sauces (or even drizzling right on steamed veggies).

Whichever type of oil you choose, it will stay fresh if stored in a tightly closed container away from heat and light.  It’s also good to keep in mind that all fats, even heart-healthy olive oil, are high in calories.  At nine calories per gram and about 100-120 per tablespoon, those calories can add up quickly!  Paying attention to portion size can help prevent holiday weight gain.  And as always, include a variety of fruits and veggies; whole grains; lean meat, fish and poultry; and low fat dairy in your meal plan.

Wishing you a happy holiday season!

(Post content reviewed by MGH Department of Nutrition)
Guest Post, Heart Health, Nutrition

Spotlight on the Mediterranean Diet

By Emma Louise Toolson
Dietetic Intern

Med Diet Pyramid 2

Earlier this year, the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) published a study linking the Mediterranean diet with a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease.  Quite simply, the Mediterranean diet is a way of eating that is based on the traditional foods and cooking styles of countries along the Mediterranean Sea. The general eating pattern while following a Mediterranean diet includes:

  • Several servings of fruits and vegetables daily
  • Focus on healthy fats like olive oil and canola oil
  • Consuming fish and poultry at least two times per week
  • Limiting dairy products, red meat, processed meats and sweets
  • Use of herbs and spices to flavor foods in place of salt
  • Red wine, in moderation (if appropriate)

While the Mediterranean diet is abundant in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and healthy fats, a typical Western diet, in contrast, contains more processed foods, refined carbohydrates and saturated fat. Another key feature of the Mediterranean diet is the inclusion of regular physical activity — the Western diet, meanwhile, tends to be more sedentary.

The NEJM study followed 7447 participants over 6 years. Two groups of participants were randomly assigned to a Mediterranean diet pattern, while a third followed a low-fat diet which acted as a control. The two groups following the Mediterranean eating plan were given either olive oil or mixed nuts to provide the monounsaturated (healthy) fats. Restricting calories was not advised for either group.  The study observed a Mediterranean diet, in which extra-virgin olive oil or nuts were the main source of fat, resulted in a significant reduction in the risk of major cardiovascular events in high-risk individuals. This led researchers to conclude that following a Mediterranean diet may prevent cardiovascular disease, particularly in those that are already at risk.

Heart Health, Nutrition, Uncategorized

Just the Facts (on Fats)

MGH Hypertension Blog

Olive Oil. Photo credit: Thomas Lobker

Remember the big “low-fat craze” of the 1990’s?  It seemed like every magazine was proclaiming the dangers of fat in the diet, no-fat diet books filled the bookstores, and supermarkets began carrying a variety of fat-free chips and cookies.  All of this was based around the idea that fat is bad for you, and eating healthy meant avoiding it whenever possible.  When you consider that high fat diets are linked to an increased risk of developing high blood pressure and heart disease, it’s understandable how this craze could catch on.  But the truth is we need some fat in our diet.

 Fat is used to build and maintain cell membranes and is crucial for the body to absorb certain vitamins (such as Vitamins A and D).  And, like carbohydrate and protein, fat is used as a source of energy.  However, not all fats are the same.  While some types…

View original post 253 more words